Viewers of the Simpsons learned that Homer Simpson has been diagnosed with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a pretty unusual disorder, though it is debilitating. Its defining feature is excessive sleep or sleepiness during the day. Typical patients begin to show symptoms in their late 20s. In addition to daytime sleepiness, people with this condition often have sleep attacks, or involuntary episodes of sleep. These attacks can happen even when the individual is participating in an enjoyable activity. About half of people with narcolepsy also experience cataplexy—the loss of muscle control when one feels strong emotions. Laughing, being surprised, or angry, can trigger cataplexy. One’s facial muscles may droop, or he/she may fall down. It can be a very embarrassing disorder for one to manage.
The neurological disorder affects about 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S. and all over the world. However, those numbers are probably inaccurate, as research shows that the disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression or insomnia.
Now that Homer Simpson’s condition has been announced for all the world to take note of, awareness for the disorder will increase markedly. For the individuals who have this type of illness, and those who don’t even know what they are suffering from yet, this move by the show will be immensely helpful.
Russell Rosenberg, the chief executive of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine, said, “I certainly hope that Homer’s story will bring more attention to narcolepsy.” The fact that Homer went years without getting a proper diagnosis or medical treatment, exemplifies the reality for so many others with narcolepsy. This sleep disorder, and a lack of proper medical treatment, can have detrimental consequences. A study found that people with narcolepsy have a 50% greater risk of dying over a 3-year period, than those without the condition. This may be due to car accidents and other unfortunate mishaps, which occur when one is forced into a sudden sleep spell. Since Homer Simpson works at a nuclear power plant, the risks are especially dangerous for him.
An inability to stay awake can take a great toll on someone emotionally. Individuals are more likely to have depression an suicidal thoughts if they have narcolepsy. Relationships are also affected. Narcoleptics report falling asleep while having sex, or are often too tired to do so.
It usually takes a person with narcolepsy about 7 to 10 years to be diagnosed. After an individual is evaluated in a sleep laboratory, and meets the criteria of entering REM sleep more quickly than the average person, they are diagnosed with narcolepsy. Fortunately, stimulant drugs, such as Ritalin and Provigil, reduce some daytime sleepiness, and Xyrem can treat cataplexy.
Because treatment is available, the tragedy is huge for those who go undiagnosed for many years. Now that an extremely well known character by most people around the world has brought attention to this illness, there is hope for those who have narcolepsy to get diagnosed and receive proper medial attention early on. The negative impacts of television and media are talked about a lot. However, I think this instance is an example of one benefit that television can provide—widespread awareness to a misunderstood and overlooked brain disorder.
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AUTHOR: Jada Jackson, MS, LMHC – Dallas Fort Worth Arlington Texas Communicator, Coach & Licensed Mental Health Counselor working with couples, teens, young adults and women empowerment issues by providing Family Therapy Services! If you are interested in Dallas Family Counseling Services, Jada Jackson can be reached at (469) 757-5215 for a Complimentary 15 Minute Call.
Author: Emily Simpson
References: CNN | Homer Simpson Narcolepsy