Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that affects the natural cycles of sleeping and waking and is characterized by episodes of overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. Sometimes, narcolepsy can be accompanied by a sudden loss in muscle tone (cataplexy), which is usually triggered by strong emotion.
The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but narcolepsy with cataplexy has been linked to a loss of a chemical in the brain called hypocretin. Hypocretin acts on the alerting systems in the brain, keeping us awake and regulating sleep cycles. In narcolepsy, the area of the brain that makes hypocretin is damaged or destroyed. Without hypocretin, the person has trouble staying awake and also experiences disruptions in normal sleep-wake cycles. Narcolepsy can greatly affect daily activities. If left untreated, it can interfere with psychological, social and cognitive function can have a negative effect on a person’s academic, work, and social activities.