How To Manage Narcolepsy Symptoms

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that causes a person to fall asleep at any time during the day. The chronic condition can easily disrupt one's daily activities, including how you function at work or school. A person suffering from narcolepsy likely feels tired throughout the day and may struggle with concentrating.

According to WebMD, narcolepsy can be broken down into 2 categories: type 1 and type 2. While both types are similar, type 1 narcolepsy can result in cataplexy, which is the sudden and temporary loss of tone and strength in your muscles. During a sleep cycle, our bodies enter the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle. The REM sleep cycle typically takes about 90 minutes to reach once you've shut your eyes. However, people with narcolepsy fall into their REM sleep cycle "almost immediately," even while they're still awake. (via WebMD).

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but it's believed the lack of a brain chemical known as hypocretin is to blame. The Mayo Clinic reports hypocretin helps regulate REM sleep and may be lacking or low in narcolepsy patients due to the body's autoimmune reaction. There's also the possibility narcolepsy is genetic, but the risk is extremely low at just 1% (via the Mayo Clinic).

Treating narcolepsy symptoms

Symptoms of narcolepsy can alter the way a person lives. According to Healthline, narcolepsy symptoms may improve as one gets older, but they're typically long-term. It can take anywhere from just a few weeks to years for narcolepsy symptoms to develop. The chronic condition can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep attacks, headaches, depression, and sleep paralysis. Despite sleep paralysis not causing any harm to you, it can feel scary to experience in the middle of the night.

Everyday Health reports while it may seem best to catch up on sleep by sleeping longer, you'll want to avoid this common mistake. Instead, to manage narcolepsy symptoms, try a few tricks first. Strategically napping, maintaining good sleep habits, and asking your doctor about narcolepsy medications can help. Some doctors may prescribe medications to help regulate nighttime sleep and lessen your abnormal REM sleep cycle. You can also try napping strategically by taking a quick 20-minute nap to refresh, however, not everyone does well with a nap (via Everyday Health). In fact, napping can make some people feel more "fuzzy-headed."

Currently, there's no cure for narcolepsy. Maintaining good sleep habits, such as limiting screen time, sticking to a routine, and avoiding large meals and caffeine before bed, can reduce your risk of some narcolepsy symptoms.