Narcolepsy – Sudden Sleep Disease

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder called hypersomnia . In this disease, the brain’s control of sleep cycles is impaired. A person is pursued by cataplexy, uncontrolled falling asleep, bouts of drowsiness during the day with disturbed night sleep. The trigger of the state is usually strong emotions. Laughing or crying, a person loses the mobility of the muscles of the face, limbs and falls asleep. The disease usually begins to manifest itself in childhood and adolescence. 

Narcolepsy is a pathology of the nervous system characterized by sudden bouts of daytime sleepiness. Other names for the disease are Zhelino’s disease , essential narcolepsy. The disease itself is not fatal, but accidents during episodes of narcolepsy are common.   

Narcolepsy symptoms

The presence of pathology can be determined by the following criteria:

  • excessive daytime sleepiness;
  • sleep paralysis;
  • hallucinations, frightening dreams;
  • snoring – it is provoked by the relaxation of the throat muscles and blockage of the airways;
  • involuntary constant movements of the lower extremities (less often – the upper ones);
  • deterioration of memory, focus;
  • lack of energy;
  • insomnia;
  • sudden muscle weakness.

Among the manifestations of narcolepsy in children:

  • irritability;
  • hyperactivity;
  • unsteadiness of gait;
  • constantly half-closed eyelids.

Narcolepsy causes

The main cause of the disease is a decrease in the level of hypocretins – neuropeptides that are synthesized by the hypothalamus. Their function is to keep the body awake. Substances are also responsible for the production of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine.

Hormone deficiencies also cause depression and mood swings, so the treatment of narcolepsy often requires a multidimensional approach that takes into account related factors in the course of the disease.

The lack of production of hypocretins can be caused by the following reasons: 

  • heredity is the cause of narcolepsy in about 10% of cases; 
  • low levels of histamine in the blood;
  • brain damage – tumors, trauma, stroke;
  • exposure to toxins – pesticides, heavy metals, smoke;
  • autoimmune disorders (celiac disease, lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis);
  • vitamin D deficiency;
  • viral diseases (primarily influenza).

Narcolepsy treatment

The condition is diagnosed with a thorough physical examination. Helps to establish the diagnosis keeping a sleep diary.

In a clinical setting, monitoring is done using electrodes attached to the head and body. The technique allows you to record the activity of the brain, the work of muscles, respiratory organs, vision, hearing at different phases of sleep, to note how quickly falling asleep and the transition to deep sleep occur.

When therapy is used:

  • Stimulants – Modafinil , Methylphenidate, and other drugs containing amphetamine. Side effects include headaches, nervousness, heart palpitations. Taking amphetamines is fraught with the development of addiction.
  • Antidepressants that block the reuptake of serotonin. Medicines such as Fluoxetine, Venlafaxine , Atomoxetine suppress drowsiness, relieve the symptoms of catalepsy, and relieve hallucinations. At the same time, they cause weight gain, digestive disorders, and sexual dysfunction.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants – Imipramine, Clomipramine , Nortriptyline , Amiltriptyline .
  • Hypnotics ( Zopiclone , Zolpidem ).
  • Sodium oxybutyrate – improves sleep quality, but may cause nausea and increased sweating.

Physiotherapy, conversational psychotherapy, reflexology, massage are effective in narcolepsy. Aromatherapy helps to fight fatigue, stress, and improve sleep. Relaxes and soothes oils of lavender, orange, geranium, ylang-ylang , bergamot, incense, mint, mandarin, rose, oregano.

Techniques to reduce the relapse rate of narcolepsy

It is impossible to completely cure the disease, but it is possible to reduce the frequency of attacks. To do this, use control of sleep cycles, exercise, diet, and taking vitamins.

Sleep cycle monitoring

With narcolepsy, it is difficult to maintain vigor during the daytime, which creates difficulties during study and work. Tracking the cyclicity of sleep and wakefulness periods contributes to adaptation to the needs of the body, the development of an individual regimen. This allows action to be taken during periods of peak activity.

It is useful to use breaks in work, study for short-term sleep (no more than an hour).

Physical exercises

Even 20 minutes of daily activity relieves symptoms of narcolepsy, including depression, cognitive impairment, and insomnia. It is necessary to do it with outside support, it is important to monitor the patient’s condition and, in case of sudden falling asleep, to protect him from injury.

It is preferable to choose calm types of loads – Pilates, yoga, walks.
More intense exercise is also beneficial, but the strong emotions inherent in team sports can trigger an episode of uncontrolled sleep.

Support Group

It is impossible to get rid of narcolepsy, while the disorder makes serious adjustments and restrictions in the lifestyle. Constant fatigue, low motivation, a sense of isolation become the cause of the development of increased anxiety, anxiety, depression.

Support for children and adolescents is especially necessary – with such a diagnosis, school bullying is not excluded . The child may feel depressed also due to the inability to fully study, spend leisure time with peers. Group therapy allows you to go out with your problem to an understanding audience, to be liberated, to share experiences.


Food intolerances can worsen symptoms. Most often, a negative reaction is caused by:

  • dairy products;
  • wheat;
  • rye;
  • soy;
  • corn;
  • chocolate.

Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates should be avoided.

A balanced diet will help control weight. Half of children with narcolepsy are diagnosed with obesity. Excess weight becomes an additional factor that worsens the quality of night sleep, provoking apnea, chronic fatigue.

Vitamin D

You can ask your doctor about the appointment of a synthetic form of vitamin (D3), and get ergocalciferol (D2) with food, supplementing the diet with chum salmon, mackerel, herring, fish oil, cream, sour cream, beef liver, egg yolk, cod liver.

The most effective way to avoid vitamin D deficiency is through exposure to sunlight:

  • 15 minutes a day for people with fair skin;
  • 30 minutes for darker skin tones.

In this case, you do not need to use sunscreen, otherwise the vitamin will not be synthesized.

Vitamin B12

Cobalt-containing substances improve memory, mood, and increase energy.

They are present in:

  • beef liver;
  • lamb meat;
  • salmon;
  • beef;
  • eggs;
  • cottage cheese;
  • rabbit meat;
  • cod;
  • carpe;
  • sour cream.


The amino acid increases the length of night sleep, while significantly reducing daytime sleepiness. Taking oxytripan requires a doctor’s approval, the drug has side effects, the ability to suppress or enhance the effects of other drugs.

Do not use the drug in the treatment of childhood narcolepsy and during pregnancy.

Omega-3 fats

Improves cognitive ability, performance. Children and adolescents are helped to cope with hyperactivity, attention deficit.

The concentration of polyunsaturated acids is high in:

  • flax seeds;
  • herring;
  • mackerel;
  • walnuts;
  • salmon;
  • beans;
  • dry beans;
  • embryos of oats, wheat;
  • spinach;
  • cauliflower;
  • avocado;
  • strawberries;
  • raspberries;
  • linseed oil.

Falling asleep suddenly while working, driving, cooking, participating in sports activities is dangerous for injuries – both to the patient himself and to third parties. The most common are burns, fractures, cuts, and hematomas. For head injuries, urgent concussion counseling is needed.

Narcolepsy refers to diseases that are currently incurable. The condition imposes a number of restrictions, seriously reducing the quality of life. The patient needs not only professional medical care, but also the support of loved ones. This will avoid isolation, increase socialization, protect against depression, and allow a person to be realized.

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