What is Narcolepsy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Narcolepsy is, at this time, an incurable neurological disorder that affects sleep patterns. Most hearing the term assume that the biggest challenge with this condition is falling asleep constantly. Actually, most people with it may doze off for very brief periods of the day, but their major concerns are vivid hallucinations upon waking, as well as vivid dreaming while asleep, and cataplexy, a condition where voluntary muscles suddenly cannot be controlled.

Most often, narcolepsy makes a sufferer sleepy throughout the day, with only little amounts of actual rest.
Most often, narcolepsy makes a sufferer sleepy throughout the day, with only little amounts of actual rest.

Cataplexy causes temporary paralysis, which can be particularly disturbing if one wakes from a distressing dream. Some medications are available to help treat cataplexy. These are tricyclic anti-depressants and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Tricyclics include medications like protritpyline, and SSRIs are often recognized by their brand names of Prozac® or Zoloft®.

Vivid hallucinations after waking are a primary concern of those with narcolepsy.
Vivid hallucinations after waking are a primary concern of those with narcolepsy.

Most of the time however, those with narcolepsy feel persistently sleepy, and usually find that their sleep quality at night is poorer. Avoiding caffeine can help with nighttime sleep, but still a lack of alertness exists during the day. Many address the condition by taking short naps during the day, usually when they are sleepiest. Often, feelings of sleepiness occur at regular dependable intervals, and short naps can prevent dozing off.

Narcolepsy most commonly begins between 10 and 20 years of age.
Narcolepsy most commonly begins between 10 and 20 years of age.

People with narcolepsy who fall asleep, only tend to stay asleep for a few minutes at a time. However, a few may sleep for up to an hour. This makes it challenging for all affected, because it is difficult to perform work when one falls asleep with regularity. As well, many narcoleptic people cannot drive since this is considered dangerous for themselves and others.

Daytime naps are commonly recommended for individuals suffering from narcolepsy.
Daytime naps are commonly recommended for individuals suffering from narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy most commonly has an onset in those between 10-20 years old. The condition may take a long time, however, to diagnose. It has an occurrence rate of approximately .025% in those living in the US. Diagnosis is usually made by studying evidence of sleepiness and cataplexy. Additional sleep studies may be performed during the day to evaluate the presence of narcolepsy. Even with such studies, diagnosis is not usually definitive. Over time, as sleep episodes occur with frequency, diagnosis is usually made on this evidence. Some evidence suggests that this condition may abate somewhat as people age.

People who fall asleep while performing routine tasks may have narcolepsy.
People who fall asleep while performing routine tasks may have narcolepsy.

Scientists believe they have identified the gene responsible for narcolepsy in mice and dogs. It is hoped that this study will help identify the gene in humans and direct efforts toward possible gene therapy as a cure. Studies in mice and dogs may point the way to evolving a cure for humans.

Having narcolepsy can make it difficult for a person to work.
Having narcolepsy can make it difficult for a person to work.
Cataplexy is usually associated with narcolepsy.
Cataplexy is usually associated with narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy can lead to poor work performance.
Narcolepsy can lead to poor work performance.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

jj1025

I am also interested in any info related to cannabis and using it to treat both Narcolepsy and/or Cataplexy. I have both, was diagnosed 35 years. ago and at the time was the youngest diagnosed patient in Canada. So basically, I've tried many different combinations of medications. I'm still looking!

anon87407

anon43556, Please check your facts.

It is considered treatable to a degree, but certainly not curable.

There are but few treatments available, and many respond well to these.

They may not work for everyonee, and furthermore, many medications can also produce negative side effects.

To see a chart of medications sometimes used to treat narcolepsy, try the Stanford medical school where there is a research center devoted to sleep disorders, particularly narcolepsy.

Anti-depressants are only helpful for some patients, not all.

There is to my knowledge only one benzodiazepine in use for treatment of narcolepsy, as opposed to a long list of many other anticatapletic or hypnotic compounds, and/or stimulants. Medications must be tailored per patient.

Cannabis will not cause a person to have narcolepsy. Someone who is currently using cannabis *may* experience narcolepsy-like symptoms during use, but these subside with cessation of cannabis use. This is called "being high", and is in distinct contrast to true narcolepsy which does not just spontaneously 'go away' (with or without use of cannabis).

There have been cases of patients self-medicating (particularly for cataplexy) with cannabis, and this application could prove useful, as some research has found it likewise helpful for epilepsy.

anon57551

what proof links narcolepsy to cannabis?

anon43556

It is curable, not necessarily chronic, not necessarily genetic, highly influenced by psychic stress and drug intake, especially cannabis. Some treatments for neuroleptics include benzodiazepines and deep experiential therapy. Several patients have been cured or remit spontaneously with or without anti depressants. sorry

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