Know More: Narcolepsy

Trustworthy information, straight from the source. Education is the first step in an empowering healthcare plan. Learn more about narcolepsy, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.

Woman struggling to sleep

Condition Overview

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes severe sleepiness and frequent sudden daytime attacks of sleep. Narcolepsy can cause you to fall asleep at any time but can keep you from sleeping well at night. You do not get enough sleep in a 24-hour period. The cause of narcolepsy is not known.

Risk Prevention

What are narcolepsy preventive care recommendations?

  • Be careful to avoid driving while drowsy.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
  • Take brief, 15 to 20 minute naps during the day if they help you feel refreshed.
  • Ask your healthcare provider for help in managing school and work schedules.
  • Take your prescribed medications at the scheduled time each day.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

Excessive daytime sleepiness is often the first symptom of narcolepsy to appear. This need to sleep during the day can be impossible to resist. In some cases, sleepiness occurs in sudden sleep “attacks.”

Other symptoms may include:

  • Cataplexy: Cataplexy is a brief episode of muscle weakness. For example, you may feel your knees buckle. In some cases, it can cause you to collapse to the floor. Cataplexy is often triggered by strong emotions such as laughter. It tends to last from only a few seconds up to a minute. It usually does not cause injury. Not all individuals with narcolepsy will have cataplexy.
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations may occur as you are falling asleep or waking up. These vivid, dream-like events seem real and may be frightening.
  • Sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis also occurs as you are falling asleep or waking up. It causes you to be unable to move even though you are awake and aware of the event. Sleep paralysis may occur at the same time as a hallucination.
  • Disrupted nighttime sleep: This may involve multiple brief awakenings during the night. Most people who have narcolepsy are able to fall back to sleep easily. Fragmented sleep is more common in people who have had narcolepsy for a long time.

How is narcolepsy treated?

There is no cure for narcolepsy, but treatment can help you manage its symptoms. Your sleep provider may prescribe a stimulant to help you stay awake during the day. Your doctor may prescribe another drug to reduce episodes of cataplexy. Some lifestyle changes also can help.

Preparing for Care

What should you talk to your provider about regarding  your narcolepsy?

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms. It may help to write down your symptoms including the time of day when they occur.
  • Discuss all of your medications and herbal supplements with your healthcare provider.
  • Keep a daily and nightly log of your sleep habits. Share this information with your healthcare provider.
  • Your healthcare provider may schedule you for a sleep study. Ask the sleep provider if you should change any of your sleep habits or medications before the sleep study.

How can you manage your symptoms?

  • Keep a record of your sleep patterns for up to two weeks. Bring it to your follow-up visit. This will help your healthcare provider plan the best treatment for you.
  • Take naps. This can help control your narcolepsy. Take 20 minute naps at the same time every day. One long nap in the afternoon may also help.
  • Keep a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Do not drink alcohol, caffeine, or use tobacco. These can interfere with your sleep and make your symptoms worse.
  • Exercise regularly at least four hours before you go to bed. Exercise helps you stay awake during the day and sleep better at night. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.

When should you contact your healthcare provider?

  • You symptoms interfere with your daily activities.
  • You are not able to sleep well at night, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.