Is Narcolepsy A Mental Illness?

Updated January 2021
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Is Narcolepsy A Mental Illness?

Narcolepsy is not a mental illness. It is a chronic neurological disorder impacting your brain's ability to control your sleep and wake cycles. The disease is most commonly characterized by sudden, severe bouts of drowsiness that causes excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), cataplexy, and night terrors.

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes irregular sleeping patterns. Those who suffer from narcolepsy enter and exit their REM cycle much quicker than the average person, and as a result experience uneven sleep patterns. This can sometimes lead to sleep paralysis, night terrors, and chronic drowsiness.

The effects of narcolepsy

  • Acute drowsiness. The most common symptom of narcolepsy, sufferers often feel rested upon waking but battle extreme fatigue throughout the day. In some cases, this causes the narcoleptic to suddenly fall asleep at inopportune moments.
  • Sleep paralysis. During REM sleep, the brain limits muscle function. Unable to regulate their sleep cycles, the narcoleptic might experience this limited muscle function upon waking.
  • Vivid dreams/night terrors. Some narcoleptics report sudden, vivid dreams or even night terrors. This is because narcoleptics fall quickly into REM sleep, causing them to dream more quickly and intensely than average.

Signs and symptoms of narcolepsy

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). The most common symptom is characterized by overwhelming exhaustion that persists throughout the day.
  • Sleep paralysis. The inability to move upon waking is a sign the brain isn't properly regulating your sleep schedule.
  • Cataplexy. The loss or weakness of a muscle during wakefulness is often mistaken as extreme fatigue. However, the consistent weakness of one or more muscles is a byproduct of EDS and a common symptom of narcolepsy.

Treating narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic disease. However, there are some ways you can attempt to regulate your illness.

Lifestyle changes

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid smoking. Keep your sleep schedule regular.
  • Alter your sleep environment to maximize your sleep quality.
  • Relax before bed.
  • Take short naps throughout the day to manage your fatigue.

Medication.

There's a variety of medication available to manage narcolepsy. Consult your physician to discuss which medication is right for you.

  • Modafinil
  • Anti-depressants
  • Sodium oxybate

Will a new mattress help with narcolepsy?

Whether you were diagnosed with narcolepsy years ago or you only suspect you may have this illness, you've likely tried everything. It might be time to really consider your sleep environment. Many people go years without considering their mattress. But as we grow older, our bodies change. Replacing your old, uncomfortable mattress is a step in the right direction toward improving your overall sleep quality, and your health.

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