Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to fall asleep. Patients with narcolepsy have sleep attacks (i.e., fall asleep suddenly during the day) despite having quality sleep at night lasting for minutes to hours but sleepiness is abolished by short naps. Onset of symptoms is usually in adolescence or early adulthood.
Narcolepsy may be associated with debilitating symptoms like sudden muscle paralysis (cataplexy), paralysis while sleeping and hypnopompic hallucination while sleeping.
Causes of Narcolepsy
The cause of narcolepsy is unknown but it has been associated with the absence of hypocretin-1. This is a neurotransmitter found in the brain. Associated risk factors are:
- Immune system: it has been postulated that the immune system may play a crucial role in the development of narcolepsy. The immune system selectively target nerve cells that produce hypocretin-1.
- Head trauma: injuries to head may damage nerve cells that secrete neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitter modulates wake-sleep cycle
- Infection of the brain can damage nerve fibers that secretes neurotransmitters that modulate sleep and wakefulness
- Family history of narcolepsy: the risk of developing narcolepsy is higher if first degree relative is suffering from it.
Medical treatment of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy does not have a definitive medical treatment. Doctors have tried several agents with the aim of improving symptoms associated with narcolepsy. Commonly used drugs are: methylphenidate (Ritalin), modafinil (Provigil) and armodafinil (Nuvigil). Patients with cataplexy usually benefit when antidepressants are added to their treatment regimen. Selegiline which is a selective MAO-B inhibitor is also recommended for treatment.
Alternate Therapies of Narcolepsy
- Meditation and yoga provides the body with energy. This keeps the brain alert, reduces stress and anxiety.
- Herbal remedies e.g. St John’s wort, Ginkgo biloba and Country mallow- these agents are herbal medicines that improve symptoms of narcolepsy. There are rich in antioxidants which neutralize radicals that destroy brain cells, increase blood flow to the brain hence increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. This keeps the brain active during the day.
Home remedies of Narcolepsy
- Regular sleep-wake schedule: it is important that narcoleptic patients keep scheduled daytime naps. This has been shown to be helpful in mild to moderate cases of narcolepsy
- Exercise can sometimes decrease the number of sleep attacks. Seek to achieve optimal physical fitness.
- Constantly tell your brain that it is day time. This can be achieved by getting busy during the day, begin your day with a workout session and stay close to window to receive sunlight
- Eliminate alcohol, cigarette, high carbohydrate and caffeine from your diet. These agents reduce mental alertness and turns on your body’s sleep cycle.
- Get enough sleep at night to prevent day time sleepiness
- Fruits and vegetables should form a major part of your breakfast and dinner
- Sleep log-patients with narcolepsy are advised to keep a sleep log. This is a simple tool that records the sleep habits and pattern of the patient. Events like duration of sleep, naps, factors that trigger sleep and drugs are recorded.
Diet solution of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy symptoms can be managed effectively by eating the right food. Patients notice remarkable improvement in symptoms within few weeks. Recommended foods are fruits, green vegetables, and lean meat portion. Fruits and vegetables contain micronutrient, vitamins and antioxidants.
Low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet is advisable. Eating high carbohydrate meal increase fullness with subsequent reduction of blood flow to the brain and this affects alertness. It is recommended that frequent small portion of food is eaten in the day instead of the tradition 3 heavy meals. This keeps the patient light, active and alert.
Vitamins and mineral for Narcolepsy
Vitamins and minerals recommenced for narcoleptic patients are:
- Omega-3 fatty acid- membranes of cells in the human body are made of unique fatty acids. Disruption of their function affects synthesis and secretion of neurotransmitters. Omega-3 fatty acid is important to maintain the integrity of cell membranes
- Lecithin and L-Glutamine enhances mental stability and alertness
- Vitamins B, C, E and K are essential antioxidants and immune system modulators
- Choline- is a substrate in the synthesis of acetylcholine. It is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep-wake cycle
- Magnesium, selenium and chromium picolinate improves blood supply to the brain and enhances oxygen utilization by the brain.