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What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. At various times throughout the day, people with narcolepsy experience fleeting urges to sleep. If the urge becomes overwhelming, individuals will fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. In rare cases, some people with narcolepsy may remain asleep for an hour or longer.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

The most common symptoms of narcolepsy are:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • The sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone (cataplexy)
  • Vivid hallucinations during sleep onset or upon awakening
  • Brief episodes of total paralysis at the beginning or end of sleep.

What Causes Narcolepsy?

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown.

Can Narcolepsy be Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for narcolepsy. However, two classes of antidepressant drugs have proved effective in controlling the sudden loss of muscle tone in many patients: tricyclics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Drug therapy should be supplemented by behavioral strategies. For example, many people with narcolepsy take short, regularly scheduled naps at times when they tend to feel sleepiest. Improving the quality of nighttime sleep can combat narcolepsy and help relieve persistent feelings of fatigue.

Complications of Narcolepsy

A person with narcolepsy may experience difficulty driving, and working.

Narcolepsy research

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health conduct research into narcolepsy and other sleep disorders in laboratories at the NIH and also support additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country.

Sleep Disorder Support Groups


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