Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that creates a disturbance in the normal sleep-wake cycle. It's symptoms include:
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (continual feeling of tiredness resulting in uncontrolled sleep urges during the day)
- Disturbed night time sleep (with frequent abrupt awakenings)
- Hallucinations (usually while going to sleep or waking up)
- Sleep paralysis (inability to move while being semi-awake for several minutes)
- Micro-sleeps and automatic behaviour (carrying on tasks unconsciously, resulting in no recollection of doing them)
- Cataplexy (loss of muscle tone triggered by strong emotion. Severity ranges from tongue and jaw hanging down, to complete collapse while remaining fully conscious)
Secondary, and less frequently mentioned, observations include irrational moodiness and almost drunk-like behaviour, caused by the extreme tiredness.
Not all of these symptoms are always present, and it has now been discovered that there are two main distinct forms: Narcolepsy with Cataplexy and Narcolepsy without Cataplexy.
Narcolepsy can be diagnosed with a sleep study that involves an overnight monitoring of sleep patterns and a Multiple Sleep Latency Test. Additionally, a lumbar puncture to test for the presence (or lack) of a neuropeptide called Hypocretin (also known as Orexin), is sometimes advised.
Narcolepsy in Ireland is still frequently misdiagnosed by GP's and neurologists. Patient stories of the path to diagnosis often start with simply being accused of being lazy, but misdiagnoses have also included depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy and several others.
Narcolepsy is manageable, but not curable, at the moment. Treatments include:
- Rigorous sleep hygiene (regular bed time, scheduled naps during the day)
- Stimulants to help maintain alertness between naps
- REM sleep inhibiting medication