Does Your Sleep Attack Without Warning?
Chronic sleep disorders can be paralyzing, depending on their severity. Narcolepsy is one of the most damaging sleep disorders because it strikes without warning, sending you into a sudden state of sleep. This sleep disorder can begin younger than 10 years of age, on into your 30s. It’s rare for it to show up in your 40s or later.
A narcoleptic person can’t stay awake for any long period of time – even if they’ve had plenty of sleep the night before. It’s difficult to enjoy your personal life, let alone manage your professional responsibilities at work.
Narcolepsy sometimes gets misdiagnosed as everyday depression, fainting, or seizures. There’s no known cure, but there are ways to manage this particular sleep disorder and lessen the symptoms you experience.
You’ll know if you have narcolepsy if you find you’re abnormally sleepy during the daytime, but not the usual sleepyhead syndrome many people feel. A narcoleptic individual will feel an uncontrolled need to sleep, and they’ll nod off without warning for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a half-hour or more.
It can be humiliating to fall asleep when it’s not the right time or place, and many who suffer from narcolepsy enroll in counseling to help them cope with the sleep disorder and how it affects their life with friends, family, and co-workers.
Another sign that will emerge will be cataplexy when you lose control of your muscles. You might slur your speech or hang your head, or even fall when your legs give out from beneath you. This symptom can occur daily – or only once or twice a year.
Narcolepsy’s symptoms don’t end there, unfortunately. Some people are paralyzed right before or after their sudden sleeping spells – they can’t move or talk – which is very frightening to you and anyone else watching it happen.
Some people also hallucinate if they have narcolepsy because they fall into fast REM sleep. They’re half awake and half dreaming, which can be scary depending on what type of dream you’re having at that moment in time.
Lapse of memory can occur with narcolepsy, too. You might be carrying on with your tasks as usual, but unknowingly you’ve had a sleep episode, so you forget what you just did. You wake up and see that you’ve accomplished something (usually not as well as you would if you were fully awake) and you know it’s due to the narcolepsy.
No one really knows what causes narcolepsy, but scientists believe it may be genetics coupled with uncommon brain chemicals that respond to triggers in your environment. They think narcoleptics may have imbalances in the chemicals that regulate sleep, such as a low level of hypocretin, which tells you when to wake up – and stay awake.
If you think you may have narcolepsy, then your doctor will conduct a series of tests to find out if it’s true. You’ll fill out a standard sleep questionnaire and may enroll in an overnight sleep study where they place electrodes on your scalp to monitor your sleep cycles.
It’s important not to ignore this sleep disorder because it can have potentially harmful consequences. Aside from affecting your personal and professional relationships, narcoleptics run the risk of wrecking their cards while driving or causing a fire in their homes, such as when they fall asleep in the middle of cooking with hot oil and grease.
If you’re found to have narcolepsy, then you have several treatment options to consider. Everyday stimulants may not be enough to keep you awake, so your doctor might prescribe something stronger, like Provigil.
Antidepressants are often prescribed because they suppress REM sleep and aid in the elimination of cataplexy, paralysis, and hallucinations. Or, your doctor may have you start taking sodium oxybate, which does the same thing antidepressants do but also helps with nighttime sleep.
You also have to be very cautious about making lifestyle changes that can help you control this disorder. Make sure you read labels on medications to see if they cause drowsiness. Simple things, such as making a schedule that includes naps, exercising, and avoiding substances like nicotine and alcohol can curb the effects of narcolepsy.
Don’t feel like narcolepsy has to control your life. Talk to others about what you’re going through and adhere to a safe routine that ensures you won’t harm yourself (or others) if a sudden sleep attack should occur.
An Alternative Approach for Overcoming a Sleep Disorder
Having a sleep disorder can be very disruptive to everyday life. Sleep-deprived people are usually excessively tired and sleepy. They tend to become irritable and very emotional. At times they become a danger, not only to themselves but also to those around them.
Some people use an alternative, natural ways to lessen the effects of their sleep disorder. Many people focus on diet and nutrition, while others use herbs and supplements. Still, others believe in the positive effect of exercise, relaxation and sensory techniques, meditation or behavioral and cognitive strategies. Often people use a combination of these approaches to help alleviate the symptoms of their sleep disorder.
A healthy diet is essential for optimal energy and restful sleep. Avoiding certain foods is as important as including others in your daily diet. Eating a wide variety of foods and drinking plenty of water will keep your body well- balanced and provide a more stable energy level. Avoiding food that is grown, treated or processed with chemicals, and limiting the amount of sugar and caffeine will also help your overall physical condition. Many foods promote restful sleep and are helpful in relieving some of the symptoms of certain sleep disorders. Eating the proper snack before bedtime can increase natural serotonin levels. Serotonin acts as a natural sedative and is made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. Foods that are rich in tryptophan include chicken, turkey, cheese, cottage cheese, fish, milk, nuts, avocados, and bananas.
Many people use herbs and natural supplements as an alternative approach to treating their sleep disorder. There are many nutritional supplements and herbal products on the market. It is important to know how a specific product acts on the body as well as on the specific sleep disorder… For example, many people with restless leg syndrome have iron or folic acid deficiency. Taking an iron supplement may alleviate some of the symptoms of RLS. Many herbs are well known for promoting natural sleep. A clamming tea of chamomile or lemon balm can be very relaxing for many people that suffer from a sleep disorder.
Exercise and relaxation techniques, whether used alone or together, can reduce stress and muscle tension. Many people that use these techniques to lessen the symptoms of a sleep disorder do these before going to bed. They not only ease physical tension but they calm the mind and prepare the body to sleep. These techniques include mindful exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and yoga.
Meditation and visualization are also used by some sufferers of sleep disorders to calm the body before sleep. Two common forms of mediation are a meditation on breath and mantra meditation. Both of these types can have a positive effect on relieving stress and calming the body. Many people focus their energy on a healing visualization as a method of alternative therapy for their sleep disorder.
Sensory techniques that people use to lessen the symptoms of their sleep disorder are hydrotherapy and aromatherapy. The two main techniques included in hydrotherapy, which means water therapy, are relaxing in an Epsom salt bath and lymph stimulating footbath. Aromatherapy includes the use of therapeutic essential oils in baths, massage oils, room sprays, and simple inhalants.
Alternative behavioral and cognitive strategies used to combat the symptoms of a sleep disorder include improving a person’s sleep hygiene, stimulus control therapy, and journal writing.
Alternative practices and techniques can help many types of sleep disorders. Often they are used in conjunction with traditional medication and practices.
Diagnosing Your Sleep Disorders
There are many different sleep disorders. You can have sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or sleepwalk. You can also have insomnia or a work schedule sleep disorder. Some disorders can be mild or temporary – such as your body’s natural sleep clock getting thrown off by Daylight Savings Time.
Not being able to sleep can happen to anyone. It’s even common to struggle with bouts of insomnia that come and go. What’s not so common is where a sleep disorder is chronic or life-altering. Trouble sleeping isn’t supposed to be ongoing.
The problem with a sleep disorder is that you lose things other than sleep. You lose energy, feeling tired and often too exhausted to get everything done that you want to do. Sleep disorders take a toll on more than sleep. Having a sleep disorder can negatively affect your health.
You may begin to experience periods of extreme irritation or even outbursts of anger in response to minimal stress. If you struggle to fall asleep or your sleep is disrupted and it happens often, that’s a sign of a sleep disorder. Being tired during the day is a sign that you’re not getting enough refreshing sleep.
There’s a checklist you can look at for signs that you might have a sleep disorder. Ask yourself if you feel a desire to nap during the day. Do you have to force yourself to pay attention during meetings and while driving because you’re so sleepy? Do you fall asleep during afternoon television shows? Is a lack of sleep affecting your work performance? Are you often moody for no definable reason?
Sleep disorders can cause you to get the raccoon to look around your eyes. You’ll have dark circles and puffy eyelids. Your body’s immune system won’t work as well and you can catch a virus much easier.
There is more than one way to diagnose a sleep disorder. First, if you’re having trouble sleeping or if you’re waking throughout the night or experiencing sleepiness during the day, start writing down what’s going on.
Write what time you went to bed and what symptoms occurred. Did someone wake you up and tell you that was snoring? Did you wake up gasping for air? Do your legs move about in your sleep? Do you feel pins and needles in your arms or legs?
After keeping a record of your sleep troubles, you’ll have more clues as to what could be going on with your lack of sleep. You can also share your record with your doctor, who may recommend further testing – including an official sleep study. Usually, with some simple changes, you can start enjoying a good night’s sleep once again.