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Causes of Excessive Sleepiness: Sleep Apnea, Narcolepsy, RLS

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Treatment for Sleep Apnea

The most common treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). In this treatment, a nasal device attached to a machine with a blower unit helps keep the airway open. CPAP is the most common treatment used for obstructive sleep apnea. 
  • Armodafinil and modafinil. These stimulant medications can help relieve sleepiness in people who do not respond well enough to CPAP alone.
  • Oral appliance therapy. Devices move the tongue, lower jaw, or soft palate forward, which opens the airway. 
  • Weight loss. If you are obese, losing weight can decrease risk for sleep apnea by reducing fat deposits in the neck. It also reduces many of the other risks associated with sleep apnea, such as heart disease. 
  • Surgery. This may be an option if other treatments don’t work.

In addition to treatments for sleep apnea, it is important to manage other conditions, such as high blood pressure, that often exist along with it.

Narcolepsy and Extreme Sleepiness

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes disabling daytime sleepiness and other symptoms. Narcolepsy is related to the dreaming period of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. With narcolepsy, though, REM periods can occur throughout the day. In addition to drowsiness that doesn’t improve, narcolepsy may cause brief uncontrollable moments of sleep, or “sleep attacks,” without warning.

Another daytime hallmark of narcolepsy is sudden loss of muscle control, or cataplexy. This can be a slight feeling of weakness or total body collapse. It can last from seconds up to a minute. Cataplexy is related to the muscle immobility, or “paralysis,” that is part of REM sleep. It is often triggered by emotions or fatigue.

During sleep, narcolepsy may cause insomnia, vivid and often frightening dreams or hallucinations, and temporary paralysis. Hallucinations and paralysis may both occur during the process of falling asleep or waking up.

If you have narcolepsy, you may experience depression or other symptoms such as poor concentration, attention, or memory. These may be a result of intense fatigue and lack of energy resulting from good-quality sleep and daytime sleepiness.

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