Narcolepsy is one of the most well-known sleep disorders. There is a wide range of sleeping disorders, from sleep apnea to sleep paralysis. However, narcolepsy is one of the most debilitating. Those with narcolepsy suffer from sudden sleep attacks, which are oftentimes accompanied by feelings of exhaustion and muscle weakness. While narcolepsy is talked about frequently, very few people know that there are actually links between this sleeping disorder, cataplexy and the stages of sleep.
A typical 90-minute sleep cycle is comprised of four stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). It is in the REM stage of sleep where sleep is the deepest. When it comes to stages of sleep, REM is the most crucial because it is when our bodies rejuvenate and recharge. Most people are in each stage of sleep from 1-3 for between 5-15 minutes, but closer to the latter. Then, they enter REM sleep where the first cycle is 10 minutes and then each REM cycle increases throughout the night until the last cycle is close to an hour.
However, those who suffer from narcolepsy tend to breeze through steps 1-3 and reach REM sleep in 15 minutes. Those without narcolepsy take closer to 90 minutes to enter REM sleep. Additionally, those with narcolepsy tend to have their REM sleep overlap with periods of being awake. So, what does this mean?
This means that people with narcolepsy don’t experience the stages of sleep properly and therefore don’t get enough quality sleep at night. Then, when they are awake, their bodies are used to overlapping being awake with REM sleep, so intense emotions can trigger them to fall into a deep sleep and even experience cataplexy.
While many with narcolepsy feel hopeless, they aren’t. Using a CPAP machine to sleep at night helps those with narcolepsy to sleep more soundly at night, which reduces feelings of exhaustion.