If not treated, people with narcolepsy can fall asleep at any time, such as when at work, while driving and while engaged in a conversation. Narcolepsy is linked to a chemical in the brain called hypocretin, which normally stimulates arousal and helps regulate sleep. Most people with narcolepsy do not produce hypocretin in the deep part of the brain called the hypothalamus. As a result, the body's messages about when to sleep and when to stay awake sometimes occur at the wrong times and places.
Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition that affects an estimated one in 1,000 to 1,500 people. Although it occurs in both men and women, it is slightly more common among men. The condition can begin at any age, although its symptoms usually appear between the ages of 10 and 20. Narcolepsy has been found to be hereditary in some cases.
Our Approach to Narcolepsy
At UCSF, our sleep medicine specialists offer a comprehensive range of services and treatments for conditions such as narcolepsy, insomnia, sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder restless legs syndrome and snoring. We have a sleep testing laboratory specially designed to provide cutting-edge diagnostic care in a comfortable, hotel-like setting for patients' overnight sleep tests. Accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, our sleep center sees more than 2,000 patients a year.
Treatment for narcolepsy typically involves taking stimulant medications to increase daytime alertness and antidepressants to reduce other symptoms. We also counsel patients on how to improve their sleeping habits and eliminate or minimize factors that might be contributing to their condition.
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UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.