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The Study of Narcolepsy

By Arushi Neravetla


Narcolepsy is classified as a sleep disorder that causes extreme drowsiness from sudden attacks of sleep resulting in hallucinations and a lack of concentration on a day-to-day basis. The diagnosis of narcolepsy is usually supported by a polysomnogram, which enables scientists and doctors to evaluate recordings of brain waves, muscle tone, rapid eye movement (REM), and breathing. In general, patients with narcolepsy experience severe and persistent daytime sleepiness, a primary symptom as the brain must process irregular sleeping patterns. As a result, narcolepsy impairs an individual’s ability to carry out simple daily tasks and function in a professional setting, heightening the risks of serious accidents. Furthermore, according to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, narcolepsy is categorized into two groups -- type 1 and type 2 [1]. Type 1 narcolepsy is mainly associated with the symptom of cataplex (the sudden loss of muscle tone) and low levels of a chemical known as hypocretin-1, which controls the consciousness and the act of waking up. On the other hand, type 2 narcolepsy, formerly known as “narcolepsy without cataplexy,” has similar symptoms to type 1, but no issues with the regulation of hypocretin-1 or cataplexy [1]. The prevalence of either type of narcolepsy can be extremely challenging in individuals, since it is not diagnosed or identified until it has reached severe progression.


In America, over 100,000 individuals, including children and adults, are diagnosed with narcolepsy annually [2]. One of the primary symptoms associated with this disorder is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), a cardinal symptom that urges an individual to sleep in different periods that do not fit their sleep cycle, known as “sleep attacks.” This results in severe drowsiness and lapses in attention. Sleep paralysis can also occur when the patient is unable to move while asleep or conscious and experiences vivid hallucinations in both states. A sudden loss of muscle control can often occur in diagnosed individuals, correlating to the loss of up to 90% of neurons which are responsible for creating hypocretin, a chemical that regulates sleep pattern [1]. Many scientists concluded that although narcolepsy is rare, type 1 narcolepsy affects between 20-67 people in 100,000 in the U.S [2].


The diagnosed symptoms seen in these disorders do not have a cure, but a patient can take steps to enhance their sleep. A combination of treatments and therapies, short naps, improvements on sleep hygiene, avoidance of alcohol and substances, a healthy diet paired with exercise, and mental support can make a significant difference. From these sleep disorders, scientists are on the verge of researching the development of sleeping patterns and how it affects REM movement.


References

  1. “Narcolepsy.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Nov. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcolepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20375497.

  2. “Narcolepsy: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments.” Sleep Foundation, 17 Feb. 2021, www.sleepfoundation.org/narcolepsy.

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