What causes narcolepsy?

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown. It is believed to be linked to a lack of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which may be due to a deficiency of hypocretin, a brain chemical which helps control sleep patterns. When most people sleep, they start out in a state of non-REM. Typically, they sleep in that state for about an hour before going into a state of REM sleep. But if you have narcolepsy, you skip non-REM and go right into REM. Narcolepsy may have a genetic component. Also, exposure to certain substances may play a part.

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown. We know that in some people genetics may be involved. We know that people with narcolepsy have a problem with the natural rhythm of sleep and waking, and that this rhythm is controlled by brain chemistry. As a result, we know that a chemical imbalance in the brain is at least part of the problem. At this time, the exact problem in brain chemistry has not been worked out.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder, which means your central nervous system isn't working quite right. Your brain is simply sending you mixed signals about when it's time to sleep and wake up. If you have narcolepsy, it's not your fault. And you can't help it, regardless of what people may think. It's not caused by anxiety or laziness or any of those myths.

So what is the cause? It's still a mystery, although some research has linked strep throat before you're 21 and narcolepsy with cataplexy. Other research shows a certain gene can increase the probability.
Narcolepsy is a condition characterized by sudden sleep attacks during the day. Individuals with narcolepsy may fall asleep at inappropriate times and without warning several times a day. Research found that people with narcolepsy lack a chemical in the brain known as hypocretin. This substance normally stimulates arousal and helps regulate sleep.

Continue Learning about Narcolepsy

Is narcolepsy serious?
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How do other illnesses affect narcolepsy?
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Because the exact cause of narcolepsy is not known, it is unknown whether any other disease has an...
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What is cataplexy?
Cataplexy is characterized by sudden episodes of loss of muscle function. These can range from sligh...
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Is narcolepsy a sleep disorder?
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Narcolepsy is a potentially serious, chronic sleep disorder which causes uncontrollable fatigue duri...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.