Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes irregular patterns in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Additionally, narcolepsy causes extremely irregular sleep and wake schedules, with patients often suddenly falling asleep or experiencing temporary paralysis. To help patients more easily manage and live with this condition, Dr. Peter Nakaji offers narcolepsy treatment at his world-class Phoenix, AZ, practice. 

Narcolepsy and the Brain 

Image of molecular proteinNarcolepsy affects approximately one in 2,000 individuals. Typically, narcolepsy first manifests during adolescence, but it can develop at any age. The cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but scientists believe certain genes that control the sleep and wake cycle are responsible for narcolepsy.

Orexin, also called hypocretin, is a chemical in the brain that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite. Experts believe that narcolepsy is caused in part by a deficiency in the production of orexin.

Additionally, patients with narcolepsy typically show abnormalities in the part of the brain that controls REM sleep. 

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

There are a wide range of narcolepsy symptoms, as the disorder manifests in myriad ways:

  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS), an overwhelming sense of tiredness, exhaustion, and fatigue throughout the day
  • Sporadic sleep and wake patterns, causing poor quality of sleep
  • Involuntary micro-naps (suddenly falling asleep for up to one minute)
  • Sleep attacks (an extreme, overwhelming urge to sleep)
  • Cataplexy, in which the patient loses muscle control and enters a state of paralysis
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations, sensory experiences that occur at the transition from wakefulness to sleep
  • Sleep paralysis, a state of limpness experienced when entering and exiting REM sleep

Dr. Nakaji understands the impact that narcolepsy can have on both the patient and his or her family. At Barrow Neurological Institute, we are confident that we can help you establish a more normal daily routine.

Diagnosing Narcolepsy

In order to properly diagnose narcolepsy, Dr. Nakaji will perform a series of medical tests while you sleep. These tests include a Polysomnogram (PSG) and a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). A PSG is an overnight test that monitors your brain activity during sleep and documents abnormalities in the sleep cycle.

The purpose of the PSG is to determine whether you enter and exit REM sleep at abnormal times. The MSLT is designed to monitor your tendency to fall asleep during the day, and can indicate whether REM sleep interferes with your waking hours. To conduct this test, Dr. Nakaji will instruct you to take four to five short naps, usually two hours apart. 

Treating Narcolepsy

There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, symptoms such as EDS and sleep attacks can be controlled with medication. The symptoms that cause sleepiness can be treated with amphetamine-like stimulants, and anti-depressants can be effective in controlling abnormal REM sleep patterns.

With the recent emergence of the new drug Xyrem, many patients who suffer from narcolepsy with cataplexy are able to get a better night's sleep. Xyrem can also help patients feel less tired throughout the day.

Dr. Nakaji strongly recommends that avoid avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals if you suffer from narcolepsy. Additionally, you should regulate your sleep schedule and aim for at least two naps per day, 10 to 15 minutes in length. Finally, establishing a routine exercise program can greatly reduce the effects of narcolepsy. 

Learn More

Dr. Nakaji understands the impact that narcolepsy can have on both the patient and his or her family. At Barrow Neurological Institute, we are confident that we can help you establish a more normal daily routine. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact our office today. Dr. Nakaji is committed to utilizing the latest medical technology to assist you in effectively managing this disorder.

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