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Listen to election one to one every Wednesday on the I Heart Radio Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Welcome to Stuff You Should Know. A production of IHOP Radio's HowStuffWorks. Hey, welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Clark. Nurse Charles W. Bryant over there and Jerry Chuck, wake up, huh? We're going to get some mail for that right off the bat. I feel quite refreshed.
So, Chuck, you might have narcolepsy then. If you just fell asleep, were you able to resist the urge to sleep just now?
Now, as soon as I heard hey, welcome to the podcast, I went lights out. I think that happens to a lot of people, have you ever known anyone with narcolepsy? I haven't. The closest I've come to that is watching my own private Idaho.
Oh, what do you find that sleep inducing? No, no, there's a I think. Oh, right. River Phoenix or Keanu Reeves has. No, that's right. I forgot about that. I thought you were saying it's so boring you can't stay awake.
No, no, no. That's cats. Did you see that?
No. Don't you remember that? I tried to make myself go to sleep in cats in the middle. Oh, that's right. That no, I have not seen the movie now.
Yeah, that's what I was wondering about after having been on a movie crash right now, I can't tell what's what anymore. What I said where. So my great Aunt Laura had narcolepsy, which is my paternal grandmother, sister and I only met her a few times. This is from my my dad's side of the like the Mississippi clan. So I think I only I only remember going to Mississippi like once when I was a kid and visiting her. And I just remember my brother and I this is my only memory of that visit is Scott and I sitting in a room talking with her and her being in the middle of a sentence and then her head falling down.
And then ten seconds later, she would pick her head up and continue that sentence.
Wow. Like like without missing a beat or was there like, oh, you know, was she aware that she had just fallen asleep and woken up in my memory from being like 10 years old?
She didn't miss a beat and just finished her sentence like right in the middle of a sentence and didn't mention it. And my brother and I were just like, what is going on here?
What, your dad didn't prepare you for it? I don't remember.
I blacked out, you know, purposely blacked out a lot of my childhood. Right. Sure. So I don't know. But that gets folded into the shuffle.
That's the only thing I remember. It may be a child's memory that is a little trumped up, but that's how I remember it. Wow, man. Well, yeah, I've never known anybody with narcolepsy. And based on that going into this whole episode, like, I was just basically going in, like I'm sure most of our listeners are, where it's just like, yeah, if somebody falls asleep in the middle of the day, they can't help it.
And then they wake back up and who cares?
Basically, you know, but the more that I've researched this, the more like, you know, if it even if it were just that alone, it would be pretty disruptive to your normal life, depending on how often it happened to you, you know, every day. But the fact is, it's not just that alone and there's a lot of extra symptoms to it that make it frightening or terrifying or depressing or just completely disruptive or make it so that you are maybe unable to hold down a job or go to school.
There's a it's actually a much it's a much sadder condition than I think most people think of because it seems innocuous. It's just like you fall asleep here. There, it's fine, you know, and it's not it's there's a lot more to it than that.
Yeah, for sure. I should also mention, too, that something that should not be confused with narcolepsy is something that Emily's family has. And I saw this when we would go to visit, when they lived in Ohio, when he would stay at her parent's house. Didn't dare to Turkey.
Well, you know, eating, drinking during the day such that by seven to eight o'clock at night, every night, I would Emily and I would look around, we're watching TV and there are four, usually three sleeping adults.
And I dubbed it the gas leak, which everyone in their family thought was hysterical.
Right now, that's just plain old funny.
Yeah, that's that's not narcolepsy at all. That's just, you know, at what age does that start happening is what I want to know because I'm creeping up there. Twenty one, because I can still jam late into the night. I'm still you know, I might be sleepy the next day, but that's my only time when I don't have a five year old mom. So I use that time. I can stay up still till midnight, 1:00 in the morning.
If I am doing something that's really neat.
You must have a lot of testosterone left. I don't think so. Well, I mean.
Well, no, I mean, like to have energy after, you know, a certain time of day is is I think I think you have a lot of testosterone. Chuck, I would bet we're going to take you in for a test after this.
Well, I feel like it.
I feel like it kicks back in like I'm sleepy sometimes during the day. But then when the night comes and my daughter's asleep, I'm like, all right, this is my this is my time to shine.
Now, that's very fortunate, man, that you're not just like this is my time to Netflix and chill like you're getting stuff done. I'm envious of you for that because I get a little tired, but I definitely don't have narcolepsy. I'm just kind of like I'm somewhere between you and Emily's family.
They guess, yeah, so narcolepsy is it's a chronic disorder, it's a sleep disorder, and I know we talked a little bit about this in some of our other sleep disorder episodes, so much so that I thought we might have actually covered this. But I quadruple checked and we have not. But it's characterized by a few things. One of the maintenance that basically everybody that has narcolepsy has what's called excessive daytime sleepiness. Right.
That's what everybody thinks about when you think of narcolepsy, somebody just falling asleep. They can't help it. They're just suddenly out. That's right.
Yeah. They also call those sleep attacks.
Yeah, it's pretty cute. And no matter what variation of narcolepsy you have, you have excessive daytime sleepiness. Ed's right.
That's right. And this is not you know, this is nothing new. We're just now sort of figuring it out a little bit since the 90s, which we'll get to. But obviously, this has been happening since there have been people there, probably been suffering from narcolepsy, you know, a small percentage of people. But it was first described in 1880 by a French physician named Jean Baptiste. Edward Giler now. Not bad. How would you have said it, Jean-Baptiste, that was Jay Leno.
Jay Leno. Is that is it a skit to put that little uptick on the end? I think that's called an excellent dugu. Right.
Right. So, yeah, that's how I would said it. But either way, I think we we basically got it across. He was a French physician from 1880.
That's the. That's right. Yeah.
And the origin of the actual term is from Greek naka, which is numbness or stupor. Stupors, one of my favorite words.
And Lipsius to attack or Tassie's. Right.
So it's an attack of stupor basically is what they what he meant when he coined that term. And the reason Jean-Baptiste Edwards, Jerry know, came up with this is because of 36 year old wine cask maker, came to him and said, hey, I think there might be something wrong with me. I fall asleep suddenly out of nowhere for one to five minutes, 200 times a day every day.
What do you think Jay Leno said?
I think I'm going to make my career on you, buddy. I did the math there. If you average about two and a half minutes between the one to five, that's about eight hours of dozing.
OK, I'm really glad you said that, Chuck, because this was something that I had no idea about. But if you take over a 24 hour period, somebody with narcolepsy and put their amount of sleep next to somebody without narcolepsy over 24 hours, it's going to wash out roughly the same. Did you know that?
I didn't know that. But does that mean that this guy dozed eight hours a day and then stayed up all night? Or did he sleep another five hours at night and just slept a lot?
No. So that's one of the one of the key reasons that there is such thing is excessive daytime sleepiness is part of narcolepsy. It's that your sleep is so disrupted that it's basically spread out over 24 hours rather than concentrated over, you know, eight hours at night. So they're up and awake in the middle of the night for very long periods, just like they fall asleep suddenly during the day. But if you put all those bouts of sleep together, even when they're trying at night and then when they can't help it during the day, it adds up to about the same that a person without narcolepsy will sleep.
That's yes. My understanding. Now, that's pretty remarkable.
It is like the brain's like I'm getting sleep, whether you like it or not. We're making this happen at least by 24 hours.
We're going to have had enough. And of course, you know, since this has been you know, we're talking about the late 80s, there have been a lot of explanations over the years. Everyone from Freud to, you know, I was about to say legitimate doctors that probably would offend certain people like Freud. I like Freud, too, but I meant like, you know, never mind. Sure. But Freud, of course, said that sleep is an escape.
And he said, you know, narcolepsy is a lot of times triggered by really intense emotions. So here's what I think. It's just an extreme defense mechanism that lets you escape from those emotions.
I love it. It's pretty Freudian. It's about as Freudian, an explanation for anything as I've heard. It's just classic, right? Of course, it's just utterly wrong.
But I just think Freud's attempts at explaining the world were great and valuable in the way that, like, preserving classic art is.
Yeah, I've been to his house. Where in Texas? No, Sigmund Freud housing in Tyler, Texas. There are a lot of Germans in Texas, although I know he was Austrian. Yeah. I mean, I believe I saw it in Vienna, if I'm not mistaken.
That's neat. That is very neat. Was this when you were backpacking? Yeah, of course.
You need to do a memoir of that time in your life and call it backpacking to Freud's house.
Yeah. OK, ok.
So in the book could just be shaped like a penis.
Sometimes a book is just a book. That's right. So Freud missed the mark a little bit. But still, again, it's worth mentioning, just like appreciating art, it wasn't until the 60s where they're like, OK, I think we're starting to get some real clues here. And that was when they first established that people with narcolepsy enter RTM sleep during these bouts of narcolepsy, which you are not supposed to do under normal sleep patterns, which we talked about many, many times before.
Like you said, when you fall asleep, it should take you a little while to enter RTM sleep. That's a deeper phase of your sleep pattern, right? With with narcolepsy there out in India, RTM sleep so quickly that a different way to characterize it that that narcolepsy researchers put it is that. R.P.M. activity, it intrudes into wakefulness. The line between being awake and being in deep RTM sleep, is that blurred for people with narcolepsy?
Yeah, and I feel like I've occasionally in a really intense power nap, had a dream. But that's only when it's and I don't get to nap anymore. But that's when I've just been so tired that I just nap and fall asleep like immediately.
That's about you. Do you feel refreshed when you wake up? I tend to nap longer when I would nap, so I wouldn't do the when I say power nap, I don't mean the 20 minute disco nap. I mean, you really pout power through for a couple of hours.
I thought you were recounting some of your cocaine using days.
No, no, no. I gotcha. So that was in the 60s. So they say, OK, RTM and narcolepsy, they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Right.
We're on to something here. But finally in the 90s, they're like really have started to figure it out. And they've zeroed in on the hypothalamus and specifically a small cluster of cells in the rear of the hypothalamus that we'll talk about later. And if you learn about that, as far as narcolepsy goes, you can find it pretty convincing that we have begun at least to finally truly understand the cause of narcolepsy.
Yeah, I totally agree. It's they make a great case. Yeah. So if you want to talk to some initial stats, it occurs in all ethnic groups. It has equal incidence on the gender spectrum, evidently. Yeah, that's interesting. And yeah, because usually you would see it tilted one way or the other. Yeah. For sure. And then as far as how often you're going to see this, it's in about point 03 to point one six percent of Gen Pop or about one in two thousand people.
Yeah. Which makes it, which classifies it as a rare disease which by the way shout out to among several others, rare diseases dog for their take on narcolepsy. It was very instructive.
Is it a disease or a disorder or is it a fine line?
I think because there's a brain dysfunction that it would be characterized as a disease, wouldn't you? I don't know.
I still don't know the difference after all these years.
So it was I mean, when it was considered an RTM sleep disorder and maybe it still is it was considered a parasomnia, like sleepwalking or whatever. So that would have been considered a disorder then. But I think it's a disease now.
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Oh, OK, we're back, and it turns out, Chuck, that there are two types of narcolepsy, and just from all of the research that we've done over the years, an interesting health stuff, this smells a lot to me, like something that's going to be broken out into its own thing over time.
Yeah, I agree, because we've seen that happen time and time again. Mm hmm. We have narcolepsy type two, which is what we were talking about, sort of the more like when you think of narcolepsy, this is probably what you're thinking of at Laura falling asleep during the middle of a sentence. Right.
And it's type two because it's by far less prevalent than type one. And type one is narcolepsy, like you'd think of with the daytime excessive daytime sleepiness. But on top of that, there's something called cataplexy two and cataplexy can exist on its own. It's the just sudden loss of voluntary muscle function, like you can't keep your head up because your neck muscles just went limp or your arms go limp or something like that.
And cataplexy can exist on its own. It can exist in conjunction with other diseases, too, or disorders, but it very frequently coexists with narcolepsy.
Yeah, and one of the hallmarks of it, from what I understand, because it gets kind of confusing and I couldn't fully find this out, Chuck, but I, I think that it can exist in a person with narcolepsy in conjunction with a sleep attack. Mm hmm. Or separately to where you just suddenly, like, can't hold your head up anymore.
The key is you're still conscience conscious.
Oh, my God. I just turned into an illiterate seventh grader, still conscious.
And you just you might look like you have just fainted or something like that, depending on the severity of the cataplexy attack.
Yeah, it's almost like a fainting goat, right? Yes, very much like that. Almost exactly like that.
Because remember, with the fainting goats, they would basically just fall over because they were startled. Yeah, I think pretty much the same thing with cataplexy in humans, although it seems to be more associated with positive emotions.
Yeah, it's so interesting. Yeah. We're going to get into that. There are four symptoms of narcolepsy, which we're going to break down in a second, but they are excessive daytime sleepiness like we've talked about. There is the cataplexy, their sleep, sleep paralysis and then hypnagogic hallucinations. And if you have narcolepsy, you well, there's about a twenty to twenty five percent chance that you have all four. And I don't think there's any rhyme or reason which ones you do have.
But like we said, everybody has the excessive daytime sleepiness and they're also talking about a fifth Beatle.
I was going to say that Clarence was that his name? Yeah. Or who said he was to the fifth symptom, which is disturbed nocturnal sleep, which about 50 percent of the patients have, but they have it. I think that will end up in there at some point.
And technically, there may be a sixth one, too, which is called automatic behavior. Where have you ever been like driving and you're suddenly like five exits further than you thought you were and you realize you just zoned out and were just driving just fine. But you were you were basically on autopilot. I mean, is that like the same as just daydreaming or maybe. I think so, but there's like no recollection of anything. You didn't note any landmarks that you just passed or let's say you're gardening or something like that.
You don't you don't remember finishing digging the hole with the trowel.
It's you've just completed a task that you have no memory of of undertaking.
I don't think that happens. OK, so that's happened to me before. But that's really a symptom of of it's an additional sin, but it's not a classic symptom. But they're starting to figure out that it is a symptom of narcolepsy. Yes.
So you're like I just I went in my garage one day and I had built a penny farthing, like no memory of that, how it got there. So it usually starts out in adolescence, which surprised me. I did not know that just because my Aunt Laura characterized it as something you got later in life. But they do worsen with age. So maybe that does make sense, after all. And sometimes your symptoms can be very steady, sometimes it can be months or years in between changes and sometimes the symptoms change a lot to very quickly.
Right. But the symptom that, again, 100 percent of people with narcolepsy have is excessive daytime sleepiness. And in almost every case of narcolepsy, that is the first symptom that starts. You almost never start with the other ones. It's that one first. And that's exactly what you think of where somebody just falls asleep and they're out for a few seconds to a few minutes depending. And it's not going to be the same amount of time every time. They're not going to have the same number of sleep attacks every time.
Yeah, a lot of it has to do with just how tired they are, like how poorly they slept the night before. Yeah, it's going to make them more susceptible to sleep attacks during the day. And this is not the same as hitting the wall at three o'clock because you ate lunch and all of your coffee from the morning wore off. I mean, it bears some resemblance to it, but this is it is irresistible, this urge to sleep or just sleep, it just comes on.
So that's that's a that's the main characteristic of narcolepsy.
But anybody who's kind of dozed off, like sitting in a comfortable chair when it was, you know, a little warmer than normal at work or something like that.
Right. Like that is it bears a resemblance to that specific symptom of narcolepsy. It's the other ones that you have in conjunction with that that really make narcolepsy like its own disorder.
Have you ever slept at any job you've ever had? It doesn't sound like me, but probably I'm sure I'm sure I have, you know, here, there.
Why are you. Well, I mean, when I worked the midnight to seven a.m. shift at the Golden Pantry in Athens, I had a regular routine of sleeping. Oh, yeah. Because you were allowed to close up the store and mop and do things for like an hour. So I would close up the store, go back in the back and lay down on a a little pallet I made on top of a freezer.
Did you get some good sleep? I would. It was pretty hard sleep. And I will admit that when I had a baby, I took a nap or two right here in our own office. Oh, nice.
Can you tell me where is it still secret in one of the private telephone rooms?
Oh, that would be a good place to take a nap if you've ever gone in there and seen a pillow in the camp, stove, sleep machine, open bag of marshmallows and a stick. Now, I took a couple of catnaps here at work and such that I was like, you know what? Some countries and companies embrace this. And there's a lot of value to to knock it out for 20 or 30 minutes during a workday.
Is that what that one HRR email they sent out was all about? Maybe. Did you try to convince them of that?
Did you go to them and say, you know, some countries really embrace this. You guys be more more continental, at least don't fire me.
Right. Yeah. So, yeah. So this is this is akin to that, you know, falling asleep. But the key here is that it's unplanned. And with narcolepsy, it is straight up irresistible. You know, like when you sit up and you're like, open your eyes a little bit, you're like, well, I can't fall asleep. I got to stay awake because I'm being paid right now. Yeah. Like, if you have narcolepsy, you can't do that.
You just fall asleep and you're out. And the other key is you feel really good and refreshed right after one of those sleep attacks. Yeah. Which is it's it's weird to think that ten seconds of that can refresh you.
I know it is very weird, but that's part of it for sure. So cataplexy, which we talked about, the fainting goat like thing you mentioned, positive emotions can trigger it being surprised. Laughter, elation, sometimes anger, which is not positive, but intense emotions like that can triggered this. And it can be everything from, like you said, your head just sort of nodding down to full on, just collapsing.
Yeah. Which is called the drop attack, which are kind of dangerous. You can get banged up pretty bad because this is not necessarily you falling asleep or fainting or as a matter of fact, it's not that. Yeah, you're up. You're awake a little totally conscious.
You are. You just can't control your muscles all of a sudden for a very short period of time.
Yeah. And interestingly and which is good news, which is good news, is that as you get older, cataplexy might actually improve. Yeah, that is good news because taking a fall in the hallway, you know, 80 years old is much different than at eighteen for sure.
Let's see, oh, there's also sleep paralysis, which we did an entire episode on. Yeah, it's not fun. It frequently is accompanied by hallucinations, which is another symptom we'll talk about next. But sleep paralysis was first described by a physician who had a patient that presented with narcolepsy. And this guy figured out there was such a thing as sleep paralysis. But it's basically when you're falling asleep or waking up, there's a there's like a few fleeting moments where you can't move at all.
You're paralyzed. Yeah. And it's not pleasant one bit. So if you are having a sleep attack and you're coming in and out of sleep, you know, a bunch of times a day and you feel paralyzed as you're coming in and out of sleep and you don't know what's going on, it can make the whole narcolepsy, narcoleptic experience a lot more terrifying.
Yeah, as well. Hallucinations. These can come at the onset of sleep or at the end of sleep. They can be really scary. Sometimes it could just be hearing a noise. What was the one thing we talked about?
The time where we you hear a loud noise exploding head.
That's right. The exploding head. Somehow all this seems to be related somehow.
Oh, yeah. Right, yeah, I think so, yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with the neurons that we'll talk about in a little bit. So the hallucinations, when they happen, when you're waking up, they're called hypnotic pumping and when you're falling asleep, those are the hypnagogic that we mentioned earlier.
Yeah. And again, they very frequently accompany sleep paralysis and that, like, you can't move and you're hallucinating a demon standing on your chest. Right. That's why you can't move.
And again, this is happening to you many, many times a day against your will. And it's it makes it unpleasant. And then there's also something called disrupted nighttime sleep, which is basically the exact polar opposite of excessive daytime sleepiness or during the night when everybody else is asleep. And when you wish you were sleeping, you might be wide awake. So that, again, your sleep pattern is not concentrated into eight hours at night. It's spread out in about eight hours throughout a 24 hour period.
So we talked a lot about the various sort of explanations for this over the years, what they thought was going on, and that it wasn't until the 1990s that they kind of zeroed in on what they think is going on now, which to me and you holds a lot of promise.
But 1998 was the year that they finally discovered an isolated the chemical in the brain. That seems to be the cause of all this.
And it's called Hypo Hypocretin. Hypocretin. I want to say hypo Kryten. How do you do? So let's do OK, let's hypo Kryten. Yeah, so they they isolated that and we have our cousins, the rats, to thank for this because they did a lot of rats tests and figured out from those tests just how how this whole thing works.
But what they figured out is that Hypocretin has some has a few different functions, but its main function is maintaining wakefulness in us humans. And it is a it's a peptide. It also has another name called Eareckson, and it's the exact same neurochemical. But it would just happened to be discovered independently by two different groups at about the same time. So it has two names still. They haven't settled on one, but it basically goes around and says, hey, serotonin, you're looking good.
Here's a little boost. Hey, norepinephrine, you're looking great yourself. Here's another little boost. And so all of these neurochemicals that keep us awake and alert get a boost from Hypocretin so that they can do their job better. And what they found is that people with Type one narcolepsy have about 90 to 95 percent fewer of this very specialized cluster of neurons in the brain that are responsible for producing all of the hyper creten in our bodies.
Yeah, that's case closed, right? Basically, yeah.
I think the only thing left to explain is twofold. One, exactly why the Hypocretin is, is that the neurons that produce hyper kryten are so diminished. And it seems like they basically explained that one and then two what to do about it. That's the big one.
Yeah. And we should mention, too, that there are about 86 million I'm sorry, billion neurons in the brain and only about between 100 and 200000 neurons produce hypocretin. So it is a very specialized cluster of neural cells. Yeah.
But also makes it really vulnerable to and they're all in one space in the rear of the hypothalamus. So it's really weird that evolution was like, oh, it's fine. This is a really, really, really important chemical, but we're just going to localize it right here in this one spot to just 100000 neurons.
Yeah. And it's also really weird that if you only have type two narcolepsy, you don't show any decrease in Hypocretin. Right, right. That's just the one where you have sleep attacks and not cataplexy, and it is really weird. And that's why I was saying, like, I wonder if that's going to be broken out eventually in the future into its own disorder or disease. But the current thinking for that is that that is a less pronounced or less advanced case of type one narcolepsy to where you're probably going to eventually get cataplexy or you may never get cataplexy, but your your case of narcolepsy just stopped progressing it.
That's what they think currently.
A lot of the sleepiness of narcolepsy. This you know, it's a theory, at least from researchers, is that it's a consequence of sleep state instability. Mm hmm. And that's something I know we talked about before, that that threshold between being awake and being asleep in those lines, getting blurred and crossing over. Mm hmm. And I guess I must have been sleep paralysis that we talked about that.
I think so, because that's that is like an example of, like, weight that is like wakefulness intruding on REM sleep. It's almost like the opposite of narcolepsy. Yeah. People experiencing sleep paralysis without narcolepsy. It's kind of like that. But it's it's ultimately that it's a consequence of your brain no longer able to being able to hold the switch down between the on off switch between sleep and wakefulness. Right. So it's like Hypo Crighton is the the thumb that holds the on off switch in place.
Without it, that switch is kind of a hair trigger so that it just kind of can shift back and forth between on and off really easily and really quickly. And so without that hypo crighton that's that you can just kind of go in between wakefulness in REM sleep with no transition and just at the drop of a hat basically. So they think that that's it, that it is a, a lack of hypocretin that is responsible at least for type one narcolepsy, which is narcolepsy with cataplexy.
Should we take the break now? Sure. All right, let's take a break, because we're going to get into our third act here with a very what I think is the most interesting part of all this, which is what it has to do with your genes and your immune system right after this.
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Dude, how many episodes have we done on stuff like this where we're like they think maybe this year studies are still coming? We have caught this at like peak ripeness before. Everybody knows that it's just so plain and obvious and it's been talked about so much. But right after all of these important advanced advancements in the study of it have really kind of come together and gelled. I mean, it is perfectly fresh.
Yeah, it is. A very rare, satisfying feeling. I feel satisfied myself. So there they think there's a genetic basis for narcolepsy, but the genes that are involved in narcolepsy really aren't involved with sleep. It's about your immune system. So how it goes is a little something like this.
They're just. All right, man.
There are genes that code for these T cell receptors and the HLA gene, human leukocyte antigen. And not everyone has this variant. But if you do, you're going to have about a 25 percent greater chance of having narcolepsy.
Yeah, that variant of the HLA gene, very important.
That's a big increase at 25, which is for real, because a lot of those they'll show, like the relative increase, it increases your risk, you know, 80 percent.
But if you look at the absolute increase, it's like, well, that you know, you have, you know, one point five times the chance or something like that, 25 times likelier is definitely a huge increase for sure. My hat is off to that one.
Yeah, but so what they're thinking is that it's actually the basis of narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, and that is what's killing off your immune system, is killing off those hyper creatine producing neurons. Yes.
Yes. Just like Crohn's or irritable bowel syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis. It's your body turning on itself. It's mistaken. So it attacks itself, your immune system attacks your own body.
And in this case, in the case of narcolepsy, they think that something about those hyper Crighton hyper Creedon producing neurons, I guess are producing something that seems like an antigen to your body. If you have that specific variant of that HLA gene, it attacks them, kills off those neurons. You don't have any hypo any longer and so you can't maintain wakefulness. And so sleep and wakefulness just toggle back and forth throughout your day.
Are you going to drop the streptococcus bomb? I think you should. I think I understand it. But just after the onset of narcolepsy, it looks like you have an increased level of antibodies against streptococcus, and that's like strep throat and there are other infections involved. And so they've also tied that to the time of year. Narcolepsy usually begins in late spring and early summer, which would kind of make sense that there's an autoimmune attack going on against those neurons triggered by strep throat or some other kind of infection you get during the winter.
Yeah, like your immune system just goes bonkers because of strep. And it's like, what else? What else can I go after? I'm really priming the pump. And if for some reason it goes after your hypo kryten producing neurons in your hypothalamus, that's nuts. So your immune response is triggered by an actual infection, they think. And the reason why they think this and it greatly pains me to to to reveal this.
But there is a vaccine called Pandemic's that is no longer available anywhere in the world. But it was hot and heavy is a vaccine against H1N1 swine flu. And it was a really potent vaccine against H1N1 swine flu. And some European northern European countries during the 2009 to 2011 swine flu pandemic chose to use this to inoculate their population with. Right.
Yeah, well, there were reports that have been backed up by studies, not just in Finland, which is a big place where this happened, but in other places like the U.K. did studies, too, that found the same results, that there was a link between pandemics and narcolepsy, that the pandemics triggered that immune response that ultimately led to the immune system attacking the hypo, kryten producing neurons. So that H1N1 vaccine brought on a lifelong chronic case of narcolepsy.
Yeah, I know that was hard to say, but yeah, it really was.
I really, really hate saying stuff like that. I know.
But you know what? You got to we got to preach. The science in the science appears valid here. Great. Yeah. Dozens of kids in Finland develop narcolepsy and I think the new rate of cases of narcolepsy and kids increased eight to 12 fold. And, you know, I think out of the 54 kids who are diagnosed with narcolepsy, 50 of them had had the vaccine. So the ability for.
Yeah, and I mean, these like these numbers are really, really small. But if you think about it, so for kids, apparently in 2010 would have been diagnosed with narcolepsy. Right. Had that pandemic not happened in that or that particular vaccine not been administered, but because it was the number was 54, not four. So even though the numbers, again, absolutely are rather small percentage wise, that's an enormous a mind boggling increase in the number of narcolepsy diagnoses.
Yeah. And it was linked directly to that vaccine.
And they car I keep saying that and they caught it and it is no longer being given anywhere. It was never available in the United States. Yeah. So Finland just sort of got the brunt of it it seems like.
Yeah. Finland, the UK had a bunch. Their rate was one case of diagnosed narcolepsy for every 55000 inoculations in children, I think six months to 18. But that washed out to like 16, 16 people, which still I mean, if you're one of those people, you're like, well, son of a gun.
Yeah, that really sucks. But here's the key.
And this is really, really important. And this is how we will be able to still use a vaccine that is viable, impotent and works against swine flu without giving somebody narcolepsy, and that is personalized drugs based on gene tests. Yes, DNA tests because of those 50 kids in Finland that received the vaccine in 2010 that developed narcolepsy, every single one of them carried that specific variant of the HLA gene that is tied to narcolepsy. So if you just did a simple DNA test, which hopefully will be widespread in just a few years, you'd say, oh, no, I'm glad we did this.
You can't have pandemics, you might get narcolepsy or basically there's a 100 percent chance you're going to get narcolepsy. We'll give you this other vaccine instead that that has been shown not to produce narcolepsy in people like you.
That's right. And you can refer to our episode on personalized medicine. Yes, right. We should do a follow up on that one. Yeah, I agree. So get on the list for six years from now.
So basically, you've got these genes that predispose you to your immune system mistakenly attacking that part of your hypothalamus. There has to be some sort of trigger, either an infection or pandemics, something like that, typically an infection with strep. And then there seem to be two age windows where you're particularly vulnerable around 15 and around 36. They have no idea about any of that. They just have they're starting to put this data together.
Yeah, I bet you they'll figure that out, too. Agreed. I really feel like narcolepsy is going to be like totally and completely figured out in the next decade. I could not be more jazzed about it.
It's really. Yeah, no, it's just figuring things out. Yeah.
You know, just doggedly, you know, working and building on, you know, somebody else's work. It's just it's a beautiful thing when it's done right.
Agreed. So if you are going to be diagnosed with narcolepsy, there are a couple of tests that they're going to give you. One is called an overnight poly. Some no, Graham. That's right. A PSG. And that is a test when you it's one of those tests. It's like a sleep study is when you go in and sleep for them, basically. And for me, baby. Yeah. And they measure a lot of things. They measure your brainwaves.
They measure your heart rate, eye movements, limb movements, muscle tone, respiration, get a lot of info there. And then they'll say, now you're going to there's going to be followed by the multiple sleep latency test, which also sounds kind of fun because that measures how quickly you fall asleep for a nap every couple of hours during the day.
I know when you have to go in for when you're like, I got to go to a doctor's appointment. And when he goes, oh, sorry, you go, no, no, it's great. It's going to be the greatest day of my life. Yeah.
Those rooms make me sleepy. I could see some people being like, oh, I can't go sleep in a room. But I was well known as a child for falling asleep in like a dentist's chair, waiting, waiting for the dentist to come in or in a waiting room for ah, not a waiting room, but in the exam room for a doctor. I still get sleepy in those just super clean, super cool, quiet rooms with fluorescent lighting.
It just it zaps me.
Yeah, that's very odd. So four or five nap opportunities during the day, they're going to see how fast you fall asleep and if you fall asleep, you have narcolepsy, you're going to fall asleep super easy compared to someone without narcolepsy. Right.
So that's that's a pretty big giveaway. If they're still like, I don't know, this is all this you know, this patient history that we've taken in these tests are inconclusive. They might test your cerebrospinal fluid because hypo creatine levels are very easily tested through that. Not as fun. No, not nearly as fun, because they're going to go through the base of your skull, that hole in your skull where your spinal cord. Oh, yeah, I know.
I know. I hope that that never befalls either one of us and anyone who's ever had to go through that, we are very, very sorry. Yeah, but that also is looking like a place where they're trying to figure out how to cure narcolepsy, because as it stands right now, if you're diagnosed with narcolepsy, you're just being given a lifelong chronic diagnosis.
Yep. There's no cure for narcolepsy as it stands right now.
But there are treatments. And from everything I read, if you are actively treating your narcolepsy through doctor, usually with prescriptions and also like behavioral modification, not like, you know, hooking you up to a car battery, changing your behavior like that, more like making sure you stick to like a good sleep pattern. Right. You can very much keep your symptoms in check for sure. It doesn't have to ruin your life. The trouble is, is that it's very frequently misdiagnosed and it's underdiagnosed.
And they think it's because it occurs with so many comorbidities, like depression, where the doctors like all sure, you fall asleep all day because you're just sitting around on the couch because you don't have any low energy, because you're depressed. Really, it's possible that you you have to develop depression because of the narcolepsy. Yeah. They haven't figured out if they're comorbid or if the wine causes the other, but they're pretty sure that the narcolepsy causes the depression.
You're probably going to get a prescription for something. It may be or it's probably likely to be modafinil these days.
And we talked about that in our is science phasing out sleep episode. Yeah, we've done a bunch of sleep and I forgot about that one Ritalin you might get, you know, it says and, you know, in the old days, methamphetamines, but they still prescribe a variation of speed for I'm not sure if it's narcolepsy, but I know as an individual that I was diagnosed with, I guess just extreme daytime sleepiness, not doing chores fast enough.
No, no. For following or just feeling really, really sleepy during the day and did the sleep study and all that. And they were prescribed kind of whatever the version of speed is these days was.
When was that, when were they prescribed. That was about like Niños last year. Oh really? I'm surprised because from what I saw, modafinil is like now, don't need anything else. Just take me. No, you don't get addicted to it. There are very few side effects. It's supposed to just be like a wonder drug, basically. Hmm. And any time I hear that, I get dubious, you're right, I think that's pretty, pretty smart, actually.
They might also prescribe you antidepressants like an SSRI, which inhibits reuptake a serotonin, which means you have more serotonin in your brain, which would make sense because what Hypocretin does is boost your levels of serotonin and other neurochemicals. So this is kind of going around that problem and just making you have more serotonin than before, which apparently helps maintain RTM sleep. The barrier between that and wakefulness a lot better.
Yeah, and then the final thing, which is really interesting and promising is they did the sort of logical thing, which is, hey, maybe we can just get some more hypo in your body. Mm hmm. Because if that's the problem, why don't we just do that?
We could cut out fat hog legs of it for you at the doctor's office. Uh, there are different methods, cell transplantation, which is just implanting cells, maybe implantation of the gene, like gene therapy, maybe just giving it through your nose or injecting it into your body.
So what I'm saying or all our work interests externally, Chuck, which is, again, through the base of the skull in the back of your head, where your spinal cord goes into your up to your brain, they can inject into your cerebrospinal fluid like that, too. Yeah, probably the least fun of all of them, but they are there on the case basically is what that means.
Yeah. And, you know, we've talked sort of off and on throughout this thing about your quality of life with narcolepsy. It's obviously a serious thing there besides just like holding a job and socially and not being depressed because you don't want to hang out with people because you may be embarrassed by it. There's also like the very real chance of accidents.
Some people are not allowed to drive. Some people are allowed to drive. It kind of depends on, I guess, your your diagnosis. School is tricky. Work can be tricky, although they do they do with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They provide for letting people take naps and stuff like that, which is kind of cool.
It is, yeah. If you have narcolepsy and you're at work, you can say, hey, employer, I need some, I need a place to take a nap. And they'll say, OK, that's great.
We'll say right in here. And they're like, oh my God, Chuck's in there. Yeah, right. Chuck, sorry.
There's I mean, it gets even sadder, though, like there are people who who die by suicide from narcolepsy. There's a girl named Katy Clark who got pandemic's and developed narcolepsy as a result. And she ended up taking her life because she just it just completely derailed things for she was in no way, shape or form prepared for it, although I don't know that anybody's prepared for it. And then also, like you were saying, an accident can happen.
And from what I read, the risk of death and injury among people with narcolepsy is almost twice that of the general population. Man through things like car accidents or, you know, cooking or going up a ladder or something like that, you suddenly develop cataplexy or sleep attack or something. That's that's a bad time to fall asleep or lose control of your muscles, you know.
Well, and at the very least, you're going to have to really arrange your life to accommodate for this stuff. Right.
You know, but again, if you are managing your symptoms, you can you can lead a pretty normal life. I think it's just a question of like getting diagnosed correctly.
Yeah, well, that's it for narcolepsy. Hopefully we'll have it all figured out and when we revisit it in five or ten years will be like it was all right.
Everything was correct. It was all right. And since I said it was all right, it's time for listen to me.
I'm going to call this Soul Train feedback nice, and it was a fun show, and this is from Julia. Hello. Guys, we really enjoyed your Soul Train episode. You did a great job capturing the feeling and cultural significance of the show. You depicted a brilliant, flawed Don Cornelius without negating his profound contribution. There was a monthly black teenage magazine named Right On. This publication gave names to the dancers and dancers. We would read the ink off of the pages being black in America then and now.
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