What Is Narcolepsy With Cataplexy?

Updated October, 2020
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Narcolepsy with cataplexy, or type 1 narcolepsy, is a sleep condition that causes low levels of hypocretin. Cataplexy is a disruptive symptom of narcolepsy where you suddenly lose control of your muscles. Cataplexy is triggered by strong emotions, and can happen often or infrequently depending on the person.

Understanding narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic, neurological sleep disorder impacting your brain's ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Those affected feel tired and drowsy during the daytime and experience sleep attacks during daily activities. If you have narcolepsy, you may also wake up frequently at night due to unsteady and interrupted sleep.

Common symptoms

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): Experiencing persistent sleep attacks regardless of how much you slept the night before.
  • Cataplexy: Sudden loss of muscle tone while awake, causing you to lose control of your muscles. Cataplexy tends to be triggered by emotional reactions.
  • Sleep Problems: You may experience difficulty staying asleep. You might also experience sleep paralysis, which inhibits your ability to move and is often paired with visual hallucinations.
  • Automatic behaviors: When you fall asleep for a short period of time and carry on with whatever activity you were doing before

What are the causes

No exact cause is known, although factors like autoimmune disorders, family history, and brain injuries are possible risk factors for developing narcolepsy.

  • Family history- While most narcolepsy cases aren't related to family history, about 10% of cases report a family member who experiences similar symptoms, indicating a possible genetic link.
  • Autoimmune disorders- May be a cause of type 1 narcolepsy. Some researchers believe that narcoleptics' immune systems attacks their hypocretin-containing brain cells due to genetic and environmental factors.
  • Brain injuries- In rare cases, narcolepsy can develop from trauma to the arts of the brain that regulate wakefulness and REM.

What is cataplexy?

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone which can result in a number of physical changes, ranging from slurred speech to collapsing entirely. This narcolepsy symptom only appears if you have type 1 narcolepsy. Cataplexy is commonly triggered by intense emotions such as excitement or fear.

Two types of narcolepsy

1. Narcolepsy with cataplexy

Type 1 narcolepsy causes low levels of hypocretin, responsible for wakefulness and rapid eye movement (REM). Type 1 narcoleptics can experience cataplexy, which occurs when your muscles suddenly go limp without warning.

2. Narcolepsy without cataplexy

Unlike type 1 narcolepsy, doctors aren't sure what causes type 2 narcolepsy, as people with type 2 narcolepsy have normal hypocretin levels. While people with type two narcolepsy experience sleep attacks and irregular sleep cycles, they don't suffer from cataplexy, and their symptoms might be milder than people who have type 1 narcolepsy.

Why it is important to treat narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a serious sleep disorder, and should be treated as such. Untreated narcolepsy can create crippling negative effects in your social, academic, and work life. Furthermore, untreated narcolepsy can seriously affect your mental health and quality of life.

  • Physical harm- Sleep attacks can make you more susceptible to accidents like car crashes, cuts and burns, or other injuries that could occur while falling asleep during a daily activity.
  • Obesity- Narcoleptics are more likely to become obese. This symptom may be related to a low metabolism in those with narcolepsy.
  • Interference with close relationships- Those who don't know how to manage narcolepsy might distance themselves from emotional interactions, as strong emotions can trigger cataplexy.

Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes instead of medication

Narcolepsy isn't a curable condition, but speaking to your doctor about lifestyle changes instead of taking medications may ease symptoms more effectively and benefit your health long-term. Medications can often have nasty side effects like addiction, so learning how to manage your narcolepsy through changing your lifestyle is often a healthier choice.

Will a new mattress help with narcolepsy?

If you suffer from narcolepsy, it's possible that you've tried many of the treatments listed here with little to no results. If you've tried the treatments listed above and haven't seen your symptoms improve, it may be time to invest in a quality mattress. Improving sleep quality can ease narcolepsy, so investing in the right mattress may help get you on the right track towards a better night's sleep.

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