Daytime sleep disorder; Cataplexy
Narcolepsy is a nervous system problem that causes extreme sleepiness and attacks of daytime sleep.
Experts aren't sure of the exact cause of narcolepsy. It may have more than one cause.
Many people with narcolepsy have a low level of hypocretin (also known as orexin). This is a chemical made in the brain that helps you stay awake. In some people with narcolepsy, there are fewer of the cells that make this chemical. This may be due to an autoimmune reaction. An autoimmune reaction is when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Narcolepsy can run in families. Researchers have found certain genes linked to narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy symptoms usually first occur between 15 and 30 years old. Below are the most common symptoms.
EXTREME DAYTIME SLEEPINESS
Most people with narcolepsy have daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. Not everyone has all these symptoms. Surprisingly, despite being very tired, many people with narcolepsy don't sleep well at night.
Your health care provider will do a physical exam.
You may have a blood test to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. These include:
You may have other tests, including:
There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, treatment can help control symptoms.
Certain changes can help improve your sleep at night and ease daytime sleepiness:
These tips can help you do better at work and in social situations.
If you have narcolepsy, you may have driving restrictions. Restrictions vary from state to state.
These drugs may have side effects. Work with your doctor to find the treatment plan that works for you.
Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition.
It may be dangerous if episodes occur while driving, operating machinery, or doing similar activities.
Narcolepsy can usually be controlled with treatment. Treating other underlying sleep disorders can improve narcolepsy symptoms.
Narcolepsy may lead to the following:
Call your provider if:
You can't prevent narcolepsy. Treatment may reduce the number of attacks. Avoid situations that trigger the condition if you are prone to attacks of narcolepsy.
Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 68.
Vaughn BV. Disorders of sleep. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 405.
Last reviewed on: 8/4/2015
Reviewed by: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, VA New Jersey Health Care System, Clinical Assistant Professor, Rutger's New Jersey Medical School, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.