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Updated: Sep 11, 2023


Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder caused by the inability of the brain to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Sleep disorders can negatively affect a person’s quality of life.

It typically starts in the mid-teenage years. Narcolepsy disorder causes significant daytime drowsiness, “sleep attacks,” or overwhelming urges to fall asleep, and poor, fragmented sleep at night.

Cataplexy is an unexpected and temporary loss of muscle control caused by this condition. Even though it isn’t a deadly disease, it can lead to accidents, injuries, and life-threatening situations.

Types of narcolepsy

There are two types:

  • In Type 1, cataplexy, or sudden loss of muscle tone, is one of the symptoms. Due to low levels of a protein called hypocretin in the brain, people with this type experience extreme sleepiness and cataplexy during the day. Hypocretin is sometimes called orexin.

  • In type 2, narcolepsy occurs without cataplexy. Hypocretin levels are usually normal in people with type 2.

Narcolepsy symptoms

Some of the symptoms include:

Significant daytime sleepiness

Almost everyone with narcolepsy experiences excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).


When muscle tone suddenly decreases, it is referred to as cataplexy. The symptoms range from drooping eyelids (partial cataplexy) to complete collapse.

Poorly regulated rapid eye movement (REM) sleep

Dreams and muscle twitching are common characteristics of REM sleep.

Sleep paralysis

As you fall asleep, sleep, or wake up, you are unable to move or speak.

Sleeping hallucinations

A person with narcolepsy may have vivid dreams when falling asleep or waking up.

Fragmented sleep

Even though people with narcolepsy are excessively sleepy during the daytime, they may have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep at night.

Automatic behaviors

A person with narcolepsy may continue to do an activity like eating or driving for a few seconds or minutes after falling asleep.


  • Autoimmune disease. Hypocretin is depleted when the immune system attacks brain cells that produce it.

  • Family history. Families with narcolepsy are often affected by similar symptoms.

  • Brain injury or tumor. Trauma, tumors, and diseases can damage the area of the brain that controls REM sleep and wakefulness in a small number of patients.

  • Infections.

  • Pesticides, heavy metals, and secondhand smoke are examples of environmental toxins.

Risk factors

Risk factors include:

  • Family history. A first degree family member with narcolepsy (like a parent or sibling) could increase your risk 40 times.

  • Age. It is most commonly diagnosed around ages 15 and 36.

  • Previous brain trauma. Rarely, it can develop after severe brain trauma to areas that regulate wakefulness and REM sleep.

Narcolepsy diagnosis

Get in touch with your narcolepsy doctor if you’re experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness or one of the other narcolepsy symptoms.

Many types of sleep disorders cause daytime sleepiness. Examine your physical and tell your narcolepsy doctor about your medical history. Patients with drowsiness and sudden muscle weakness during the day will be evaluated.

For a proper diagnosis, your narcolepsy specialist will likely order an overnight sleep study, a daytime test, and several other narcolepsy sleep tests.

Narcolepsy treatment

Symptoms can be relieved by the following treatments:

  • Lifestyle changes: Follow an exercise and balanced meal schedule.

  • Stimulants to treat sleepiness

  • Antidepressants to treat problems

  • Some other medications recommended by narcolepsy doctor

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