Narcolepsy: uncontrolled sleep

What makes us sleepy? Maybe the reason is a banal lack of sleep? Or is everything much more serious, and yawning and sleepiness speak of a serious illness? Drowsiness can be caused by certain medications and even too much sleep. However, there is an interesting and incomprehensible disease in which a person not only wants to sleep, but literally falls asleep out of the blue. This condition is called narcolepsy.

Signs of narcolepsy: weakness after sleep

Someone may have already encountered the phenomenon of narcolepsy in films and books. In this regard, the heroine of the novel by Jonathan Coe “The House of Sleep” is a striking example . A girl named Sarah has all five of the following signs of narcolepsy. What are these signs?

  • Irresistible desire to fall asleep during the day;
  • Vivid dreams when falling asleep or waking up;
  • After sleep, having already woken up, a person cannot move his arms and legs;
  • With laughter, sharp negative emotions, at the moment of making love, muscles suddenly relax, such that a person can fall or have to sit down in order to keep from falling;
  • The need to sleep several times (1-3 times) during the day to feel vigorous, while the sleep time is 3-5-15 minutes.  

Narcolepsy can be indicated by the presence of at least two of these symptoms. But its two most striking signs are the ability to fall asleep in any circumstances, for example, during a conversation, and a sharp relaxation of muscles during a strong laugh – such that a person falls.

Sleep and its phases: rest and brain activity

Sleep is still a mysterious phenomenon in our life. All sleep time is divided into phases. One phase is slow sleep. During this period, a person is in a state of deep sleep, his brain is unloaded. Another phase is REM sleep. In the phase of REM sleep, a person’s eyes move under closed eyelids, the frequency of respiration and heart rate increase, the person moves, changes his posture. The brain is highly active. It functions with the same intensity as during the day, but the sleeper does not wake up. It is during the fast phase that we dream. For the discrepancy between the vigor of the brain and the sleepy body, the slow phase of sleep is also called paradoxical.  

In narcolepsy, the sleep phases are partially included. Inhibition, covering the cerebral cortex during sleep, is selective in this disease. In one case, it captures the cerebral cortex, but does not affect the underlying regions. The person falls asleep, but he can continue to sit and even walk while sleeping. This state lasts for seconds or 1-2 minutes. After sleep, the person continues to act calmly, sometimes not noticing him. Or the opposite state: immobility suddenly sets in, but consciousness is completely preserved. Thus, in narcolepsy, inhibition engages different parts of our brain. 

Patients with narcolepsy have the ability to fall without getting hurt. Before the onset of an attack, they may have time to sit up, huddle up, or even lie down. The attacks of narcolepsy are very similar to the variant of epilepsy, so doctors must carry out differential diagnostics, that is, they prove that in this case there is narcolepsy, and not epilepsy.

Sleep time – anytime

What are the mechanisms of narcolepsy? Are they known? Even in the laboratories of Pavlov, who is best known for the theory of the conditioned reflex (when experimental dogs salivated on a call), it was proved that the brain has a special sleep center. It is located deep in the brain, at the bottom of the third ventricle. It is from there that inhibition begins to spread, which then captures the cerebral cortex.

Later it was found that there are special substances – neurotransmitters or neurotransmitters , which are involved in the transmission of this inhibition through nerve cells. And when the body is functioning normally, these neurotransmitters allow arousal to keep us awake. When there are not enough neurotransmitters , the excitatory impulse does not reach the cerebral cortex. And the person falls asleep. Falls asleep at the most inopportune moments, regardless of his own desire. The patient can fall asleep at work, at home, while eating and just on the go. This is a pathological, uncontrolled dream.

Treatment: not to be confused with epilepsy

In epilepsy, electroencephalogram data find a focus of excitation in the brain. And if we treat epilepsy with inhibitory drugs, then there is no need to inhibit anything, the treatment will be different. Sleep with narcolepsy is short, after sleep a person re-enters life, but such people, of course, look strange, and not all of them can work. These people need the help of doctors. How is this disease treated? Treatment is carried out by a neurologist, although the disease in places looks like a mental one.

To begin with, as already mentioned, the doctor must determine whether the patient has epilepsy , because the treatment for these diseases is completely different. Second, you need to understand if the signs of narcolepsy are a symptom of some more serious illness, for example, a tumor in the area of ​​the brain that is responsible for sleep. Diagnosing narcolepsy is not easy. It is necessary to study sleep and study the brain during sleep with registration of the processes taking place in it.  

Once a diagnosis of narcolepsy is established, it is important to properly distribute your energies throughout the day and night. You need a carefully regulated sleep and wakefulness routine. In addition, it is necessary to exclude those professional activities in which a person, suddenly falling asleep, can harm himself and others. Such people definitely cannot work with machines, drive a car. At the same time, maintaining a daily routine, in which it is quite possible to include several episodes of naps, allows them to function quite normally. That is, you can adapt to the disease: if a person needs to sleep during the day, he can find a job in which a nap is acceptable.

Actually, the treatment of narcolepsy is carried out under very strict medical supervision. Patients are prescribed drugs that, on the one hand, tone up, that is, stimulate the brain during the day. As a result, the impulses that excite the cerebral cortex, preventing it from slowing down and falling asleep, will reach it, and the person will be awake and feel great. On the other hand, it is necessary to weaken the inhibitory effect that comes from the sleep zone. There are two groups of drugs that will keep the cerebral cortex from sleeping at unnecessary times. Thus, painful disorders in the brain can be corrected, which will allow the patient to live an almost full life.

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