What causes narcolepsy?


Quick Answer

The cause of narcolepsy is unknown as of 2015; however, experts believe it may be due to the brain’s failure to produce adequate amounts of hypocretin, according to WebMD. Experts also believe brain abnormalities that regulate REM sleep contribute to the condition.

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Full Answer

Although the specific causes of narcolepsy are not fully understood, experts believe it involves a number of contributing factors that result in neurological and related sleep dysfunction, explains WebMD. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes extreme drowsiness during the day, accompanied by a lack of alertness and inability to concentrate, difficulty staying awake and sudden bouts of nodding off to sleep, notes Mayo Clinic. It is also characterized by a loss of muscle tone, or cateplexy, causing muscle weakness and lack of muscle control. In some cases, people experience sleep paralysis, or an inability to move or speak during sleep events or after waking up, and even hallucinations.

Narcolepsy is diagnosed after reviewing the patient's full medical history, a physical exam and specialized testing, such as a polysomnogram or multiple sleep latency tests, reports Cleveland Clinic. Although the condition has no known cure, medications, stimulants and lifestyle changes that help to improve alertness can help manage and alleviate symptoms.

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