Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. The normal boundary between awake and asleep is blurred, so characteristics of sleeping can occur while a person is awake. 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.

People with narcolepsy can also experience dream-like states (hallucinations) and paralysis. They often feel as though as they are falling asleep or waking up. Disrupted  nighttime sleep and vivid nightmares are also common.

Common symptoms of narcolepsy

Symptoms appear in childhood or adolescence, but many people have symptoms several years before getting a proper diagnosis.

  • 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 are the causes of narcolepsy?

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown.

How is narcolepsy treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure. 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.

Supplement drug therapy and medications with 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.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What are the best treatments for narcolepsy?
  • Will my current medication interactive negatively with my narcolepsy medicine?
  • Can CBD help improve my sleep patterns?
  • What symptoms should I be concerned about?
  • Will I be able to work full-time?