If you are prone to daytime exhaustion, poor sleep at night, and falling suddenly into a deep sleep regardless of what you might be doing at the time, you might have a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. While little is known about the cause of narcolepsy, and there is no cure, there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms.
A visit to a doctor for a proper diagnosis is the first essential step in treatment. After a thorough physical exam, having your medical history scrutinized, and likely undergoing a series of narcolepsy tests, your physician will be better able to develop a plan.
Prescription medications are one manner of handling the life-interrupting symptoms of narcolepsy. Modafinil is one common drug used to combat the excessive daytime sleepiness that comes along with narcolepsy. It is intended to be taken in the morning, at the same time every day. Since it can be habit forming, you should not stop using it without talking to a doctor first, even if it doesn’t seem to be working.
Amphetamine derivatives are another option. These stimulate the central nervous system, which will not only help you feel less tired but can improve the feeling of a clouded mind and help with poor concentration. These too can be habit forming and may come with side effects like heart rhythm disturbances, shakiness, and irritability. They also tend to disrupt the ability to sleep at night, which can actually increase exhaustion during the day. Furthermore, they have a tendency to drastically decrease appetite, which can be problematic when it begins to cause deficiencies of necessary vitamins and minerals.
Cataplexy, a sudden and overwhelming weakness that can display as subtly as a slurred speech or as drastically as complete collapse, often comes in tandem with narcolepsy, although rarely does it appear on its own. Sodium oxybate is a central nervous system depressant that not only helps with excessive daytime sleepiness but can also help with cataplectic fits. Exactly why it helps symptoms of narcolepsy are not yet understood, but it is a very strong sedative intended for use at night and very strictly controlled.
Some antidepressants can also help control cataplexy, specifically tricyclics and serotonin and noradrenergic reuptake inhibitors. For patients that find these to be helpful, the antidepressants are preferred over other options, because they tend to result in fewer adverse effects. They can, however, cause impotence, high blood pressure, and heart irregularities.
Unfortunately, none of these are always completely effective for the narcoleptic patient, and you may not feel the possible improvements are worth the side effects. Behavioral strategies in combination with drugs for narcolepsy generally produce the best effects. Strictly scheduled sleeping patterns and arranging for periodic naps throughout the day can help improve nighttime sleep quality and lessen daytime sleepiness. Other helpful activities include relaxing before bed and ensuring a comfortable environment for sleep. Experts also say to steer clear of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption; large meals and caffeine before bed are also discouraged, as they too can interfere with intended sleep and disrupt sleeping patterns.
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