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The Science Behind Narcolepsy: What You Need to Know

The Science Behind Narcolepsy: What You Need to Know

People with narcolepsy often experience excessive daytime sleepiness, muscle weakness while awake (cataplexy), and disturbed or fragmented night-time sleep. They may have a family history of the disorder.

Modalert, a brand name for the drug Modafinil, is commonly prescribed to help manage the symptoms of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden sleep attacks, and other symptoms such as cataplexy.


People with narcolepsy have trouble staying awake during the day, regardless of how much sleep they get at night. They also have episodes of uncontrollable sleep, often without warning (called “sleep attacks”). They may wake up and feel refreshed, but then fall asleep again in minutes. These episodes may be triggered by certain activities, such as eating, driving, or laughing.

In narcolepsy, cells in the brain don’t make enough orexins, a group of molecules that control when you fall asleep and wake up. They’re usually detectable in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a thin layer of liquid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord. But CSF levels are low or undetectable in narcoleptics, suggesting that something destroyed these neurons.

People with narcolepsy may be more likely to injure themselves at work or school because they fall asleep while performing routine tasks such as walking down stairs, driving, or using machinery. They’re also more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression. It’s important to educate family members and friends about the condition so they can help you stay safe. Modafinil 200 acts on the central nervous system to promote wakefulness. It influences various neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and histamine, which play crucial roles in regulating sleep and wakefulness.


People with narcolepsy have trouble staying alert, especially in demanding situations. Their frequent episodes of falling asleep during the day (called sleep attacks) may last a few minutes or a few hours. They often wake up feeling refreshed but find it difficult to concentrate and stay awake. This can interfere with work and social interactions.

Some people with narcolepsy have sudden episodes of muscle weakness without losing consciousness (called cataplexy). These episodes can be triggered by strong emotions, such as anger, fear, joy, or laughter. They may cause the jaw to droop, the facial muscles to twitch, or the head to drop forward. They can also cause slurred speech and difficulty moving.

A health care provider can diagnose narcolepsy by doing a physical exam and asking about symptoms. He or she might also order a lab test called a polysomnogram (PSG). This is an overnight study that continuously records brain waves, nerve and muscle functions, and other aspects of your nighttime sleep. It shows whether you fall into the REM phase of sleep—when dreaming occurs—early, and it can also show if your sleep is interrupted frequently by periods of wakefulness.


For most people with narcolepsy, excessive daytime sleepiness is the first symptom that appears. Often, they fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day, even while working, driving, or talking with friends.

To diagnose narcolepsy, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your doctor may also use a device called an actigraph, which is like a wristwatch that tracks your movements and can detect low activity that suggests you’re sleeping, and high activity that indicates you’re awake.

If your narcolepsy symptoms include cataplexy, your healthcare provider will test the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in your spine to measure the levels of hypocretin. This test is more invasive and requires inserting a needle between two lumbar vertebrae, but the results are usually very accurate.


There’s no cure for narcolepsy, but medication and lifestyle changes can help control symptoms. People with narcolepsy often have other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and REM behavior disorder, where they act out their dreams while asleep. They also have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

The cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but it may be related to low levels of hypocretin (hi-poe-KREE-tin), a brain chemical that controls being awake and when you go into REM sleep. In some cases, the immune system mistakenly attacks cells that produce this chemical. This is called an autoimmune condition.

Taking medicine, sleeping at the same time each night, and getting enough exercise may help. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of each option. You can also ask for support groups and counseling for you and your family. Some employers may have a program that helps workers with narcolepsy, especially those who drive long distances.