Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder. It causes bouts of sleep during the day. Sleep attacks can happen while you drive, talk, or work. They happen without control.


The cause isn’t known. It may be linked to problems with:

  • Certain genes
  • The immune system—it attacks certain cells in the brain

Risk Factors

Narcolepsy is most common in people:

  • Aged 10-20 years old
  • With a family history
  • With a history of certain strep infections


People often have at least 1 or more of:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)—almost every day for at least 3 months
  • Daytime sleep attacks—can happen many times during the day without control
  • Muscles go limp without warning or you can’t move, even though you’re awake—cataplexy
  • Brief times when you can’t move while waking up or falling asleep
  • Vivid dreams that appear while waking up or falling asleep
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Problems with the sleep-wake cycle
  • Feeling tired

Strong feelings, such as laughter, fear, or stress, often cause cataplexy.

Brainstem—Area of Brain Related to Alertness

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You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • Polysomnography —studies brain waves and how your body works while you're asleep
  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT)—to measure the degree of EDS you have
  • A questionnaire about your EDS


Treating narcolepsy depends on the problems you have. Common methods are:

  • Medicines to help you:
    • Stay alert during the day
    • Manage your sleep cycle
    • With certain prior strep infections
  • Planning short naps throughout the day
  • Therapy to cope with issues of self esteem


Narcolepsy can't be prevented since the cause is unknown.


Narcolepsy Network

National Sleep Foundation


Better Sleep Council Canada

Canadian Sleep Society


Bhat A, El Sohl AA. Management of narcolepsy. Expert Opin Pharmacotherapy. 2008;9(10):1721-1733.

Dauvilliers Y, Arnulf I, Mignot E. Narcolepsy with cataplexy. Lancet. 2007;369(9560):499-511.

Narcolepsy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated November 14, 2017. Accessed August 22, 2018.

Narcolepsy. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2018.

Narcolepsy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2018. Accessed August 22, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 8/22/2018