When Does Fatigue Turn Into Narcolepsy?
Have you ever felt so tired during the day that you had to pull off the road and take a short nap? That daytime fatigue was probably the result of working late, lack of sleep or stress that interrupts quality slumber.
Once you get some rest, you’re fine. But if you have narcolepsy, you can fall asleep during the day without warning. Even if you get plenty of sleep at night, you still fall asleep during daylight hours.
No matter how you try to fight it or how many triple shot lattes you drink, you can’t force yourself to stay awake. Before being diagnosed with narcolepsy, you were likely the subject of jokes and criticism.
You aren’t lazy and you aren’t faking. This is a very real medical disorder. If the condition worsens, it can interfere with your job, driving, social life and severely limit your normal activities.
Common symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Falling asleep one or more times during the day, even if you had enough sleep at night.
- You suddenly feel like your legs won’t support you. The feeling is one of fatigue – not fainting – and you are aware of the weakness that overcomes you
- You can’t avoid falling asleep even when you’re doing things you enjoy like spending time with family and friends, participating in a sport, enjoying a hobby or attending a special event that you really wanted to attend.
Over 200,000 people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with narcolepsy and that’s probably a much smaller number than those who are affected and don’t know what the problem is.
This occurs equally in men and women, usually starting in adolescence. While there’s no medical proof that this condition is genetic, narcolepsy seems to occur in families with 8-12% having at least one close relative with this condition.
The way to find out if you have narcolepsy is with a sleep study and a polysomnogram. These are medical tests that are interpreted by a physician who specializes in sleep disorders.
If you’re diagnosed with narcolepsy, you may be given prescription medication. You can also help yourself by making lifestyle changes, such as avoiding stressful activities or working too late before going to bed.
Explain your condition and symptoms to family, friends, and supervisor at work. You want people close to you to understand that your daytime sleepiness is not laziness, avoidance or lack of motivation but a medical problem that needs attention.
Nocturnal Eating Syndrome – A Food Related Sleep Disorder
The nocturnal eating syndrome is a sleep disorder that is more common in women than men. It is one of two eating disorders that are related to sleep. The other is called sleep-related food disorder. Nocturnal eating syndrome and sleep-related food disorder are parasomnias
The nocturnal eating syndrome is a sleep disorder that is characterized by compulsive raids on the refrigerator at night. Usually, people with this sleep disorder are very light sleepers. When they awake during the night they have an overly compulsive feeling that they will not be able to fall back to sleep unless they eat something. Once out of bed and at the refrigerator, the compulsion to eat makes them gobble down food. People with nocturnal eating syndrome are fully awake and remember eating the food the next day. This syndrome is a combination of a sleep disorder and an eating disorder. Insomnia is also a factor in nocturnal eating syndrome. Treatment for this disorder is usually received from a mental health professional that specializes in people with eating disorders. Improving sleep hygiene can also help with this disorder.
The sleep-related eating disorder also affects more women than men and is a variation of sleepwalking. During an episode of this sleep disorder, a person will eat during partial arousal form a deep sleep. Often they will eat very unhealthy or strange foods that they normally would not eat when awake. During an episode of a sleep-related eating disorder, a person might eat frozen pizza, raw cookie dough, peanut butter on fish and even dog food. Often they are very careless and sloppy and may get burns or cuts while preparing the food. It is very difficult to wake a person during an episode and they have no memory of it in the morning. There does not seem to be a correlation to hunger during a sleep-related eating disorder episode, even if the person has eaten just before bed, an episode can still occur.
Although the cause of food-related sleep disorder is not known, several triggers have been identified. Medications such as lithium, a mood stabilizer, and the benzodiazepine receptor zolpidem are two of those triggers. People with mood and personality disorders or psychological problems such as bulimia are at higher risk of developing one of these food-related sleep disorders. People suffering from other sleep disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder or narcolepsy are also at higher risk
People with the sleep-related eating disorder usually have a history of sleepwalking. Because of this, people suffering from this parasomnia are considered having more of a sleep disorder then an eating disorder. Treatment with prescription medication is often very effective. Antidepressants, dopamine agents, anticonvulsants and opiates are often prescribed. Once sleepwalking is stopped so are the trips to the refrigerator.
Sleep eaters often are overweight because of the high caloric intake at night. The weight gain can lead to other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. Seeking treatment, either from a medical or mental health professional is essential for good health in the treatment of sleep eating disorders.
When Good Limbs Go Bad
You’re lying there in bed and all of a sudden, you can’t suppress the urge to move your legs. It makes it hard to fall asleep. Or maybe you lucked out and fell asleep early in the evening, but awaken because your arms or legs began jerking uncontrollably.
The disruption in quality sleep can be frustrating if you have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMB). Although RLS is something you control, the urge to move your limbs is so great you can’t even begin to think of sleeping.
Here are some facts about both disorders along with some helpful information on how to treat it if you suspect one of these may be the root cause of your sleep deprivation:
Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep disorder where your legs are so uncomfortable that you want to move them to make them feel better. Moving the legs makes the feeling go away, but it returns once you try to relax and fall asleep again.
You’ll know if you have Restless Leg Syndrome if you notice a sudden urge to move your legs because they feel jittery like they’re burning, or as if something’s crawling on them. It will occur when you’re sitting or lying down. If you move your legs and it feels better, it assigns you might have RLS.
Some people can simply stretch out or change positions in bed, while others have to get up and walk around. There’s no known cause for RLS, but the disorder often runs in families. Scientists are honing in on the chemical dopamine since it’s what manages your muscle movements.
Controlling RLS may be as simple as controlling your stress, which appears to worsen the symptoms. A doctor can diagnose RLS through a series of questions, but there’s no simple test to confirm it.
To treat it, you’ll want to make sure you have your doctor check to see if you’re suffering from an iron deficiency because many RLS sufferers have found that their symptoms disappeared after their iron levels were brought back to normal.
Your doctor may prescribe medications similar to what Parkinson’s or epilepsy patients receive. Or, he may recommend a simple muscle relaxant. Lifestyle changes will also be in order, such as cutting back on stimulants like caffeine.
You can help curb the tendency to move your legs by using hot and cold packs, pain relievers, or a warm bath. Meditation, Yoga, a relaxing environment, and exercise also contribute to the elimination of RLS symptoms.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (or Syndrome) is when your legs and/or arms move involuntarily while you’re asleep. This can sometimes wake you up, and if you have a sleeping partner such as a spouse, it can disrupt their sleep as well. Sometimes people with RLS also suffer from PLMD.
PLMD occurs sporadically and can strike any age group, although it’s more common in older adults. There are two kinds of Periodic Limb Movement Disorders primary and secondary.
Primary PLMD is when there’s no known cause, while secondary PLMD is the result of another medical issue, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, anemia, and narcolepsy. Someone who suffers from PLMD may not know they’re doing it, since it occurs during sleep.
It’s usually pointed out by a sleeping partner or sleep study expert, who notes that the sufferer jerks their knees and legs, or thrashes around while sleeping for a couple of seconds. Although the person may sleep through it, their deep sleep is disrupted, resulting in daytime drowsiness.
There’s no cure for PLMD, but many medications work to suppress involuntary muscle movements. If you have secondary PLMD, then your symptoms may disappear for good once the underlying medical condition improves. If you’re dealing with primary PLMD, then you may see symptoms return periodically even after they’re under control.
You might be able to get relief without medicating yourself by trying simple relaxation techniques and optimizing your sleep environment. A combination of therapies could help banish the restlessness in your limbs for good!
Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Many people that work during the night suffer from Shift Work Sleep Disorder, also known as SWSD. This disorder affects about one-quarter of the approximately 20 million people who do shift work. People affected by shift work sleep disorder are employed in many types of jobs. These include large numbers of workers in industries such as transportation, manufacturing, mining, power, health care, and emergency services including police and firefighters and EMTs. Many of these industries operate around the clock and many various shift schedules exist.
Working a shift job forces your body to function outside if its natural circadian rhythm. Their circadian rhythms never become fully adjusted to their hours. No matter how long a person works at night when they are greeted by the morning sunlight a signal is sent to their brain saying it is time to wake up. A person suffering from this sleep disorder lives in a state of constant circadian disruption.
There are several coping strategies for people with shift work sleep disorder. The most important thing to remember when coping with the challenges of shift work is recognizing the importance of sleep and making it a priority.
Sleeping during the daytime can be very difficult for some people. Besides going against the body’s natural circadian rhythm, there are also the sunlight and the everyday life of the rest of the world, most of which is awake. Many people with this sleep disorder move their bedroom to an isolated place in the house and try to make the room as quiet and dark as possible.
It is best to try to avoid as much of the morning sunlight as possible if you plan to go to sleep right after your night shift. Wear sunglasses on the way home and try not to stop for gas or groceries. The more sunlight you are exposed to, the more likely you are going to have a difficult time falling asleep.
Another coping technique is to develop a sleep strategy. It is very important to set a specific time to sleep. Many people that suffer from shift work sleep disorder find it is best to follow the same sleep routine even on the days they are off from work. It is essential that family and friends know not to bother you during your sleep time unless it is an emergency. Generally, shift workers are chronically sleep-deprived. Scheduling naps at specific times can be a great help in dealing with the sleep disorder that accompanies shift work.
People with this sleep disorder should limit the amount of caffeine during the later part of their shift. Some people establish a caffeine cutoff time, after that they drink juice or water.
The use of sleeping pills for shift workers can develop into a dependency on them. Taking sleeping pills on a daily basis can lead to other health problems.
Not everyone is able to tolerate working during the night. The constant battle with this sleep disorder may cause some people to find a different job.