Typically when we think about sleep disorders, insomnia comes to mind. It is a very common condition that occurs for a variety of reasons. It can wreak havoc in a person’s life making it very difficult to function - and it can be symptom or trigger for many psychiatric issues. 

Everyone knows someone who suffers from sleepless nights – but have you ever encountered a person who lives with the opposite problem? A much less common but equally disruptive and potentially dangerous sleep disorder is narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with this condition might fall asleep when driving or in the middle of a conversation. Obviously, this can cause physical safety issues as well as difficulties in personal and professional relationships.

Sometimes, people with narcolepsy also experience a sudden loss of muscle tone called cataplexy, which can be triggered by a strong emotion (often laughter). Hallucinations or sleep paralysis while falling asleep or waking up can also take place in narcolepsy and can be quite frightening for those who experience them. 

Narcolepsy affects about one in every 2,000 people, typically begins between the ages of 10 and 25 and occurs equally in men and women. An exact cause for narcolepsy is not fully understood but as with many disorders there appear to be environmental and genetic factors involved. 

Most individuals with narcolepsy have lower than normal levels of the neurotransmitter hypocretin, which regulates wakefulness and REM sleep. Hypocretin tends to be particularly low in people who experience cataplexy.

Some believe the loss of hypocretin-producing cells is due to an autoimmune reaction. 

Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cure for narcolepsy but the condition can be managed with a combination of medication and lifestyle measures. 

Medications for narcolepsy include drugs that stimulate the central nervous system such as modafinil or armodafinil. Some may also be helped by Ritalin or similar medicines. 

SSRI and SNRI antidepressant medications are also often used in treatment of narcolepsy as they suppress REM sleep and can help alleviate cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.

Lifestyle changes can also help manage symptoms of narcolepsy. These can include keeping to a regular bedtime and wake up routine, getting regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and nicotine and taking regular short naps throughout the day to remain refreshed. 

Narcolepsy and other sleep disorders can be diagnosed by a sleep specialist and diagnosis may involve spending a night being monitored in a sleep clinic. If you believe you or a loved one may have narcolepsy, speak with your doctor.

At Okanagan Clinical Trials we are conducting a medication research study into an investigational treatment for narcolepsy. If you are 16 years of age or older  you may be eligible to participate. Contact our office for more information at 250-862-8141.



Current Studies

 Alzheimer's Disease 


 Parkinson's Disease





 Interested in participating? Call us for more information!