I watched an interesting documentary once about a woman and a young girl who couldn’t help but fall asleep. I was so in awe by it, I thought what could be better than sleeping all the time, you know, a modern day sleeping beauty of sorts. However, I soon realised that this sudden onslaught of tiredness had far more complex repercussions.
The young woman I came to know suffered from a medical condition called Narcolepsy. MayoClinic describes narcolepsy as, “… a chronic sleep disorder characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy often find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time, regardless of the circumstances. Narcolepsy can cause serious disruptions in your daily routine.”
According to Cleaveland Clinic people with narcolepsy experience, daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks may occur at any time. Some patients have a weakness with muscles when they laugh or experience any other emotions. Some people may not be able to ever drive for the fear of them falling asleep behind the wheel.
The disorder is incurable and the exact cause for it is unknown, however it has been linked to the hormone hypocretin, which helps with sleep and other sleep functions.
The documentary I mentioned depicted something as if out of a movie. The woman fell asleep at any time and she would sleep for short periods, but at random times, even mid-sentence. The whole situation was so bizarre.
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) states narcolepsy, “… has also been estimated to affect 1 in 2,000 people in the general population.”
Narcolepsy begins around the age of 15 and 25, although it can appear at any age.
For some time in my life, while in university, I struggled with insomnia, which we know is when we can’t sleep, so I was certainly surprised to find about more excessive sleepiness, such as narcolepsy and hypersomnia.
According to a medically reviewed article on Heathline, “Hypersomnia is a condition in which you feel excessive sleepiness during the day. It may occur even after long stretches of sleep. Another name for hypersomnia is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).”
People who suffer from hypersomnia isn’t the same as those who suffer from narcolepsy, because people with hypersomnia can stay awake on their own, but they just feel tired often.
There are two types of hypersomnia, namely primary and secondary hypersomnia. Primary hypersomnia happens when you have no pre-existing health conditions, you just constantly feel the need to sleep. Secondary hypersomnia is when you have a medical condition that causes excessive fatigue.
When to see a doctor
It’s normal to feel tired from time to time, we all experience fatigue, but it becomes dangerous when we can’t seem to control when we fall asleep and when it starts affecting our daily life.
You should see a doctor if:
• You fall asleep while driving
• Struggle to stay awake when you’re not too busy. These activities could include reading or watching TV
• You struggle to pay attention at work, school, or home
• You often get told by others that you look tired
• Slow response or thinking
• Have difficulty with your memory
• Have difficulty controlling your emotions
• Need to take naps almost every day
• Medication could potentially help with your sleeping disorder.
• Keep a regular sleep schedule. Try to sleep at the same time every night if possible.
• Exercise regularly
• Eating healthy
• Counselling may also be an option as there may be psychological issues that could lead to a sleeping disorder.
Cleaveland Clinic also recommends minimising noise and light, as well as regulating the temperature when you sleep. But each person’s situation is different and may need different treatments advised by their doctor.
Eleanor Wales a woman diagnosed with narcolepsy explains how she felt when she was first diagnosed, “Narcolepsy has no cure. There was a bit of a grief element to accepting it. I grieved the loss of the life I imagined for myself, the things I wanted to achieve.”
Sleeping disorders, insomnia included, affect every part of your life, there may not be a single day where you don’t think about it. It affects your relationships with friends and family and even your work life. People who experience these severe disorders want nothing more than for them to be recognised for individuals who also have dreams, and not for someone with only a disorder.
Read here how sleepless nights affects your life
Tell us: What did you learn about sleeping disorders?