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Difference Between Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy

sleepSleep Apnea vs Narcolepsy

Both sleep apnea and narcolepsy are disturbances in the sleeping patterns of human beings. However, the similarity ends right there. The two conditions originate at different points of a man’s life, occur due to different reasons and are therefore treated differently. So what IS the difference between the two conditions? Let’s see:

  • Sleep apnea refers to short periods during which the person is asleep but fails to breathe. When he fails to breathe (and it can go on for around 15 seconds!), the oxygen level in his blood drops. This causes him to wake up repeatedly. As a result, people with sleep apnea are usually characterized by all the symptoms of a person who is sleep deprived!
    A person with narcolepsy, on the other hand will have repeated episodes of falling asleep during the daytime. Usually, the person is unable to control his falling asleep, no matter where he is. It is also characterized by disturbed sleep at night, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.
  • Let us take up the age at which these two conditions occur. While sleep apnea usually affects a person who is 40 or above, narcolepsy usually start when a person is an adolescent. It is extremely rare for a person to be diagnosed with narcolepsy when he is in his 30s or 40s.
  • So what causes the two conditions? Sleep apnea occurs due to three very different conditions and they are categorized accordingly. For instance, if a person has central sleep apnea, it is a basic problem with the functioning of the brain when he is asleep. The brain refuses to signal the muscles to inhale, and therefore the person stops breathing! Obstructive apnea occurs when he is unable to breathe because of something obstructing the air passage. A mixed sleep apnea occurs because of both the above reasons!
    Narcolepsy occurs due to the malfunctioning of a group of nerve cells called hypocretin neurons. They are also associated with a particular leukocyte antigen called HLA. Some scientists believe that it is a sort of an auto immune disease.
  • Narcolepsy is treated with a combination of drug and behavioral therapy. The severity of the symptoms and the particular situation of the patient decide what treatment he will receive. A patient with sleep apnea will be treated according to the reason which is causing the condition in the first place. If it is obstructive, he may be advised on dental appliances, and CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure). He may also be prescribed medications.

Summary:
1. Sleep apnea refers to periods when a person stops breathing while he is asleep. Narcolepsy is a condition when a person falls asleep repeatedly during the daytime.
2. Narcolepsy affects a person during his teens, while sleep apnea usually starts off at 40!
3. Sleep apnea occurs due the malfunctioning of the brain or due to obstructions in the air passage. Narcolepsy is a result of malfunctioning of nerve cells.
4. Narcolepsy is treated by behavioral therapy and medicines. Sleep apnea is treated by surgery, medications or dental applications.


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