What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological condition affecting sleep. It causes extreme daytime tiredness and sudden, uncontrollable episodes of sleep. Narcolepsy alters the brain’s ability to control the body’s sleep-wake cycles. It can have an extreme impact on daily life and cause people to suddenly, unwillingly fall asleep while doing everyday activities such as driving or eating. 
Even when people with narcolepsy wake up feeling rested, they will still feel very tired throughout the day and have a hard time staying awake. In addition, people with narcolepsy may suffer from interrupted sleep and frequent waking throughout the night. People with narcolepsy may experience episodes of weakness and sudden loss of muscle tone called cataplexy that causes one to go limp. Cataplexy is sometimes triggered by a strong emotion and may cause slurred speech, buckling knees, and even complete paralysis in extreme cases. Vivid dreams, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis (total paralysis just before fall asleep or just after waking up) can occur in people with narcolepsy as well. 
There are two types of narcolepsy:
  • Narcolepsy with cataplexy (type 1): People with this type of narcolepsy experience extreme daytime tiredness as well as cataplexy. 
  • Narcolepsy without cataplexy (type 2): People with this type of narcolepsy experience extreme daytime tiredness without cataplexy. 
*There is no cure for narcolepsy, but medications, lifestyle changes, and support from family and friends can help one manage symptoms and cope with narcolepsy.*
Risk factors
  • Age: Symptoms of narcolepsy usually develop in the teen/young adult years. The condition is rare before the age of 5. 
  • Genetics: It is possible that in some cases genetics may play a role in the development of narcolepsy. 
  • Brain injury: In rare cases, a traumatic brain injury may trigger the disease.
Diagnosis of narcolepsy will likely include a complete medical history and physical exam with your doctor paying close attention to your sleeping habits. If you are experiencing excessive day time tiredness and/or cataplexy and your doctor suspects narcolepsy, you will likely be referred to a sleep specialist. In order to obtain an official diagnosis of narcolepsy you may have to stay overnight at a sleep center to have your sleep analyzed. 
Some tests that may be done to diagnose narcolepsy include:
  • Obtaining a sleep history: This involves filling out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale in order to determine your level of sleepiness and giving your doctor detailed information about your sleep. 
  • Sleep records may involve keeping an in-depth diary about your sleep pattern for a few weeks. You may also be asked to wear an actigraph to measure your periods of activity and rest. 
  • Polysomnography is a test that measures signals during sleep through electrodes on the scalp. The test measures the electrical activity in your brain and heart, and the movement of your muscles and eyes. It also measures breathing. 
  • Multiple sleep latency test measures how long it takes you to fall asleep during the day. 
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but treatments and lifestyle modifications can help one cope and manage symptoms. 
Potential treatments for narcolepsy include:
  • Stimulants
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) 
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Medications to improve nighttime sleep
  • Lifestyle changes 
  • Behavioral therapy



  • Narcolepsy affects men and women equally
  • Narcolepsy affects approximately 1 in every 2,000 people
  • Approximately 135,000-200,000 people in the U.S. have narcolepsy
about narcolepsy

  • "Narcolepsy." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 01 Sep. 2015. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.
  • "Narcolepsy." Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.
  • “Narcolepsy- Overview and Facts.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine. AASM, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2017. 
  • “Narcolepsy.” National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.
  • “Narcolepsy Fact Sheet.” National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2017. 
  • “Who Is At Risk for Narcolepsy?” National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 01 Nov. 2010. Web. 09 Nov. 2017. 


World Sleep Day is an annual event organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) since 2008. Its purpose is to celebrate the benefits of good and healthy sleep and to draw society’s attention to the burden of sleep problems and their medicine, education, social aspects, and driving; as well as to promote the prevention and management of sleep disorders.
world sleep day


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