The cause of narcolepsy is still a phenomenon under investigation by scientists. For example, it is still not very clear why some people are affected by narcolepsy and why others are not. One thing is certain, this sleep disorder affects both sexes equally. As mentioned in other articles, it usually begins in early adult life and cools off its rigorousness at about 30 years of age.
While more research is still being conducted, what has been agreed upon so far is that the narcolepsy cause is hereditary or is associated with genetics coupled with an environmental trigger of some sort. For example, a virus may affect brain chemicals and contribute to the disorder. Narcolepsy is related to Rapid Eye Movement Sleep commonly known as REM sleep.
When we are asleep we become “paralyzed”- so that we do not find ourselves acting out what we are dreaming. Now, it takes about 90 minutes for any normal person to get to the REM sleep state. For the person with narcolepsy, this normally takes a few minutes after sleep. The problem with this is that the person who sleeps immediately might have the dreams seem real and may sometimes be related to hallucination. This problem may persist even after the person has awoken as he or she might experience the REM sleep occurrences during the day wherein just a short while might seem to be dreaming and therefore be seen as hallucinating.
Deficiency of the brain chemical orexin/ hypocretin
Recent studies suggest that the cause of narcolepsy is as a result of a deficiency in a chemical called Orexin (sometimes called hypocretin 1 and 2 or A and B). This chemical is found in a brain fluid called cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and is used to control sleep patterns i.e. activates arousal and regulates sleep.
People who are narcoleptic therefore do not have the capacity to produce enough of the chemical hypocretin in their bodies, which then inhibits their ability to fully control their alertness and develop tendencies to fall asleep.
It is possible to be narcoleptic without cataplexy, this means that the person could be having enough levels of the required chemical, hypocretin. The cause of narcolepsy to those who are narcoleptic without cataplexy probably has a different cause, as their orexin levels are normal.
It has also been arguing that narcolepsy is genetic but researchers agree that genetics alone is not the sole cause of narcolepsy. As discussed above, researchers believe that the core factor behind this sleep disorder is the body’s own immune system attacking the areas in the brain that produce orexin.
It is not, however, very clear why hypocretin is missing in people who have narcolepsy. Some arguments argue that this chemical is missing because of the presence of an autoimmune disease. In other words, instead of the body’s immune system attacking foreign invaders, it attacks healthy cells (e.g. hypocretin or orexin molecules) and destroys them.
Some factors that may work together to cause a lack of hypocretin, which in turn results to excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) include, A change in hormones, Some kind of Infection, Loss of certain brain cells due to head trauma or brain injury, toxins, and/or the body’s destruction of its own tissues (autoimmune reaction), Stress and fatigue.
Narcolepsy may further appear as side effects of medication or result from one’s continuing struggle to cope. Narcolepsy books – Click Here For professional and comprehensive help and resources
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Also Read: Definition of Narcolepsy and other terms used in the website