Breaking Down the Recent Revelations About Narcolepsy

Between 135,000 and 200,000 Americans are living with narcolepsy, but the true total may be much higher because many patients do not reach out to sleep consultants after noticing symptoms.

Others do not receive narcolepsy screenings and remain unaware of the condition until symptoms worsen. Luckily, recent developments in research and treatment will help change the game for those living with the sleeping disorder. Read on to learn more. 

What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurologic disorder that affects the brain’s sleep-wake cycles. It is characterized by overwhelming daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks. Living with the sleeping disorder can be highly disruptive and is significantly underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can be accompanied by cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone. This is called type 1 narcolepsy. Type 2 narcolepsy is not accompanied by cataplexy.

Healthy sleep includes two types of sleep: rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep. When we are in REM sleep, we dream and remain very still. When we enter NREM sleep, dreams are less common and we are more prone to movement and restlessness. People with narcolepsy can’t regulate between REM and non-REM sleep. For example, they can dream (REM sleep) during naps and can enter REM sleep in as soon as 15 minutes. By comparison, people who do not have narcolepsy don’t usually dream during naps and can take between 60 and 90 minutes to transition from NREM to REM sleep.

Vaccination Does Not Increase Risk of Narcolepsy

Debate arose regarding influenza vaccination being linked to increasing narcolepsy diagnoses. During the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the Pandemrix vaccine was popular in response to the threat in European countries. This led to an investigation about a possible link between vaccines authorized in the United States and narcolepsy (Pandemrix was not US-authorized). Recently, people began to question the link between COVID-19 vaccines and narcolepsy. Despite initial concern, vaccination does not lead to an increased chance of developing narcolepsy.

Research on Sleep State Transitions Uncovers Important Discovery

Historically, there was not a lot of information on the neurological mechanisms that control sleep cycle generation, but thankfully that is changing. Researchers from Japan learned that dopamine impacts our ability to transition between NREM and REM sleep, which could have significant implications for treatment options. Further research could also uncover more findings related to REM sleep behavior disorder and diseases involving abnormal dopamine signaling, like Parkinson’s disease.

Narcolepsy is not curable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a healthy, productive life. Once you complete your narcolepsy screening, get in touch with a sleep clinic near you. A sleep consultant can work with you to offer practical advice on appropriate medications that will help you navigate life.

Take Back Your Night with Minnesota’s Top Sleep Clinic

At Whitney Sleep, we believe everyone is entitled to restful and restorative sleep. If you notice possible signs of narcolepsy, schedule a screening with us. We are a sleep clinic that specializes in treating all kinds of sleep disorders. Our sleep consultants will provide treatment, which will decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and motor vehicle accidents. 

Our team is happy to answer any questions you may have about scheduling a sleep consultation or treatment options. If you or a loved one is experiencing signs or symptoms of sleep disorders, reach out to us now to make an appointment.