What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and, for some, sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy). It affects roughly 1 in 2,000 to 3,000 people but can go undiagnosed for many years. Narcolepsy with cataplexy has a known cause, related to a loss of cells in the brain that secrete hypocretin (also called orexin). Hypocretin is a chemical in the brain that is important for regulating wakefulness.

With narcolepsy, the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are blurred, causing a person to feel very sleepy and fatigued during the day, have vivid dream-like hallucinations and paralysis while falling asleep or waking up, and experience disrupted nighttime sleep. Narcolepsy is often accompanied by cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle control that can cause a person to collapse, slump over, or slur words without much warning. The disorder usually has its onset in childhood or adolescence. While there’s currently no cure for narcolepsy, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that greatly improve the symptoms.