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Narcolepsy

From a manuscript by David Sobel, M.D. on brain physiology

People in a laboratory were allowed to sleep without restrictions. They developed an interesting pattern: They slept normal hours of night sleep, but also began to prefer a midday nap. This afternoon snooze tends to be restful, "slow wave," sleep. Outside the laboratory, napping is quite common among college students and elderly people, two groups often liberated from conventional demands of work and time. Our biological rhythms appear programmed for a midday rest. Without it we have an afternoon slump." In a study of over 5,000 adults over nine years, those subjects who slept 7-8 hours a night had the lowest death rates for heart disease, cancer, and stroke - in fact, for all causes of death. The short sleepers (6 or fewer hours per night) and the long sleepers (9 or more hours) were 30% more likely to die prematurely. A variety of chemicals, including muramyl peptides, interleukin-1, and interferon, trigger slow-wave sleep - the deepest, most restful kind - as well as rouse the immune system into action. A study of 6 healthy volunteers revealed that the onset of slow wave sleep correlated with a surge in blood levels of one of these chemical messengers in our immune system. It appears to stimulate lymphocytes and natural killer-T cells that defend the body against viral and bacterial infections, and cancer.

The incidence of narcolepsy is about 4 in 10,000. The signs and symptoms include the following: sudden slumber, hallucinations at sleep onset, cataplexy (temporary paralysis while awake, provoked by laughter, etc., a genetic tendency), begins in the teens, sleep paralysis just as the person is going to sleep, and REM occurring at abnormal times, especially at the very beginning of sleep.

As I have been studying the subject of narcolepsy and trying to find natural ways to help this problem without using Ritalin, I have looked for something that might be useful that would not require a lot of time. The natural modalities are many, thus providing many alternatives: herbs, charcoal, regularity, sunlight, water, rest, exercise, diet, temperance, air, and trust in divine power.

In the herbal line, we should try all herbs known to have an influence on the nervous system - lobelia, catnip, mint, goldenseal, methyl salicylate (willow bark), licorice, and hops. My reasoning here considers the use of amphetamines for hyperactivity in children, in that it sometimes gives sedation to children from a drug that is expected to give stimulation to adults. It might be that in narcolepsy there would also be a paradoxical or normalizing reaction. There are perhaps other herbs that may be more specific, but there may be no way to cut down on unproductive experimentation.

REM SLEEP

We become paralyzed during dreaming, so we won't act our dreams out. The paralysis is due to a cluster of brain cells in the brain stem that actually disconnects most of our muscles!

REM facilitates development of normal emotional balance and memory networks. REM sleep lost because of an upset sleep pattern or jet lag must be made up later whether in bed or not. If done during "micronaps" mental efficiency is lost, and much of the value of REM sleep is lost. REM sleep facilitates learning.

Sleep Patterns at Different Ages

Infancy - 14 hours/day in sleep - 40% in REM

Maturity - 7.5 hours/day in sleep - 20% in REM

Old Age - 6 hours/day in sleep - 10% in REM

Alcohol, coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate reduce REM.

10 days are required to shift jet lag of 10 hours (Tokyo to Boston).

PRODUCERS OF SLEEP

There are sleep generating neurons in the brain which interact with other neurons to affect physiology, respiration and BP, temperature, heart rate, and reduce temperature to conserve energy.

CAUSES FOR SLEEP DISORDERS

  • Abuse of sleep time (shift work, long working hours into night, sleeping on the job)
  • Upset circadian rhythms (staring at bright lights at night)
  • Mental illness (depression - sleep deprivation improves depression, but worsens mania)
  • SIDS - possibly a form of narcolepsy with cataplexy
  • Sleeping in on certain days
  • Dreams theories
  • Reveal hidden thoughts and tensions
  • Simply random firing of neurons
  • Clear brain of useless material

We suggest licorice root, 1/2 tsp. in a cup of boiling water; allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Stir and drink it all. Liquid kelp, several drops under the tongue several times daily should make a difference within a week if it is going to do so. Gotu kola may also be helpful. Try the anti-inflammatory herbs such as flaxseed, hawthorn berry, and wild yam, as well as anti-inflammatory foods: apples, pineapple, 4-6 oz. cabbage juice daily, olives, celery (3 stalks pureed once or twice daily). The sufferer should get a thyroid panel, a SMAC 25, and any hormone tests which may help to evaluate the adrenals, and a very good laboratory evaluation of the glucose metabolism. An investigation of food sensitivities should be made. No milk derivatives should be used for six weeks as a trial, and never any between meals food. For some people food sensitivities cause extreme drowsiness.

Fasting is recommended by EGW for all kinds of problems: "A day or two of fasting per week will do most people more good than any amount of medical advice or treatment." This is another of those remedies I use on a generic basis. Perhaps 3-5 days of fasting might be followed by laudable results. You would probably need to do that when on a vacation. There are some foods known to be associated with drowsiness: onions, beans, (some say bananas but others say they are stimulating), etc. Try a mono-diet for two or three weeks: a bowl of peaches at a meal, along with some dried peaches, peach leather, peach butter, a peach frappe, etc. Next meal would be another food such as rice with rice crackers, rice spaghetti, rice milk, etc. The next meal could try variations on the theme of split peas, or squash.

Charcoal has been helpful in so many unexpected places that I recommend it always when I do not know anything else to do. Since we are navigating uncharted seas so far as I know with narcolepsy, some experimentation may be essential. I can suggest a heaping tablespoon of activated charcoal powder three times daily for a 6-week trial.

You should try the effect of going to bed on time every night as a medicine, never failing, and making the bedtime early (about 7:30 or 8:00), taking naps every day before lunch, getting up, eating meals, etc., at the same time every day for two or three months to see if you get a benefit from that. This would allow you to get more than three hours of sleep before midnight, and would enable you to get some work done before breakfast. Perhaps these precious hours would give you six hours benefit. "Regularity in all things is essential." Since you may have some weakness of the circadian rhythm, you should do what some investigators are now doing for their jet lag patients, exposing them to bright light during the daytime hours. They are using really powerful light sources, and looking more or less directly into them - a bank of fluorescent lights all around the room, or sunlight when available. I suggest that you might try 60 seconds of staring at a strong light or getting into the sunlight once an hour from sunrise to sunset. Be sure you do not look at bright lights during the night. Naps in late morning or mid afternoon should be taken! 7-7.9 hours sleep nightly correlates with the best longevity. Short sleepers have more angina, but long sleepers have more myocardial infarctions.

One of the articles I read on sleep pathologies suggested several naps during the day. It is interesting that Dr. Sobel also recommended naps. The best times would probably be for 10 minutes before meals (if you need it, get a stop watch or timer with an alarm so you can wake up), and 10 minutes mid-morning, and 10 minutes mid-afternoon. This would make 4 or 5 naps a day. That might reset circadian rhythms. If not, it would at least be very pleasant therapy.

Have you checked your hematocrit? If it is over 42, why don't you give a unit of blood every 6 weeks. Changing the viscosity of the blood might be helpful. Drinking around 10 eight ounce glasses of water daily will also thin the blood a small amount. For a trial period of two months, you could try eliminating all salt and other very concentrated foods (all free fats, honey, malt, meat substitutes, vitamin and mineral preparations, and all chemical additives including baking powder). A colporteur once told me she became much less drowsy and "foggy-brained" when she left off free fats. It had become such a problem that she would go to sleep while the people were filling out their checks.

A part of exercise is massage. I would suggest you get somebody to do an experiment for you. Do a tapotement on your back over the adrenals for about one minute each side, followed by cupping or slapping.

Air should be pure. The "sick-building syndrome" is the culprit in some people's drowsiness. Are you as drowsy out-of-doors as inside? I am very susceptible to this. If I sit up very straight and take deep breaths, I can shake drowsiness practically anytime. I must breathe almost twice as fast as would be usual. Has anyone ever done any breathing tests on narcolepsy sufferers to see if there is anything to be learned from it? While you have such testing readily available, I think it would be very helpful in the interest of a complete workup to test your breathing just before and after you go to sleep - such things as vital capacity, flow characteristics, etc.

Temperance should be practiced in all your projects, not just in eating and sleeping. Do not prolong time spent in a project for hours unrelentingly, but break every hour for about 5 minutes of change of activity.

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