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
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
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.
- Narcolepsy with Catalepsy - Dauvilliers Y, Arnulf I, Mignot
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Last Updated on
Friday, December 2, 2011 17:39