Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at random times, leading to interference with daily life, lack of energy, hallucinations and moodiness. It is a fairly rare condition, estimated to affect approximately 25,000 people in the UK. The medicine that is typically prescribed for narcolepsy is Modafinil.
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What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that diminishes the control of sleep. This means that sufferers experience excessive daytime sleepiness that interferes with daily life, episodes of falling asleep uncontrollably (at random times) and sleep paralysis.
The condition can also lead to sudden muscle tone loss, leading to feelings of weakness and even slurred speech. Narcolepsy sufferers also report hallucinations (that can be extremely frequent and vivid), memory lapses, mental cloudiness, lack of focus, loss of energy and depressed moods.
Narcolepsy usually develops between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can affect people at any age. It’s difficult to know how many people it actually affects, as a lot of cases apparently go unreported but it’s thought to affect men and women equally.
What causes narcolepsy?
The cause of narcolepsy is not completely known, however, many cases are due to a lack of hypocretin; a chemical in the brain that regulates wakefulness. The actual cause of the lack of this chemical is the part that we don’t know, but current ideas include a gene that controls production, or the immune system attacking the production cells mistakenly.
In addition, researchers have found abnormalities in various parts of the brain involved in REM sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the part where we dream and occurs for most people at the end of their sleep cycle (after about 90 minutes), following the light and deep sleep stages. For a person with narcolepsy though, REM sleep happens almost immediately in the sleep cycle, as well as during waking hours. This could explain some of the symptoms of the disorder, such as hallucinations and sleep paralysis.
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Although the root cause is still being researched, there are a number of things that have been suggested to trigger narcolepsy. This includes hormonal changes (such as puberty), major psychological stress or infections.
How can I treat narcolepsy? (Modafinil)
Because the cause is unknown, it makes sense that there is no cure for narcolepsy. However, the symptoms can be controlled in most people with medication. Because the excessive daytime sleepiness is the most debilitating part of the condition, this can be treated with Modafinil.
What is Modafinil?
Modafinil, sold under the brand name Provigil among others, is a medication to treat sleepiness due to narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This drug is not a stimulant (although it acts like one), it’s actually a eugeroic. This wakefulness-promoting agent doesn’t make you jittery, has very few side effects and doesn’t have a crash like classic stimulants do.
As well as treating narcolepsy with medication, it’s advised to make some lifestyle adjustments. This includes avoiding alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, as well as any heavy meals. It’s a good idea to get into a routine by having a sleep schedule (including short daytime naps), exercising regularly and having meals at regular times.
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