You have probably heard of sleeping sickness or you suffer from it yourself. Everyone suffers from poor sleep or staying awake now and then, but when it is an illness, this can have serious consequences. Fortunately, several ways can help reduce this disease.
Before we go into that, we first of all answer the following question below: what is sleeping sickness? We then describe how the sleeping sickness narcolepsy develops, which symptoms can be linked to it, and finally what action you can take to sleep better when you suffer from this disease.

What is sleeping sickness?

Sleeping Sickness1The term “sleeping sickness” refers to several illnesses. This may involve narcolepsy; a disease in which your sleep/wake rhythm is disrupted. However, sleeping sickness can also involve trypanosomiasis. This is an infection caused by a parasite. Since the latter hardly occurs in the Netherlands, we are going to talk about the sleep disorder narcolepsy in this article.

Narcolepsy is a chronic disease that affects about 1 in 2,000 people. It is a disease that affects the nervous system of humans. It can manifest itself in different ways, but usually, the first symptoms do not manifest themselves in people between the ages of 10 and 25. Some people suddenly feel very tired and sleepy, while others experience a so-called “sleep attack”, where they fall asleep almost immediately – regardless of the situation. In addition, many people with narcolepsy have difficulty sleeping during the night.
Within the term narcolepsy, there are two types that you can distinguish from each other.
Type 1 is the most common. This is narcolepsy with the symptom “cataplexy”. Cataplexy involves suddenly losing strength in your muscles. People with this type therefore regularly suffer from sleep attacks and can fall without prior notice, because their muscle tension completely gives out at that moment. This is caused by a lack of orexin (also called “hypocretin”), a hormone produced in the hypothalamus (part of your brain).
Type 2 is less well known. This is narcolepsy without cataplexy. People with this type have little to no sleep attacks and often have normal orexin levels in their bodies.

How does sleeping sickness narcolepsy develop?

Sleeping Sickness2It is still unclear exactly how narcolepsy develops, but some confirmed indications are currently under more research.

It is now known that narcolepsy is generally associated with a deficiency of the substance orexin (hypocretin). This hormone is about the sleep/wake rhythm of humans. A team of researchers from Switzerland has now discovered that people with narcolepsy produce antibodies against the substance “trib 2”.
This substance (trib 2) contributes to the production of orexin. The antibodies in the patient's body attack trib 2, causing a deficiency of orexin. Many people with type 1 narcolepsy are therefore deficient in orexin, but there are also people with narcolepsy who are not deficient.
This brings us to the second possibility of narcolepsy. This sleeping sickness can also arise spontaneously due to another factor. For example, prolonged and severe stress can cause your body to develop narcolepsy, but it can also be caused by infections, drastic changes in sleep patterns, and possibly even hormonal changes, such as during puberty and menopause. However, these theories need further investigation before they can be confirmed.

Common Sleeping Sickness Symptoms

Sleeping Sickness3There are several sleeping sickness symptoms by which you can recognize narcolepsy. They vary in severity and do not all need to be present to be diagnosed with narcolepsy.

Excessive Sleepiness (EDS). This is perhaps the most identifying symptom of narcolepsy. You suddenly feel so tired that you would like to sleep on the spot. This is very inconvenient for many people, as it can lead to problems with their work or studies.
Cataplexy. This is also one of the most identifying symptoms. As described above, one suddenly loses the strength in the muscles, so that one can just fall.
Sleep paralysis. While everyone can experience sleep paralysis from time to time, people with narcolepsy are more likely to experience it. Sleep paralysis occurs when your body is in sleep mode and you can't move your muscles, but you are conscious and can sometimes open your eyes. Many people also experience hallucinations.
Excessive REM Sleep. REM sleep is a phase where your brain is very active during your sleep. This is also the phase in which you dream the most. Many people only enter the REM phase when they sleep for about 90 minutes. However, people with sleeping sickness can enter this phase after only 15 minutes.
Bad night's sleep. Although people with narcolepsy are often very tired during the day, it is quite common that they have trouble falling asleep at night or sleeping restlessly and often wake up during the night.
Automatic Behaviors. When narcolepsy and cataplexy co-exist in a person, they may fall asleep during some activity (driving, eating, writing, etc.). In these cases, the body will continue with these activities for several minutes, even though the person has already fallen asleep. These are automatic behaviors.

How is sleeping sickness treated?

Sleeping Sickness4Narcolepsy is relatively difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms are similar to other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or simply poor sleep. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleeping sickness, which means that it can never be completely resolved.

However, if narcolepsy is diagnosed as sleeping sickness, several treatments are used to relieve the symptoms of this disease. Below we take a closer look at several commonly used treatments by medical specialists.


Stimulants. Substances such as methylphenidate (in Ritalin), armodafinil, and modafinil can be used to stimulate the nervous system. These substances improve wakefulness and increase a person's alertness, which can prevent sleep attacks in this sleeping sickness.
Antidepressants. Several antidepressants increase the concentration of serotonin in the brain. This is used to counteract cataplexy and reduce the number of attacks.
Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid. It's a mouthful, but gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or Xyrem, is used to improve sleep quality throughout the night. At the same time, it helps to counteract cataplexy and can reduce fatigue during the day.

Other treatments

Admission to an expertise center. Since it is still unclear why and how the disease narcolepsy develops, you as a patient can also choose to be admitted to an expertise center. Here are several studies that were done on your symptoms, behaviors, and sleep. You will also spend the night there once so that your sleeping pattern can be examined during your stay.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. There are special treatments with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for narcolepsy. These treatments ensure that you, as a patient, gain more control over your symptoms and can better sense when and why they arise. CBT ensures, among other things, that you have more control over sleep paralysis and hallucinations, can reduce your cataplexy attacks through stimulus controls, and sleep better. In addition, CBT treats the additional symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety disorders.

Reduce sleeping sickness with these 6 tips

Sleeping Sickness5Since there is currently relatively little known about the causes of sleeping sickness narcolepsy and the possible treatments, it is difficult to estimate what people can do themselves to reduce the symptoms of this sleeping sickness.

Nevertheless, there are several tips recommended by professionals that are known to have positive effects on the sleep rhythm. You can use this to reduce sleeping sickness.
However, always contact a medical specialist if you think you have sleeping sickness narcolepsy and discuss with them what steps are best to take.

1. L-Carnitine Supplements

In a scientific study with a placebo and a supplement with L-carnitine, the result was that this substance had a positive effect on the fatigue that the subjects experienced during the day. Taking supplements of this substance may reduce the need to sleep during the day.

2. Strategic Sleep

Although napping is not recommended if you have a bad night's sleep, it is recommended for people with narcolepsy. By strategically scheduling naps throughout the day, you reduce fatigue at other times. It is recommended to take 2 – 3 naps a day for a maximum of 20 minutes so that you do not suffer from your sleeping sickness more at night.

3. Temperature manipulation

It has been found that people with narcolepsy are more likely to have a higher temperature in their fingers, hands, feet, and toes about their abdomen and back. By adjusting your body temperature, you can make yourself feel more alert throughout the day. You can do this by keeping your hands and feet cooler, for example with a fan. In addition, it helps to eat hot meals during the day, because these also increase alertness.

4. Improved Sleep Environment

As is often mentioned in people with sleeping problems, having a good sleeping environment is essential to improve your sleeping sickness. Think of having a cool bedroom with a good darkening to keep out light. It is also important to sleep in a room where you have as little noise disturbance as possible. This does not adjust the fatigue symptoms during the day, but you can improve the quality of your night's sleep so that you feel less tired during the day.

5. Food and Beverages

Even though narcolepsy is a chronic sleeping sickness; food and drinks do affect your sleep. That is why it is important to take this into account if you want to quickly improve your sleep. Heavy meals, tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine are best avoided. You don't have to eliminate them from your diet, as long as you don't consume or use any of these substances at least a few hours before bedtime. In this way, you can improve your sleep so that you suffer less from fatigue during the day.

6. Customized working hours

Since narcolepsy is so unpredictable, many people find it difficult to work and study. This creates a lot of stress, which in some cases can worsen the symptoms. With the help of a doctor or an understanding boss, you can make an arrangement to be allowed to work at adjusted working hours. Although this will not affect your sleeping sickness, it can prevent you from developing social and financial problems.


Narcolepsy is a chronic sleeping sickness, where a person feels very tired and sometimes falls asleep suddenly – regardless of the situation he or she is in. There are two types of sleeping sickness: narcolepsy with cataplexy, a condition where you suddenly lose strength in your muscles, and narcolepsy without cataplexy.
This sleeping sickness is often treated by professionals with medicines, which can include stimulants and antidepressants. In addition, you can undergo a full examination in a special center so that you can learn more about your symptoms, problem areas, and possible treatments.
However, you can also treat narcolepsy yourself using several tips recommended by professionals. This includes taking L-carnitine supplements, scheduling naps, improving your sleeping environment, and taking cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you suspect that you have narcolepsy, it is wise to contact your doctor. They can then advise you specifically and provide you with tools if necessary.

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