Diagnosis of narcolepsy

To diagnose narcolepsy, the patient must first undergo a detailed medical history and physical examination, and keep a sleep diary to rule out bad sleeping habits such as fr​equent late nights and insufficient sleep as the cause of his symptoms.

This is followed by an overnight polysomnogram: the patient’s sleep is monitored in a hospital, and various bodily functions and indicators like breathing, blood oxygen levels, snoring and heart rate are taken through the night.

A multiple sleep latency test is also performed to assess how easily the patient falls asleep in the day, and the type of sleep p​atterns produced during these bouts of sleep.

Treatment for narcolepsy​​

As part of the treatment, a specialist may prescribe medication and lifestyle modifications to boost alertness and control symptoms. For example, a postlunch power nap can be a simple and effective way to keep daytime sleepiness in check.

Dr WS Shahul Hameed,​​Consultant, Department of Neurology​, National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth​ group said: “Health awareness is high in Singapore and bosses are generally understanding when their employees approach them (about their diagnoses). They often don’t have a problem with their employees taking a catnap during the day if that helps to manage the sleepiness caused by narcolepsy.”​

Undiagnosed narcoleptic sufferers can face problems at work, with their sudden bouts of sleepiness often mistaken for laziness, said Dr Hameed.

However, once they have been diagnosed and receive treatment, the situation can change “dramatically” for the better, he added. For example, patients can take 20 to 30 minutes of their hourlong lunch break for a nap in a quiet spot in the office, before getting back to their daily responsibilities. Besides power naps, medication can be prescribed to help patients stay alert during long meetings.

Dr Hameed recalled the case of a teenage patient whose cataplexic episodes caused problems at school. He prescribed medication to help keep her attacks under control.

Patients can also cultivate lifestyle habits like keeping to a healthy regimen of sleeping seven to eight hours a night, not drinking excessively, and avoiding medication that causes drowsiness.​

Ref: R14​