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What is Narcolepsy?

by | Feb 17, 2023

What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects the way your body regulates your natural sleep and awake cycles. It is a chronic neurological disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The most talked about symptom of narcolepsy is the unexpected bouts of impulsive sleepiness. An individual may fall asleep without a moment’s notice, even in the middle of holding a conversation or eating a meal.

An individual who has narcolepsy may also experience a sudden onset of muscle weakness and loss of muscle tone while awake, which is referred to as cataplexy.

Narcolepsy may also lead to hallucinations and even sleep paralysis. These types of hallucinations and sleep paralysis do not always go hand in hand. Narcoleptic hallucinations occur when an individual is falling asleep or just waking up. These hallucinations can be vivid and sometimes frightening.

Sleep paralysis appears around the same time in the sleep cycle as the hallucinations, right on the edges of sleep. With sleep paralysis, the individual is conscious that their body cannot move or that they cannot speak while falling asleep or waking up.

Two Types of Narcolepsy

There are two different kinds of narcolepsy, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 Narcolepsy

Type 1 narcolepsy—used  to be called narcolepsy with cataplexy. This type of narcolepsy can occur when an individual has low levels of hypocretin, which is a hormone found in the brain responsible for wakefulness and alertness. This type of narcolepsy can also occur if an individual is experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness and encountering cataplexy.

Type 2 Narcolepsy

Type 2 narcolepsy—used to be called narcolepsy without cataplexy. Individuals with this type of narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness but do not experience muscle weakness. These folks have normal levels of hypocretin in the brain and their symptoms are less intense.

Who is at Risk for Narcolepsy?

Both males and females are at equal risk for developing narcolepsy. Symptoms can start as young as age 7 or as old as age 25, but they can really start at any time. Narcolepsy symptoms can sometimes mimic psychiatric disorders, so oftentimes, an individual with narcolepsy is misdiagnosed at first.

What are the Causes of Narcolepsy?

The cause of narcolepsy is mostly unknown, but there seems to be a huge link to a lack of hypocretin in the brain. This could be caused by a number of factors, such as an autoimmune disorder, a family history of narcolepsy, or in rare cases, a brain injury (traumatic or otherwise).

How is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?

There are two specialized tests that are used to diagnose narcolepsy:


A polysomnogram (PSG) or sleep study takes overnight recordings of the brain, eye movements, breathing, and muscle activity. This sleep study can show when REM sleep occurs in an individual’s sleep cycle. This sleep study can also rule out other conditions, such as sleep apnea.

Multiple Sleep Latency Test

A multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) evaluates how fast an individual falls asleep and if they enter REM sleep or not. This test is used to assess daytime sleepiness.

How is Narcolepsy Treated?

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for narcolepsy, but there are medications that can help.

Modafinil is a nervous system stimulant that is often tried first because of its fewer addictive properties. Modafinil also has fewer side effects than similar stimulants. If modafinil doesn’t work there are other stimulants to try, such as amphetamine-like stimulants. Some classes of antidepressants can also be used as narcolepsy treatment, including tricyclics and SNRIs.

There are also some lifestyle changes that can occur to help aid narcolepsy symptoms.

  1. Take short naps
  2. Keep a regular sleep schedule
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Avoid heavy meals before bed
  5. Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed
  6. Avoid smoking

If you suspect you might have narcolepsy or are looking for a sleep disorder treatment in Lafayette, LA, contact SleepWell Louisiana. We offer at-home sleep tests using the newest WatchPAT technology. The Home Sleep Apnea Dental Device (HSAT) connects to any smartphone and releases feedback about your heart rate, body position, chest motion, and snoring while you sleep. This at-home test allows our Sleep Specialist to pick the best treatment for your sleep conditions. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

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