For the fifth entry of FAQ’d by Shaq, Shaq MacNeil answers the most frequently asked questions about the condition made famous by Rowan Atkinson in Rat Race: narcolepsy.
Shaq, what is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy, also known as hypnolepsy, is a chronic neurological disorder where the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally is diminished.
There are two main characteristics of narcolepsy: excessive daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM sleep.
Excessive daytime sleepiness, which is in fact the correct medical term that I’m not making up, is what makes narcoleptics become drowsy or fall asleep at inappropriate times. These narco-naps occur with little warning and are often physical irresistible because narcoleptics live their entire lives in a state of extreme sleep deprivation, i.e. personal hell.
Shaq, is a narcoleptic the same thing as a necropheliac?
No. Common mistake, but no.
I remember back when I was in grade 8, good friend of The Brunch Club Andrew Denny and I were riding the OC Transpo’s glamorous 97 bus home from school. An older, bureaucrat-type was dozing off to sleep and Andrew took that opportunity to shout, “Look! A necrophiliac!” for the entire bus to hear.
Though it was mortifying at first, we all had a good laugh at the sleepy bureaucrat’s expense because he was asleep and defenceless.
Shaq, what causes narcolepsy?
Experts, like yours truly, believe narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency in the production of a chemical called hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that regulates arousal, wakefulness and hungry.
In addition to hypocretin-deficiency, researchers have discovered abnormalities in parts of the brain involved in regulating REM sleep to contribute to narcolepsy symptoms.
So to answer your question, neurological dysfunction and REM sleep disturbances is what causes narcolepsy.
And also public transit.
Shaq, what do you mean by “public transit”?
99% of people I know who normally don’t exhibit any symptoms of narcolepsy suddenly fall unconscious into a narco-nap the second we make eye contact on the bus or metro.
Shaq, do you think maybe that these people are only faking narcolepsy on public transit as a means to avoid small-talking with you?
Shaq, why are narcoleptics fat?
Narcoleptics are prone to weight gain because the lack of hypocretin, the hormone that encourages hunger and wakefulness, may leave them with a lack of energy-burning brown fat.
Fat comes in one of two types: white or brown. White fat stores calories while brown fat burns them, generating heat in the process.
Studies on mice revealed that hypocretin is critical for the formation of mature brown fat. With too little, the animals’ brown fat activity dropped along with their energy expenditure. Mice injected with additional hypocretin showed a substantial loss of fat.
The new evidence in mice shows that orexins are critical for the formation of mature brown fat from its precursors. With too little orexin, animals’ brown fat activity drops along with their energy expenditure. Likewise, mice injected with orexin show a substantial loss of fat.
That means that narcoleptics aren’t only predisposed to having poor quality sleep, they are also predisposed to packing on the pounds no matter how much they exercise or diet. Life’s really so fucking unfair sometimes.
Shaq, how is narcolepsy treated?
There are pills that can be popped but that’s not a catch all cure. Drug therapy should be accompanied by various behavioural strategies according to the needs of the affected individual.
Short, regularly scheduled naps at time when they tend to feel sleepiest is a good place to start. Furthermore, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, large meals before bed, smoking and making time for daily exercise should see your sleep improve.
So Shaq, what now?