Is narcolepsy a neurological disorder? Narcolepsy is an uncommon and chronic neurological disorder that affects the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and orexin (or hypocretin) neurons.
People who have narcolepsy experience a rapid onset of REM sleep during wakefulness or naps. This sudden transition may result in cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations.
This article will explore what narcolepsy is, how it’s a neurological disorder, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Keep reading to learn more.
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep and wakefulness. This results in a reduced amount of sleep and an intermittent sleep-wake pattern.
Narcolepsy affects an estimated 0.3% of the population. This is approximately 1 in every 360 people worldwide.
Narcolepsy commonly starts between the ages of 15 and 25. The average age of onset is 21 years.
Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden, uncontrollable sleep attacks. These sleep attacks can occur at any time of the day, whether you are sitting still, moving, or engaged in some other activity.
You may have trouble keeping your eyes open and might feel like you suddenly have no energy. Narcolepsy also causes sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
How is Narcolepsy a Neurological Disorder?
Is narcolepsy a neurological disorder? Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s sleep-wake cycle. This occurs when the hypothalamus and orexin (or hypocretin) neurons are damaged or destroyed. As a result, the central nervous system is unable to control muscle movement, sleep, and wakefulness.
The hypothalamus is a part of the brain that controls the pituitary gland via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA). It produces and releases hormones that regulate blood pressure, metabolism, temperature, and many other bodily functions.
Hypothalamus also controls the sleep-wake cycle by signaling the orexin (or hypocretin) neurons. These neurons produce and release the wake-promoting peptide neurotransmitters orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH).
Following are the symptoms of narcolepsy that you should be tracking for early detection.
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS): EDS is one of the most common and defining symptoms of narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy have difficulty staying awake and experience a strong urge to sleep.
- Sleep Attacks and Cataplexy: Sudden sleep attacks are episodes in which you fall asleep with very little warning. Sleep attacks can be triggered by emotions, such as laughter or anger. They may also be triggered by hunger.
- Hypnagogic Hallucinations and Sleep Paralysis: Hypnagogic hallucinations are vivid images, sounds, or sensations that occur during the transition from wakefulness to sleep. Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move.
- Other Symptoms: Other symptoms of narcolepsy may include irregular sleep and wake cycles, disrupted nocturnal sleep, and excessive amounts of sleep.
Causes of Narcolepsy
While the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
While it has been observed in a variety of ethnicities, it is most common in Caucasians. It affects men and women equally and occurs in all parts of the world.
The main theory behind the development of narcolepsy is that the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter orexin. The orexin system regulates important functions like metabolism, heart rate, and muscle movement.
While it is likely that genetics plays a key role in the development of narcolepsy, the disorder can be triggered by a viral infection. There is some evidence that the H1N1 or swine flu virus can cause narcolepsy.
Treatment Options for Narcolepsy
There is currently no cure for narcolepsy. However, there are a variety of treatment options for managing its symptoms. Treatment for narcolepsy will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms.
- Stimulants: Stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate are often prescribed to help increase wakefulness and reduce excessive sleepiness. Due to the potential for abuse and addiction, they should be used under the supervision of a physician.
- Non-Stimulants: Non-stimulants such as modafinil and antidepressants can also be prescribed to help reduce sleepiness.
- Alternative Therapies: Alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation may be recommended for stress reduction.
Is Narcolepsy a neurological disorder? Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks. It is a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking and destroying orexin neurons, which regulate metabolism, heart rate, and muscle movement.
Narcolepsy is a rare disorder that affects approximately 0.3% of the population. Treatment options include stimulants, non-stimulants, and alternative therapies. To learn more about narcolepsy treatment, read.