By Danny Suh


“Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience periods of extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time. These “sleep attacks” usually last a few seconds to several minutes” (“NIH” n.d.).


The prevalence of narcolepsy with cataplexy has been examined in many studies and falls between 25 and 50 per 100,000 people. Information on incidence is limited, with 1 study finding the incidence of narcolepsy with cataplexy to be 0.74 per 100,000 person-years.(NCBI, 2007)


  1. Narcolepsy is mostly biological “Most people with narcolepsy have low levels of the neurotransmitter hypocretin, which promotes wakefulness. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that neurons produce to communicate with each other and to regulate biological processes.” (“NIH”, n.d.) However there are some instances where people with no family history develop narcolepsy. “Some rare cases are known to result from traumatic injuries to parts of the brain involved in REM sleep or from tumor growth and other disease processes in the same regions. Infections, exposure to toxins, dietary factors, stress, hormonal changes such as those occurring during puberty or menopause, and alterations in a person's sleep schedule are just a few of the many factors that may exert direct or indirect effects on the brain, thereby possibly contributing to disease development.”(“NIH”, n.d.)


“EDS, the symptom most consistently experienced by almost all individuals with narcolepsy, is usually the first to become clinically apparent. Generally, EDS interferes with normal activities on a daily basis, whether or not individuals had sufficient sleep at night. People with EDS describe it as a persistent sense of mental cloudiness, a lack of energy, a depressed mood, or extreme exhaustion. Some people experience memory lapses, and many have great difficulty maintaining their concentration while at school, work, or home. People tend to awaken from such unavoidable sleeps feeling refreshed and finding that their drowsiness and fatigue subsides for an hour or two.” (“NIH”,n.d.)


Potential drug treatments are

Ritalin- Ritalin helps to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness and improves alertness.,

Provigil-This drug has been shown in several studies to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness.

Nuvigil-This drug is similar to Provigil. It is also used to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness

Xyrem-This drug is used to treat a small subset of people with narcolepsy who have excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy that does not respond to the other medications. It is the only drug approved by the FDA for cataplexy.

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Side Effects

Ritalin-There are concerns that this drug may become ineffective if used continuously for long periods.

Provigil- Headaches are the most common side effect.

Nuvigil- Headaches and nausea
Xyrem-It has a history of abuse as a recreational drug

Living With Narcolepsy

Living with Narcolepsy