Falling asleep suddenly could be narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a rare, long-term brain disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times.
The brain is unable to regulate sleeping and waking patterns normally. This can result inexcessive daytime sleepiness (feeling very drowsy throughout the day, and having difficulty concentrating and staying awake), sleep attacks ie.falling asleep suddenly and without warning or cataplexy, which is the temporary loss of muscle control, often in response to emotions such as laughter and anger.
It can also lead to sleep paralysis, a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep.
Narcolepsy should not cause serious or long-term physical health problems, but it can have a significant impact on daily life and can be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Many cases of narcolepsy are caused by a lack of the brain chemical orexin (also known as hypocretin), which regulates sleep.
This deficiency is thought to result from the immune system mistakenly attacking parts of the brain that produce this chemical.
However, this does not explain all cases of narcolepsy, and the exact cause of this problem is often unclear.
Factors that have been suggested to trigger narcolepsy include hormonal changes (which can occur during puberty or the menopause), major psychological stress, a sudden change in sleep patterns and an infection (such as flu).
It’s a fairly rare condition. It is difficult to know exactly how many people have narcolepsy because many cases are thought to go unreported. However, it is estimated that the condition affects at least 25,000 people in the UK.
Men and women are thought to be affected equally by narcolepsy, although some studies have suggested the condition may be more common in men. The symptoms often begin during adolescence, although the condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
There is currently no cure for narcolepsy, but making changes to improve your sleeping habits and taking medication can help minimise the impact the condition has on your daily life.
Taking frequent, brief naps evenly spaced throughout the day is one of the best ways to manage excessive daytime drowsiness. This may be difficult when you are at work or school, but your GP or specialist may be able to devise a sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking naps.
Keeping to a strict bedtime routine can also help, so you should go to bed at the same time each night whenever possible.
If your symptoms are particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed medication that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, prevent cataplexy attacks and im-prove your sleep at night. These medications are usually taken as daily tablets, capsules or drinkable solu-tions.