Narcolepsy Symptoms in Adults and How to Manage Them

Narcolepsy Symptoms in Adults

Narcolepsy can be a debilitating condition, but there are ways to manage its symptoms. Learn about Narcolepsy Symptoms in Adults and how to cope with them.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes sudden attacks of excessive daytime drowsiness. Although it’s most commonly diagnosed in children, it can also occur in adults. Symptoms of narcolepsy include daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, and vivid dreams. In addition to these symptoms, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of narcolepsy in adults, including a family history of the disease, stress, and certain medications.

What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate wakefulness and sleep cycles. It is characterized by sudden, uncontrollable attacks of daytime sleepiness and can also cause other symptoms such as cataplexy, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood, but it can occur at any age.

The exact cause of narcolepsy is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have shown that individuals with narcolepsy have low levels of hypocretin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating wakefulness. This deficiency may be caused by an autoimmune response that destroys hypocretin-producing cells in the brain.

Narcolepsy can significantly impact daily life by interfering with work, school, and social activities. There are treatments available to manage symptoms such as medication and lifestyle adjustments.

Types of Narcolepsy

According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition (ICSD-3), narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and sudden, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day. This condition can be classified into two types: narcolepsy type 1 (NT1) and narcolepsy type 2 (NT2).

Narcolepsy Type 1

Narcolepsy with Cataplexy, previously known as NT1, is a type of narcolepsy where the patient experiences episodes of sudden muscle weakness or paralysis, also known as cataplexy. This condition can significantly affect the person’s daily life and make it challenging to perform everyday activities.

The cause of narcolepsy with cataplexy is believed to be a deficiency in hypocretin-1, a chemical in the body that controls wakefulness. Hypocretin-1 ensures that we are awake during the day and asleep at night by regulating our circadian rhythm. However, individuals with narcolepsy have low levels of this chemical due to damage to the neurons responsible for its production. This leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmented nighttime sleep patterns.

Narcolepsy Type 2

NT2, or narcolepsy type 2, is a neurological sleep disorder that was previously known as narcolepsy without cataplexy. People with NT2 experience many of the same symptoms as those with NT1, including excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden bouts of falling asleep during the day. However, unlike people with NT1, those with NT2 do not have cataplexy or low levels of hypocretin-1 in their spinal fluid.

It is estimated that approximately 80% of people who are diagnosed with narcolepsy have NT2. This form of the disorder can be more difficult to diagnose than NT1 because it lacks the hallmark symptom of cataplexy. Instead, doctors must rely on other measures such as a person’s history and results from overnight sleep studies to make a diagnosis.

How Common is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is a rare condition that affects only a small percentage of people worldwide, with estimates suggesting that it occurs in approximately 25 to 50 individuals per 100,000. Despite its rarity, narcolepsy can have significant impacts on an individual’s quality of life and may require lifelong management.

Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that affects the ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles, can occur at any time between early childhood and 50 years of age. However, two peak periods have been identified: one at 15 years old and another at 36 years old. Despite its prevalence, researchers believe that narcolepsy is underdiagnosed, which means many people may be unknowingly living with the condition. 

Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. It manifests itself in excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), which often results in sudden and uncontrollable bouts of sleepiness during the day. Other common symptoms include cataplexy (loss of muscle control), hypnagogic hallucinations (vivid dreams upon falling asleep), and sleep paralysis (temporary inability to move or speak upon waking up).

How does narcolepsy affect my body?

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It causes sudden and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day, regardless of how much sleep the person has had at night. This can be dangerous as it could happen while driving or operating machinery, making narcolepsy a serious condition. Excessive sleepiness due to narcolepsy may lead to:

Trouble with memory and mood

Studies have shown that people with narcolepsy often struggle with both short-term and long-term memory recall. This can make it difficult for them to remember important details from conversations, appointments, or tasks they need to complete. They may forget where they put items or what they were supposed to do next in a sequence of events. For some individuals with narcolepsy, this memory impairment can be severe enough to impact their daily life and work productivity. Another common issue experienced by those with narcolepsy is emotional instability.

Lack of energy

One of the most common complaints among people with narcolepsy is a lack of energy, which can make it difficult to focus on tasks and stay alert throughout the day. The sense of fatigue experienced by people with narcolepsy is not simply due to a lack of sleep. In fact, most people with this condition actually get more than enough sleep at night but still struggle to stay awake during the day. This is because narcolepsy disrupts the normal balance between wakefulness and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which means that sufferers are unable to maintain consistent levels of alertness over extended periods.

Public misunderstanding of the condition

People with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and may fall asleep unexpectedly, even during activities like driving or working. This can be a serious problem not only for the person affected but also for those around them. Narcolepsy can lead to accidents, injuries, and decreased productivity at work or school.

Individuals with narcolepsy may find it difficult to maintain attention and concentration due to their constant need for rest. They may struggle to complete tasks on time, leading others to perceive them as lazy or unproductive. This can cause social stigma and emotional distress for those with narcolepsy, who often feel misunderstood and isolated from their peers.

Difficulty staying active

It can have a significant impact on daily activities, including work, school, and leisure pursuits. One of the challenges faced by people with narcolepsy is maintaining focus and attention during an activity.

One key feature of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Individuals may experience sudden bouts of sleep during the day, which can be triggered by inactivity, boredom, or repetitive tasks. This can make it difficult to complete activities that require sustained attention or physical exertion.

Narcolepsy Causes

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. While the exact causes of narcolepsy are still unknown, it has been identified that all types of narcolepsy have links to your hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating your sleep and wake times. The hypothalamus produces a chemical called hypocretin (also known as orexin), which plays a crucial role in keeping us awake.

Type 1 narcolepsy (causes)

Orexins, a type of chemical molecule, were discovered in 1998 by researchers. These molecules are produced in the brain and spinal cord by neurons that play an important role in regulating sleep and wakefulness. Orexins work to keep you awake during the day and help you stay alert when needed. When levels of orexin are low, it can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness or even narcolepsy.

The discovery of orexins has led to a better understanding of how our brains function and the importance of maintaining healthy levels of these molecules. Through research studies, scientists have found that people with narcolepsy have substantially lower levels of orexin compared to individuals without this condition. This suggests that there is a link between orexins and sleep disorders, which may provide new insights into treatments for these conditions.

According to further research, the most likely reason those neurons stopped working is an autoimmune problem. That means your immune system attacks the neurons that make and use orexins, the orexins themselves or both.

The most likely reason for those neurons to stop working is an autoimmune problem. That means your immune system attacked the orexins. While the exact cause of type 1 narcolepsy remains unknown, researchers have identified a specific genetic defect that appears to play a major role in its development.

According to recent studies, about 98% of individuals with type 1 narcolepsy carry the HLA-DQB1*06:02 gene variant. This particular variation affects the immune system’s ability to recognize and fight off certain viruses and infections. Interestingly, about 25% of people who carry this gene don’t develop the condition at all.

In particular, H1N1 influenza and strep throat have been linked to an increased risk of developing narcolepsy. One hypothesis for this association is that infections may trigger changes in the immune system that lead to the development of narcolepsy. Specifically, it is thought that certain components of these infections may resemble molecules found in neurons in the brain. When the immune system mounts a response to fight off the infection, it may also attack these neurons by mistake, leading to damage and dysfunction that can result in narcolepsy symptoms.

Type 2 narcolepsy (causes)

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is divided into two main types, type 1 and type 2 narcolepsy. While experts have made significant progress in understanding type 1 narcolepsy, the same cannot be said for its less severe counterpart, type 2 narcolepsy.

Type 1 narcolepsy occurs when there is a complete loss of neurons that produce orexin – a hormone responsible for regulating wakefulness. However, with type 2 narcolepsy, only a partial loss of these neurons seems to occur. This could explain why it is often mistaken for other sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea. Experts believe that this partial loss of orexin-producing neurons may be due to an autoimmune response where the immune system attacks and damages these cells.

Narcolepsy Symptoms in Adults

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes people to have sudden, overwhelming attacks of sleepiness. during these episodes, people may feel like they are falling asleep or even passing out. Although narcolepsy can have noticeable effects during both daytime and nighttime, the most common symptoms are seen during nighttime episodes.

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)

Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and sudden sleep attacks, which can occur at any time during the day. EDS is a common symptom of narcolepsy, and it can have a significant impact on daily life. People with narcolepsy often experience an irresistible urge to sleep, especially in boring or monotonous situations.

The lack of attention caused by EDS can make it difficult to concentrate on tasks such as driving or studying. Sleep attacks are another common symptom of narcolepsy, which involves falling asleep without warning. These episodes can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can occur multiple times throughout the day. Despite the severity of this condition, people with narcolepsy usually feel refreshed after taking a short nap.

Automatic behaviors

One of the most challenging aspects of narcolepsy is its tendency to cause automatic behavior. This phenomenon occurs when an individual with narcolepsy falls asleep during an activity but continues performing it unconsciously. For example, someone may continue writing or typing while they’re asleep, resulting in illegible text or gibberish. This can be frustrating and embarrassing for people with narcolepsy since they have no control over their automatic behavior.

Disrupted nighttime sleep

One of the most common symptoms of narcolepsy is sleep fragmentation, which causes frequent awakenings during the night. People with narcolepsy may wake up multiple times during the night, making it difficult for them to get a good night’s rest.

In addition to sleep fragmentation, people with narcolepsy often experience other bothersome sleep problems such as excessive physical movements and sleep apnea. Excessive physical movements can include restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder, which can cause involuntary muscle contractions while sleeping. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep and can lead to oxygen deprivation and daytime fatigue.

Sleep paralysis

It has been found that people with narcolepsy have a higher rate of sleep paralysis than the general population.

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which an individual experiences a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. It can be accompanied by vivid hallucinations and a feeling of pressure on the chest. The experience can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, but it can be frightening for those who experience it regularly.

Although anyone can experience sleep paralysis, research has shown that people with narcolepsy are more likely to experience this phenomenon compared to those without the disorder.

Sleep-related hallucinations

Vivid imagery can sometimes occur during the transition between being awake and asleep. This experience is known as hypnagogic hallucinations or hypnopompic hallucinations, depending on whether it occurs while falling asleep or waking up, respectively. It is not uncommon for people to experience these types of hallucinations every once in a while, but some individuals may experience them more frequently.

Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations can involve all senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – but visual hallucinations are the most common type. These images can range from simple geometric shapes to complex scenes involving animals, people or landscapes. Sometimes these images may be accompanied by sounds like buzzing noises or voices which can be particularly distressing for some individuals.


Cataplexy is a rare condition that occurs in people with narcolepsy type 1 (NT1). It is characterized by sudden loss of muscle control, often triggered by positive emotions such as laughter or joy. This can be alarming for those experiencing it, as they may feel like they are collapsing or unable to move. Unlike NT2, where cataplexy rarely occurs, NT1 patients have a higher likelihood of experiencing this symptom.

Cataplexy episodes can last from a few seconds to several minutes and typically affect both sides of the body. Some individuals with NT1 only experience a few episodes per year while others may have multiple episodes each day. These attacks can be disruptive to daily life and make simple tasks such as walking or holding objects difficult during an episode. 

It is important to note that the symptoms associated with narcolepsy may not occur simultaneously. For instance, it is not uncommon for cataplexy to begin years after an individual has started experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness. This means that one’s experience with narcolepsy may vary significantly from another person’s experience depending on when they developed specific symptoms related to this disorder.

Diagnosis of Narcolepsy

A complete medical history and physical exam are the first step in diagnosing any health condition, but they’re not the only tools that doctors have at their disposal. Lab tests can help confirm a diagnosis and provide information about the patient’s health condition, which can help plan treatment.

Overnight polysomnogram (PSG)

An overnight polysomnogram (PSG) is a test that is used to diagnose and evaluate sleep disorders. During this test, a sleep specialist will monitor you throughout the entire night of sleep. This monitoring involves attaching electrodes to various parts of your body, including your scalp, chest, and legs. These electrodes record brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, breathing patterns, and muscle activity.

The PSG test is typically conducted in a comfortable and private room at a sleep center or hospital. The goal of the test is to gather as much information as possible about your sleeping patterns and any potential disruptions or abnormalities that may be present. This information can then be used to develop an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan for your specific condition.

If you have been referred for an overnight polysomnogram (PSG), it’s important to follow any pre-test instructions provided by your doctor or sleep specialist.

Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT)

Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) is a diagnostic tool used to measure when you fall asleep and how quickly rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. This test is typically used to diagnose conditions such as narcolepsy, excessive daytime sleepiness, and other related disorders. The MSLT measures the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep during several scheduled naps throughout the day.

During an MSLT, electrodes are attached to your scalp and face to monitor brain waves, muscle activity, and eye movements. The test consists of up to five 20-minute naps spaced out over the course of a day. Each nap is separated by a two-hour break where you are allowed to move around freely but are not allowed to nap or consume caffeine.

Genetic blood test

A genetic blood test is a diagnostic tool used to detect the presence of genetic mutations, which are often linked to various health conditions. For individuals who experience excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden bouts of sleep, a genetic blood test can help identify a mutation that may be responsible for their symptoms. This mutation is commonly found in people with narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (loss of muscle control), hallucinations, and disrupted nighttime sleep. It affects about 1 in every 2,000 people worldwide and can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. While the exact cause of narcolepsy remains unknown, research has shown that it may be linked to certain genes. The genetic blood test for narcolepsy involves analyzing DNA samples from the patient’s blood cells.

Despite its prevalence, it can take an average of 10 to 15 years for patients to receive a definitive diagnosis. One reason for the delay in diagnosis is that the symptoms of narcolepsy are often mistaken for other conditions like depression or anxiety. Furthermore, some patients may not seek medical attention until their symptoms become more severe or disruptive to their daily lives.

Narcolepsy Treatment

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes people to have bouts of excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). The condition is treatable with medication and/or therapy. There are currently no effective treatments for narcolepsy that prevent or cure EDS, but scientists are working on new ways to improve the quality of life for people with the disorder.


Most people with narcolepsy receive treatment with medications to help control one or more of these symptoms. Stimulants such as modafinil and armodafinil are commonly prescribed for excessive daytime sleepiness while sodium oxybate is used to treat cataplexy. Antidepressants may also be prescribed for cataplexy and other symptoms. Although medication side effects are possible, they often provide significant symptom improvement and allow individuals with narcolepsy to better manage their condition.

Some of the most widely prescribed drugs for narcolepsy are:

Modafinil and armodafinil: Modafinil and armodafinil are two wakefulness-promoting drugs that have been commonly prescribed to treat excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). These drugs are chemically similar and belong to the same class of medications known as eugeroics. They work by affecting certain chemicals in the brain that control sleep and wakefulness, thereby promoting alertness during the day.

(We do not take any responsibility for these medicines, do not consume any of these without a prescription of an authorized physician.)

Methylphenidate: Methylphenidate is a type of amphetamine that has been found to be effective in reducing excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). This medication works by stimulating the central nervous system, which results in increased wakefulness and alertness. It is commonly prescribed for conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, but it can also be used to treat EDS associated with other disorders.

Solriamfetol: Solriamfetol is a newly approved drug that promises to alleviate excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) in patients with narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. The drug was approved by the FDA in March 2019, making it one of the latest medications to enter the market for treating EDS. Solriamfetol works by inhibiting dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake, which are two neurotransmitters that play a role in regulating wakefulness.

Sodium oxybate: Sodium oxybate is a medication that has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of narcolepsy, which includes cataplexy, excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), and nighttime sleep disturbances. Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone triggered by strong emotions such as laughter or excitement. EDS is characterized by an irresistible urge to fall asleep during the daytime despite adequate sleep at night. Nighttime sleep disturbances include restless leg syndrome and frequent awakenings.

Pitolisant: Pitolisant is a medication that has recently been approved by the FDA in 2019. It is a wakefulness-promoting drug used to treat narcolepsy in adults. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden episodes of muscle weakness or paralysis known as cataplexy.

When a patient is prescribed medication, they expect it to work and provide relief from their symptoms. However, not all medications work the same for every patient. Factors such as age, weight, medical history, and genetics can affect how a drug acts in the body. It’s important for patients to understand that finding the right medication may take some trial and error.

Lifestyle Changes

Try a number of approaches in your treatment if you have narcolepsy, including improving sleep hygiene. Some of the actions you can take in this direction include altering your schedule or routine, including these actions:

  • One of the easiest ways to improve your sleep quality is by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Our bodies have an internal clock called the circadian rhythm, which regulates our natural sleep-wake cycle. When we maintain a regular routine, our circadian rhythm adjusts accordingly and helps us fall asleep more easily at night.
  • As we go about our daily routines, it might be tempting to sacrifice some hours of sleep to finish work or other activities. However, this can lead to a myriad of health problems such as anxiety, depression and fatigue. To ensure that you get the recommended amount of sleep for your age, it’s best to set a bedtime that allows for at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted rest.
  • Be careful not to spend too much time near bright lights or with electronic devices is crucial to maintain the health of your sleep. The blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. This means that exposure to bright screens too close to bedtime can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake functions, leading to difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • It is no secret that our lifestyle choices affect our health in numerous ways. Some of these habits can even impact the quality of our sleep, which is crucial for overall well-being. For instance, consuming tobacco products, alcohol or heavy meals too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to restless nights.
  • Physical activity helps improve the quality and quantity of sleep by reducing stress levels and increasing energy expenditure. During exercise, the body releases endorphins – natural chemicals that help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Endorphins help to promote relaxation, which can lead to restful sleep at night. Regular physical activity also helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, which is essential for maintaining healthy sleep patterns.
  • People with narcolepsy, taking short naps throughout the day can be an effective way to manage symptoms and improve their quality of life. Once you’ve identified the times of day when you feel most sleepy, it’s important to prioritize those moments for rest. You may find that setting aside 20-30 minutes for a nap during these periods can help you stay alert and focused throughout the rest of your day. Finding a quiet place to lie down can also be helpful in creating an environment conducive to relaxation. It’s important to note that napping should not replace regular nighttime sleep but rather supplement it.


Narcolepsy is a condition that affects people’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Narcolepsy can cause daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, and sudden movements.

The main symptom of narcolepsy is excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include hallucinations and cataplexy.

Narcolepsy affects your ability to function in everyday life. It is also very difficult to work a normal job.

Narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency in the brain chemical called hypocretin.

There are no tests that can determine if you have narcolepsy. However, if you have any of the symptoms listed above, you should talk to your doctor.

You can take medication to help you sleep. If you’re taking medication, make sure that you follow the directions on the prescription.

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle control. It can happen when you are awake or asleep. When someone has cataplexy, they can’t move their limbs.

You can educate people about narcolepsy. You can also work with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to help find a cure for narcolepsy.


Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder, and the symptoms can be both physical and psychological. However, the condition is not fatal. It is a sleep disorder that affects a person’s ability to stay awake, and to function in daily life. Some of the most common symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. The condition is characterized by sudden sleep attacks, and the sufferer can wake up feeling unrefreshed. This can be frustrating, especially if you have to wake up every few hours throughout the night. There are medications available that can help you to get some rest, but they may not be suitable for everyone.