04/01/2000 · Biological Psychology Essay:: ..

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This degree will provide you with a broad understanding of psychology as a natural and experimental science, offering a biological approach to studying the subject. You will cover the main subject areas of psychology with modules such as Cognitive Psychology, Language Acquisition and Consciousness and Causality, but these will be integrated by our biological approach, so you will also study modules such as Evolution, Fundamentals of Neurobiology and Animal Physiology.

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In this essay we will present a brief synopsis of what psychology is and introduce the reader to the primary biological foundations of psychology that are linked to behavior as well as introducing the reader to the major schools of thought in psychology.

Approaches to Psychology Biopsychology The biological

Gozal and Pope looked at the cases of 1500 primary school children. Of those who reported heavy snoring 13% were in the bottom 25% in terms of attainment and behaviour compared to only 5% in the top 25%. They believe that disordered breathing during this period of crucial brain development, caused by OSA, can result in ACHD, increased aggression, allergies and reduced academic performance.

In a similar study Gozal also reported twice as many cases of ACHD in heavy snoring six year olds. Treatment of the snoring reduced ACHD or in some cases seemed to have removed it altogether.

Is a neurological disorder of the sleep-wake cycle which results in excessive sleepiness and often a loss of muscle tone resulting in cataplexy. About 1 in 2,000 people suffer from the disorder and worldwide it is estimated that there are 3 million sufferers.


Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is usually the first symptom to present itself. Initially patients try very hard to stay awake but find that if they do this then they are faced with involuntary attacks of sleep that can strike at any time. Periods of micro-sleep resulting in brief naps lasting less than 30 seconds are also common. Very often the patient themselves are unaware of these though observers find them disconcerting.

EDS can cause knock on effects with memory loss, focusing of eyes and tiredness. Often friends initially find these first symptoms signs of rudeness, laziness or lack of interest.

Cataplexy (muscle paralysis) is the other major symptom, although 25% of narcoleptics never seem to experience this. Until recently it had been argued that cataplexy was an essential symptom of the disorder but recently it was decided that the disorder could be diagnosed even in those that never suffer from it.

The paralysis may only affect the muscles of the face but in more severe cases can result in loss of all muscle tone causing the patient to collapse on the floor. Although the paralysis usually lasts a matter of minutes, repeated attacks can result in the patient being immobilized for up to half an hour, particularly if the trigger, such as excitement persists.

Very often cataplexy doesn’t develop or many years following the initial first signs of narcolepsy (usually EDS) which makes an early diagnosis of the disorder unlikely. It is usual for narcoleptics not to be diagnosed until 12 to 15 years following the first symptoms!

Other symptoms
Although the patient may sleep for many hours a day, night time sleep is constantly interrupted by waking, increased heart rate, periods of alertness and hot flushes. The day time attacks of cataplexy are often accompanied by vivid hallucinations which seem to be due to REM sleep encroaching on wakefulness. The patient is still fully conscious and aware of what is going on around them so such hallucinations can be frightening and difficult to distinguish from reality. Similar to this are the very vivid hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations that we often experience on falling asleep and just prior to waking up respectively.

Automatic behaviours are also experienced. The patient behaves as if on autopilot, carrying out every day behaviours, often unaware, and often getting them wrong, for example pouring milk into the teapot.

Early REM: as we’ve already seen, our first bout of REM sleep usually occurs after 60 or 70 minutes of NREM or slow wave sleep, before reoccurring every 90 minutes or so (the ultradian rhythm). Narcoleptics often nod off straight into REM sleep at the start of the night.

Age of onset
First signs of the disorder (EDS) usually occur between 15 and 30 years of age, but can be as young as five. As already mentioned, it may take many years for the full symptoms to appear and for a correct diagnosis to be made.

What causes narcolepsy?
This will form the bulk of an answer/essay on this sleep disorder. In the past few years there has been a wealth of new information suggesting that narcolepsy is in fact an autoimmune disorder. As yet little if any of this research has reached the A-level texts. I shall break this section into two parts. Firstly discussing earlier research which gave clues to the genetic and neurochemical cause of the disorder and secondly looking at very up to date research which builds on the simpler, earlier theory.

Early work
Narcolepsy is NOT a psychological disorder but a neurological condition resulting in a fault in the mechanisms controlling the normal, circadian, sleep-wake cycle resulting in REM sleep occurring at inappropriate times.

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