What is narcolepsy?


Narcolepsy: Overview

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder. It happens when the brain has trouble controlling sleeping and waking. You may have an intense urge to sleep during the day. You may also have other symptoms like sudden sleep attacks, sudden episodes of muscle weakness, hallucinations before falling asleep, or you are unable to move for one to two minutes after you wake up.

Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. It will help you and your doctor decide on treatment.

It often helps to take limited naps during the day. And these things might help you sleep better at night: create a good place to sleep, do things that help your mood before you go to bed, and keep a consistent sleep schedule.

Medicines may help prevent sleep attacks and episodes of muscle weakness.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that mixes the nervous system's messages about when to sleep and when to be awake. Narcolepsy usually starts during the teen years or early adulthood and continues throughout life.

Narcolepsy may cause:

  • Sudden sleep attacks. These may occur at any time during any type of activity, such as eating dinner, driving a car, or carrying on a conversation. These sleep attacks can occur several times a day and may last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Sudden, brief periods of muscle weakness while a person is awake (cataplexy). The weakness may affect specific muscle groups or may affect the entire body. These periods of muscle weakness are often brought on by strong emotional reactions, such as laughing or crying.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Hallucinations before falling asleep.
  • Brief loss of the ability to move when a person is falling asleep or just waking up (sleep paralysis).

Medicines may help prevent sleep attacks and episodes of muscle weakness. But narcolepsy rarely goes away completely.

What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

Symptoms include extreme daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks. Other symptoms include sudden muscle weakness while awake and not being able to move (paralysis) just before falling asleep or during waking. And some people may have sleep hallucinations and vivid dreams or nightmares. Your symptoms may depend on the type of narcolepsy you have.

What are the types of narcolepsy?

The two main types of narcolepsy are type 1 and type 2. Both cause extreme daytime sleepiness. Type 1 also causes sudden muscle weakness called cataplexy. This is connected to low levels of a chemical in the brain. Cataplexy usually happens after extreme emotion. Type 2 doesn't cause these episodes.

How is narcolepsy treated?

There's no cure for narcolepsy. The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms. Medicines like modafinil, other stimulants, and certain antidepressants can help control sleepiness and muscle weakness. Medicine to improve nighttime sleep may also help. Your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes too, like a sleep schedule and planned naps.

How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will do a physical exam. You'll most likely have a sleep study, where you'll be monitored for signs of narcolepsy while you sleep. You may be asked to keep a sleep journal at home to record your sleep patterns.

How can you care for yourself when you have narcolepsy?

Ask your doctor how to make driving safer. Take medicines as prescribed. Take short naps at regular times during the day. Develop healthy sleep habits. For example, go to bed and get up at the same times each day. Be active every day. Don't read, watch TV, or use your phone in bed .

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder. It happens when the brain has trouble controlling sleeping and waking. This can cause things like extreme sleepiness, sudden sleep attacks, and sudden, brief muscle weakness (called cataplexy).

What causes narcolepsy?

Doctors don't know for sure what causes narcolepsy. It may be caused by genes (genetic) or other health problems. Some types may result from a head injury or a chemical imbalance in the brain. And for some people, it may be caused by a combination of these things.

Narcolepsy: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You cannot use your muscles. This may happen very briefly, sometimes after you laugh or are angry, and may only affect part of your body.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your sleepiness continues to get worse.
  • You have been feeling anxious.
  • You have been feeling down, depressed, or hopeless or have lost interest in things that you usually enjoy.

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