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Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which people fall asleep uncontrollably during the day. It comes from "narce lepsis," meaning "numbing attack." (1) The "sleep attacks" usually last 15 - 20 minutes. When the patient awakes, he or she feels refreshed, until an hour and a half to three hours later, when the next episode usually occurs.
Below are some common symptoms that occur during a narcoleptic "sleep attack." Not all narcoleptics experience all of these symptoms. In fact, only 20-30% of narcoleptic patients experience all of these symptoms. Included is the percentage of narcoleptics that experience each symptom.(2) It is also important to notice that one may have these symptoms without having narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy occurs in both men and women. Approximately 1 in every 1000 people have narcolepsy. (3) It usually develops in the patient's teens or twenties.
Narcolepsy research has shown that during narcoleptic symptoms, the brain waves are like those of REM sleep. Interestingly enough, these victims will also begin their nighttime sleep in REM sleep, as opposed to progressing through a normal sleep cycle. Narcolepsy may be genetically-related. It can also be the result of head injury.
"Decreased intensity of a circadian arousal system explains the increased amount, broader temporal distribution, and phase advance of day sleep in narcolepsy compared to the pattern of sleep propensity in normal control subjects," according to findings of researchers(4)
On Aug. 5, 1999, Emmanuel Mignot, the director of the Center for narcolepsy at Stanford University School of Medicine (CA), announced:
"You are really happy when you make a discovery with therapeutic possibilities." His research team "has identified a gene that causes the sleep disorder of narcolepsy. The research was done with dogs, "one of the few species besides humans known to develop narcolepsy." "Roughly 135,000 Americans" suffer. "The exact prevalence . . . is uncertain, but surveys in Europe, Japan and the United States suggest about 1 person in 20000 is affected to some degree." (5)
Sleep pioneer William Dement, Stanford University's director of the Sleep Disorders Research Center, said, "This discovery is the exciting culmination of 36 years of research on narcolepsy at Stanford."(5)
Doctors may treat narcoleptics with methylphenidate or amphetamines, stimulants that suppress REM sleep. Some also prescribe antidepressants to improve the cataplexy. A good nap schedule can sometimes also reduce the frequency of a narcoleptic's sleep attacks.
Resent research has shown good hope in modafinil, a new stimulant that may help symptoms of Narcolepsy. There are other drugs that are used in attempt to limit the severity of its symptoms. (6)
(1) Dunkell, Samuel. Goodbye Insomnia, Hello Sleep. New York: Carol Publishing Group, Birch Lane Press book, 1994. p. 120.
(2) Ancoli-Israel, Sonia. All I Want is a Good Night's Sleep. St. Louis, Mosby, 1996. (p.53)
(3) "Facts About Narcolepsy." Cener for Narcolepsy Research (CNR) at the College of Nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) URL: http://www.uic.edu/~slm624/WWW/cnr/ Last Modified: Jan. 30. 1998.and "FAQ's" Narcolepsy Network, Inc. URL: http://www.websciences.org/narnet/faq.htm
(4) Broughton, Roger, Susanne Krupa1, Brigitte Boucher, Martin Rivers and Janet Mullington. "ImpairedkCircadian Waking Arousal in Narcolepsy-Cataplexy. " Sleep Research Online 1(4): 159-165, 1998 © 1998 WebSciences URL: http://www.sro.org/1998/Broughton/159/
(5) "Center for Narcolepsy" Stanford University, School of Medicine. 5/21/99 URL: http://www-med.stanford.edu/school/Psychiatry/narcolepsy/
(6) "Stanford Researchers Nab Narcolepsy Gene for Sleep Disorders." Stanford University Medical Center News Bureau Press release, Aug. 5, 1999, found at: http://www.stanford.edu/~dement/ngene.shtml (URL as of Aug. 12, 1999).[an error occurred while processing this directive]