Conditions InDepth: Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder. If you have narcolepsy, you may suddenly, uncontrollably fall asleep at any point during the day. Typically, these “sleep attacks” last between three and thirty minutes. While these episodes of sleep may be brief, they can be very dangerous. For example, if you’re driving or doing other potentially risky activities, narcolepsy can be quite dangerous. Furthermore, narcolepsy can be hard on your social life and can interfere with your occupation.

Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what causes some people to have narcolepsy. Research focuses on some genetic markers that many people with narcolepsy share. It appears, however, that there are also some unidentified environmental factors that are involved in the development of this disorder. Other research is examining whether narcolepsy might be an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system accidentally attacks and destroys a specific area of the brain. The area in question controls sleep and wakefulness. However, some as yet unidentified factor may be causing the brain’s sleep control center to degenerate.

Researchers estimate that 200,000 Americans are affected by narcolepsy, although less than 50,000 have actually been diagnosed. This is because narcolepsy is often ignored or mistaken for other disorders, such as depression , epilepsy , or side effects of medication.

What are the risk factors for narcolepsy?
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
How is narcolepsy diagnosed?
What are the treatments for narcolepsy?
Are there screening tests for narcolepsy?
How can I reduce my risk of narcolepsy?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with narcolepsy?
Where can I get more information about narcolepsy?


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: .

Textbook of Clinical Neurology . W.B. Saunders Company; 1999.

Last reviewed February 2007 by Edward R. Rosick, DO, MPH, MS

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness