Narcolepsy is a rare disease subject to many misperceptions and false assumptions. All of that misinformation belies the fact that narcolepsy is a serious neurological disorder, with symptoms that can be hazardous to the patient as well as a major barrier to a high quality of life.
Narcolepsy is a rare neurological disorder that prevents the brain from maintaining normal sleep cycles. Patients who suffer from narcolepsy experience daytime drowsiness and can fall extremely quickly. They also have the inability to remain awake for extended lengths of time.
Unfortunately, personal judgements by family members, co-workers and friends who aren’t familiar with the facts of the disease, can make a patient feel worse about a disorder that already causes many patients feeling demoralized and, in some cases, depressed. Narcoleptic patients are sometimes made to feel that they are lazy or somehow lucky to be able to fall asleep so easily. For those that suffer from this brain disorder, those fallacies could not be further from the reality of the disease.
10 Things you may not know about narcolepsy, but should:
- There are two types of narcolepsy – Type 1 Narcolepsy is associated with cataplexy, which is marked by the physical collapse of the patient. In Type 1, the patient can fall to the ground or slump in their chair without warning due loss of muscle tone. This is the most common form of narcolepsy. Type 2 Narcolepsy is less severe than Type 1 and is sometimes due to brain injury or trauma. People with Type 2 are sleepy during the day, but don’t have the muscle weakness that causes patients with Type 1 to fall asleep.
- It’s common to receive a delayed diagnosis – Getting a diagnosis is very difficult for people with narcolepsy. Many patients go a decade before getting a correct diagnosis, so studies estimate misdiagnosis at 60% of patient population.
- Hallucinations are real and sometimes very scary – Approximately 30% of narcolepsy patients will experience very vivid dreams or hallucinations. Many patients have extreme emotional reactions to these hallucinations. They may experience sleep paralysis, whereby the patient is unable to move.
- Emotions can bring on sudden muscle weakness – 75% of the narcolepsy patient population also experience sudden and total loss of the muscles ability to function. This sudden loss of muscle tone is called cataplexy. Patients with cataplexy are aware of this loss of control, their legs and arms become weak and their head will droop. The symptom is brought on by intense feelings or emotions. Many patients who have this symptom avoid having extreme emotional responses.
- Narcolepsy can initiate psychological issues – Nearly 30% of narcolepsy patients may be diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. One study pegs the likelihood that a narcoleptic will have anxiety as 16 times greater than the control group. Many people with narcolepsy have anxiety attacks and social anxiety, due to their fear of falling asleep in public.
- Patients can have memory issues – Since narcolepsy patients suffer from extreme daytime sleepiness, they also have a real hard time with their memory. This fogginess in the brain causes issues with focus and concentration on tasks at hand.
- Patients may have a hard time sleeping at night – Due to an abnormal REM pattern at night, most patients with narcolepsy have a hard time getting to sleep at night and staying asleep at night. Normal sleepers have their REM sleep at the end of the sleep cycle, but for reasons unknown, narcolepsy patients get their REM sleep at the start of their sleep cycle.
- Narcolepsy attacks patients at a young age – The disease can present itself as early as 5 years of age and as late as 40, but most patients are diagnose in their late teens or early 20s.
- Narcolepsy is treatable, but not curable – Researchers have not found a way to replace the neurons the brain loses when this neurological disorder strikes, but there are treatments available to help. Patients are advised to watch their schedules and overall health.
- Narcolepsy patients have more car accidents – Some studies have found that people who suffer from narcolepsy have 10 times more car accidents than people who do not have narcolepsy.