Sleep attacks may be caused by immune problems

Narcolepsy is a disorder where the affected person can just drop off to sleep during the day. It’s known to be a problem with the brain’s arousal system and an interesting article in Discover magazine discusses recent findings that suggest a immune system impairment may be at the root of the problem.

As well as falling asleep unexpectedly, people with narcolepsy can experience other sleep experiences that would usually be a relatively common part of sleep (such as confusing dreams with reality, waking or drifting off hallucinations, sleep walking-like activity and paralysis) but because they are so often dropping in and out of consciousness, they occur more frequently or more intensely than in others.

Because of these strange and unpredictable phenomena, sufferers often appear to be drunk or delusional rather than just extremely sleepy. Why the disease has such a wide range of effects isn’t completely understood, but in recent years a potential cause—the loss of hormone-producing neurons, possibly through an autoimmune response—has been identified. That knowledge in turn promises to pave the way for more precise treatments and stronger relief from narcolepsy’s debilitating symptoms.

Studies looking at the genetics of the disorder have found that about 90% of cases can be linked to a gene which is involved in the regulation of the immune system.

It is thought that this may lead to the erroneous destruction of the hormone hypocretin, which is known to be involved in the sleep-wake cycle.

Link to article ‘What Breaks Down the Asleep/Awake Divide?’

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