The nature of sleep is still a mystery. We all do it. We're told we need to get 6-8 hours of it. If you don't get enough of it, you become a zombie. Sleep is necessary. Many of us are insomniacs, and getting enough sleep is a challenge at times. The pharmaceutical industry comes out with all new kinds of pills to help us sleep.
But what if you fell asleep too easily?
At first glance, that might seem like a great problem to have. However, what if you spontaneously fell asleep without warning? Think about it...you're walking around town, laughing at a joke, and suddenly you lose all muscle control and collapse to the ground. Spontaneous slumber.
This is a very real form of narcolepsy called cataplexy. What exactly happens to someone suffering from cataplexy?
A person with cataplexy can be watching TV, walking in a mall, or playing cards. Often times, strong emotions trigger this sleep disorder. Suddenly out of nowhere, the person loses all muscle control and experiences physical paralysis. They will slump over and collapse onto the floor. Their conscious mind is quite aware...but they cannot move, they cannot speak. This episode may last a few seconds...or several minutes.
How does a person develop this strange disorder? It seems about two-thirds of those suffering from narcolepsy get cataplexy. Interestingly, patients experience their first cataplexic episode in adolescence. Why? It's all part of the mystery.
Studies say that 140,000 Americans suffer from this affliction. But what is the cause? Researchers believe it all starts with the chemical hypocretin that's made by the hypothalamus in the brain. For some reason, the cells that create hypocretin are absent and this often leads to sleep disorders like cataplexy. There is a hypothesis that narcolepsy in general could be an autoimmune disease...a person's own antibodies attack the neurons responsible for hypocreatin. Researchers have not established the likelihood of cataplexy being genetic, although it seems to be inherited in other animals, like dogs for example.
What can be done? Is there a cure for cataplexy? At this moment, there is no cure. There is a lot of research and drug testing being done, and the best they've been able to do is treat the symptoms. Sodium oxybate is the first and only product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of cataplexy. Patients have decreased attacks after taking this drug.
But those suffering from cataplexy must always be accompanied by others. Their lives are miserable. Think about the jobs they cannot do like being a surgeon, dentist, construction worker, speed skater, lifeguard, or ninja. Seriously, they are constantly dependent on others to help them while having an episode. If you want to see video footage of an adult man having a cataplexic attack, click HERE (avi format). This video is wild! You see him laughing and smiling, and the guy just crumples onto the ground while playing a game with the researcher.
Here's five other strange sleeping disorders:
1)Fragmentary myoclonus: These are people that continually jerk and twitch while they sleep, usually in non-REM sleep. It's harmless, unless the person accidentally hurts themselves in the process.
2)Night terrors: Children are more likely to suffer from these. Your child may start crying or screaming, usually during the first two hours within falling asleep. This is not the same as a nightmare. Night terrors result from a child coming out of deep sleep and somehow getting stuck. Most of us slightly wake up, adjust our covers, maybe even glance at the clock and go right back to sleep. These poor suffers aren't able to fully pull out of the deep sleep and it triggers an episode (my son suffered from this, so I did a lot of research).
3)Sleep choking syndrome: This just sounds so freaky to me. With this disorder, a person will have several episodes of choking while sleeping. They'll wake up with a feeling of anxiety or panic. They do not have obstructive sleep apnea or any other physical cause for choking.
4)Sleep walking: Interestingly, this disorder occurs in that same stage as the night terror. A person initially dives into a deep sleep and then slowly comes up after an hour or two. Sometimes, a person gets stuck between the two stages of sleep and weird things can happen. A person might sit up, get out of bed, walk around, maybe even get dressed...or they could suffer from:
5)Nocturnal eating syndrome: When you get stuck between deep sleep and lighter sleep, you might get out of bed, go to the kitchen, and eat raw meat or BBQ sauce straight from the bottle. These people are actually asleep when they do all this. Recently, several people taking Ambien are experiencing night eating. Not only do sufferers gain a tremendous amount of weight, but they feel emotional distraught and helpless.
6)Old Hag Syndrome: No, it's not a case where you wake up after a night of hard partying and find yourself next to the fugliest person in the universe. It's when a person wakes up, but cannot move. They feel the presence of pure evil in the room. Many say it's like the evil entity is actually sitting on their chest. The scientific explanation is that it's a case of sleep paralysis. It's when the brain has been dreaming, and for some reason, even upon starting to wake up, the brain continues to dream.
All of these disorders can be debilitating to various degrees, however cataplexy can strike at any moment. Cataplexy sufferers are held prisoners by this disorder, and they could injure themselves or others while having an episode. The complete utter loss of muscle control is what makes this disorder so dangerous.
Thinking back to elementary school, I swear my bus driver had cataplexy.