What Is a Sleep Attack?

Having the irresitible urge to sleep or experiencing narcolepsy with cataplexy? While some medications like dopamine agonists for Parkinson's disease and sleep disorders can result in slower onsets of sleep events it is particularly disturbing and even dangerous for those who have a sleep event and fall asleep suddenly (although it is more of a muscle paralysis than actual sleep).

Sleep attacks are commonly associated with narcolepsy and catalepsy. Narcoleptics will find themselves overwhelmed by an irresistible urge to sleep but an attack that completely immobilizes them and comes on very quickly, often triggered by emotional reactions is called cataplexy.

For example in the first video below you will see a man who suffers from this condition and it has dramatically impacted his life. While not all narcoleptics suffer from these extreme sleep attacks he has been disabled by his condition and must have a care giver to ensure his saftey.

When such an attack occurs the REM atonia that is designed to protect us from moving about during REM sleep triggers at an inappropriate time. It appears that those suffering from narcolepsy and cataplexy do not produce sufficent quantities of hypocretin due to damage caused to the hypothalimus.

The loss of neurons in the hypothalimus generally begins during adolescence and is a lifelong condition. Hypocretin is a neurotranmitter that is related to wakefulness. So one of the primary symptoms is abnormal daytime sleepiness.

Narcolepsy with catalepsy can be disabling and affects approximately 0.02% of the population worldwide.1

Is There a Sleep Attack Cure?

Currently there is no cure or magic pill for narcolepsy with cataplexy. Generally, patients are offered stimulants to address the daytime sleepiness and anti-depressants for the cataplexy.

While taking naps regularly may help to temporarily refresh the patient it has limited effectiveness. Some with this condition will take naps every couple of hours to gain better control rather than waiting until they are overwhelmed by the need to sleep.

Medications may also be needed to ensure that a deep enough level of sleep can be achieved at night in order to provide a restful sleep as narcoleptics often also suffer from insomnia.

Narcoleptics often experience chronic Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) wherein they find it more and more difficult to defend against a sleep attack and may require several naps throughout the day. This can, of course, become a dangerous condition should they fall asleep or experience a cataplexic episode while driving or on a flight of stairs for example.

In the video below you will see the story of a young man who lives with the constant threat of cataplexy. Narcolepsy with catalepsy as well as sleep paralysis and hynogogic hallucinations make life quite difficult but medications allow at least some relief from the symptoms.

Sleep Aid Guide - Cartoon by Mark Anderson

Lucid Dreaming