The three aforementioned conditions may also occur in people who do not
have narcolepsy. One in four patients who have narcolepsy also have the
other three conditions. Needless to say, these symptoms can cause serious
disruptions in a person's life and can cause a person to think of severely
limiting their activities of daily living.
How Common Is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is as common as Parkinson's Disease, although it has less of a
public profile due to the lack of awareness of the condition. It is
estimated that as many as 200,000 Americans have it, but fewer than 50,000
have been diagnosed. Thus, 75% of the people with narcolepsy don't know for sure that they have it, or not. Often, people with narcolepsy are thought to
have depression, epilepsy or suffering from the side effects of various medications.
Who Gets Narcolepsy?
Anyone can get narcolepsy, at any age. It may also run in families, since it
is estimated that 8-12% of people with narcolepsy have a close relative who
also has the disease. Yes, narcolepsy is classified as a disease.
How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
We review your entire medical history, including your present regimen of
medications. We also ask you questions that become part of your Sleep
History. Two tests that we perform to diagnose narcolepsy include a
polysomnogram and a multiple sleep latency test. The polysomnogram is a
continuous recording of your brain waves while you sleep and analysis of
nerve and muscle functions during sleep. The multiple sleep latency test
involves allowing you to sleep every two hours during normal waking times.
We observe how long it takes you to reach various levels of sleep, and how
long it takes you to reach REM sleep (rapid-eye movement). Patients with
narcolepsy usually fall asleep rapidly and get to REM sleep early.
How Is Narcolepsy Treated?
Treatment can take weeks, or months, before an optimal regimen can be
established. In addition, complete control of cataplexy is extremely
difficult and rarely possible. Treatment of narcolepsy involves medications
as well as lifestyle changes. The medications used for excessive daytime
sleepiness in narcolepsy are known as central nervous system stimulants. For
cataplexy, and other REM-related sleep symptoms, doctors will prescribe
antidepressant medications and other drugs that suppress REM sleep. Caffeine
is not recommended, nor are over-the-counter drugs.
Scheduling short naps is also an important part of a treatment regimen. Naps
of 10-15 minutes in length, 2-3 times per day, can help the patient stay
awake and alert as long as possible.
Finally, communication is a key factor in helping patients work with their
physician, their families and the other people in their lives to help the
patient toward control over this sometimes debilitating disease. Support
groups are also available to provide advice and information, and there are a
number of online resources of information available.
The Trinitas Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center stands ready to help you
determine if you have Insomnia and, if you do, to provide you with whatever
solutions work best in your particular case. We're experienced in Sleep
Medicine and we look forward to helping each and every patient achieve the
best possible result. Call us at 908-994-8694 or email us at
Sleep@trinitas.org for more information or
to arrange an appointment.