Friday, January 5, 2007

Narcolepsy - The Management Of A Common Sleep Disorder

Narcolepsy, a chronic and commonly diagnosed sleep disorder, affects over a quarter of a million Americans each year (approximately one person in every two thousand). Characterized by the body's inability to properly regulate sleep, narcolepsy's most obvious symptoms can include cataplexy (involuntary loss of muscle control), "automatic" behaviors (performing regular, mundane tasks by rote), hallucinations and paralysis during sleep.

However, narcolepsy is most commonly associated with the onset of "mini sleeps" or "sleep attacks" during the day. These narcoleptic episodes (often referred to as EDS or excessive daytime sleepiness) occur when the individual is suddenly overcome by the urge to sleep. The resulting state of narcolepsis can pass within a few seconds or it can last for more than half an hour.

Relatively recent medical research identifies narcolepsy as a genetically based sleep regulation disorder that usually emerges during the middle and late teenage years. However, strong evidence also suggests that some forms of the condition can be caused by head trauma or brain injury. Regardless of the cause, because the characteristics of narcolepsy can also be symptomatic of other, similar sleep disorders, a thorough medical evaluation (often including a variety of overnight sleep tests) is required for a correct diagnosis.

Although scientists continue to close in on the genes connected with the onset of narcolepsy, treatments for narcoleptics still vary widely. Common treatments include the use of approved prescription drugs, such as modafinil and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors like fluoxitine and sertroline, to treat the excessive daytime sleepiness.

In large part however the management of narcolepsy depends upon what appears most effective for the individual, and because no cure exists at this time, the available treatments primarily address the sleep disorder's symptoms.

For most narcoleptics a combination of prescription medications, natural sleep remedies and behavioral strategies prove the best means of effectively managing their narcolepsy. This pro-active approach to dealing with the condition involves simple lifestyle adjustments to enhance the quality and duration of each night's sleep (including dietary changes and the use of regular exercise) as well as actively managed sleep cycles that incorporate short, scheduled naps. A variety of natural sleep remedies can also successfully help narcoleptics manage their condition.

Herbal teas and infusions can effectively help to induce and enhance the body's natural sleep cycle and offer a healthful alternative to sleeping pills. Supplementary melatonin (the hormone produced as part of the body's natural sleep cycle) may also help narcoleptics enjoy a better night's sleep. Guided meditation and relaxation, chromotherapy and aromatherapy can also prove valuable natural enhancements to the successful management of narcolepsy.