Narcolepsy is a serious sleep disorder. It affects about 1 out of every 2,000 people. Most people with narcolepsy haven’t been diagnosed, which means they aren’t being treated. People with narcolepsy always feel sleepy and tired.
You may have narcolepsy if you:
Narcolepsy is likely caused by a problem with the immune system (autoimmune disorder). It causes the brain to lose an important chemical (hypocretin/orexin) that people need to stay awake.
You'll need a test done called a polysomnography (PSG) to make sure you don’t have another type of sleep disorder. A PSG is an overnight sleep study in the hospital that records your stages of sleep and how well you sleep.
After the PSG, you'll need a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT). During this test, you'll have a 20 minute nap every 2 hours (normally 4 to 5 naps during an 8 hour day). If you have a positive MSLT and other symptoms, you may have narcolepsy.
There are many treatments for narcolepsy. Everyone’s treatment is different and depends on how bad their symptoms are. It can take weeks or months to find the best treatment for you.
Medicine is used to treat sleepiness and cataplexy, but lifestyle changes are also important. The main treatments for excessive daytime sleepiness are types of medicine called central nervous system stimulants. For cataplexy and other REM sleep symptoms, medicine that stops REM sleep may be given.
Another important part of treatment is scheduling 10 to 15-minute naps, 2 to 3 times a day. This will help control really bad daytime sleepiness and help you stay as alert as you can. Daytime naps don’t replace your need to sleep at night.
Current as of: March 2, 2018
Author: Sleep Health, Alberta Health Services
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