Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that most of us have heard of at least once. It severely affects the natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness, and doctors are still not completely sure of its origin.
The top sleep disorder doctors at the New York-based New York Cardiovascular Associates explains narcolepsy basics, including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. If you’ve experienced excessive drowsiness recently, it’s important to consider whether you may be affected by this serious condition.
Sleep disorder doctors in New York, NY talk narcolepsy basics
Narcolepsy is characterized by sudden attacks of sleep accompanied by an overwhelming drowsiness during the daytime. It’s possible for people suffering from narcolepsy to fall asleep anytime and anywhere, even if they are fully engaged with activities like work or speaking with others. These sudden episodes of sleep may last for just a few minutes or up to half an hour; sufferers usually feel refreshed upon waking, but will inevitably fall asleep again over the course of time.
Narcolepsy is often accompanied by a condition called cataplexy, which is the sudden loss of muscle tone. This can result in obvious physical symptoms, such as slurred speech, an uncontrollably drooping head, or buckling of the knees. Cataplexy is often brought on by experiencing intense emotion, from laughter and excitement to fear, surprise, or even anger.
The first symptoms of narcolepsy usually manifest between the ages of 10 and 25. They can worsen for the first few years, and then they continue for life.
The most obvious symptoms of excessive daytime drowsiness and cataplexy may give your primary physician reason enough to give a preliminary diagnosis of narcolepsy. However, formal diagnosis will require an evaluation by a sleep disorder doctor at a sleep center.
The best sleep centers are equipped to provide an in-depth analysis of your sleep patterns that will be subsequently analyzed by a team of specialists. They will look at data collected from a polysomnogram, which measures various electrical signals sent by your brain, heart, and muscles while you sleep. You may also undergo a multiple sleep latency test, during which you’ll take four to five naps approximately two hours apart to measure how long you require to fall asleep during the day. People with narcolepsy can fall asleep almost immediately, and they enter REM sleep much more quickly than normal.
It’s important to conclusively determine whether your daytime drowsiness is a result of narcolepsy or whether it is related to some other form of sleep disorder, like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea doctors note that the temporary awakenings caused by sleep apnea can cause similar symptoms to narcolepsy, so the data collected in a sleep center is vital to an accurate diagnosis.
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but there are various treatment strategies sleep disorder doctors recommend that can help you gain control over your symptoms. You doctor could prescribe chemical stimulants like modanfinil or armodafinil to help you stay awake during the day. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) suppress REM sleep and can help alleviate cataplexy.
There are also modifications you can make to your lifestyle to manage your symptoms. Sticking to a strict sleeping schedule, including taking short naps at regular intervals, has proved useful in many cases. Avoiding the use of alcohol or nicotine is also known to diminish the symptoms of narcolepsy. Finally, moderate exercise four to five hours before you plan on going to bed at night can help ensure better quality sleep.
Consult with the experts
Daytime drowsiness can be a serious problem. To find out if you might be dealing with narcolepsy, you’ll need to speak with a sleep disorder doctor. Your New York experts at New York Cardiovascular Associates can consult with you regarding the healthiness of your sleep patterns. Call the office to schedule a consultation at (646) 233-1838.