Disruptive sleep attacks and persistent daytime drowsiness are defining symptoms of narcolepsy. Treatment can improve your symptoms and quality of life, but the cure for narcolepsy remains elusive.
Narcolepsy is a sleep-wake disorder that causes you to lapse into slumber against your will. It creates irresistible urges to sleep, often resulting in multiple naps throughout the day.
In many cases, narcolepsy also involves cataplexy, brief periods of intense emotions followed by muscle weakness on both sides of the body.
Due to how significantly the symptoms of narcolepsy can affect your day-to-day life, the desire for a cure is understandable.
With treatment, you can manage your symptoms. Narcolepsy may even go into remission spontaneously. Saying narcolepsy is curable when symptoms resolve, however, isn’t so simple.
There’s no cure for narcolepsy yet. But remission (the complete disappearance of symptoms) is possible, and symptoms can improve with treatment.
If symptoms can go away, you may wonder why experts don’t consider narcolepsy curable. The reason behind this involves the medical implications of the word “cure.”
A cure is much more than having your symptoms go away. When your doctor considers a condition cured, they can say with relative certainty that it won’t return. Certainty comes from a clear understanding of a condition’s causes and the ability to determine when causes resolve.
Experts may understand how narcolepsy disrupts sleep patterns, but its underlying causes aren’t well understood. Genetics, autoimmune conditions, and traumatic brain injury may all play a role.
Without tracing the exact cause of narcolepsy, your doctor can’t verify that symptoms won’t return. This is why experts use the term “remission” instead of “cure” if symptoms resolve.
Can remission last forever?
Definitions vary, but remission is typically a minimum of 6 months without clinical symptoms.
This means you must be symptom-free for at least 6 months before experts can consider narcolepsy in a remission phase.
No one can predict how long remission will last. You may be symptom-free for weeks, months, or years. Although unlikely, symptoms may not return.
Medication and lifestyle changes remain the gold standard for narcolepsy treatment.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can be manageable with central nervous system stimulants like modafinil (Provigil) or armodafinil (Nuvigil). When these are ineffective, your doctor may prescribe amphetamine-like stimulants, like methylphenidate.
Other medications that can help manage symptoms of sleepiness and cataplexy include:
- sodium oxybate (a form of gamma-hydroxybutyrate)
- histamine 3 (H3) receptor antagonist/inverse agonist
Medications are important in treating narcolepsy, but they may work well with lifestyle changes that promote healthy sleep habits.
Lifestyle changes may include:
15–20 minutesof regularly scheduled naps
- going to bed or waking up at the same time every day
- quitting or reducing smoking
- exercising daily
- avoiding large meals right before bed
- stopping alcohol or caffeine intake
several hoursbefore sleep
- turning off electronics or blue light technology before bed
- developing a pre-bedtime relaxation routine
- keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
Experts recommend these lifestyle changes for narcolepsy, but they’re also beneficial rules of sleep hygiene that can apply to just about everyone.
As research into narcolepsy grows, so do the opportunities for novel therapies. Currently, researchers are working on
- new histamine receptor H3 antagonists/inverse agonists
- novel monoaminergic reuptake inhibitors
- repurposed drugs for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- novel slow-wave sleep enhancers
- thyrotropin-releasing hormone analogs
- cell transplantation
- hypocretin peptide replacement
- gene therapy
Narcolepsy is more common than many people realize. It affects approximately 20-55 people for every 100,000 people, many of whom don’t receive diagnoses. Despite how common it is, few people actively participate in narcolepsy research.
When you join a research initiative, you can help move scientific communities one step closer to finding better treatments for narcolepsy. One day, a cure might be possible.
If you’re interested in finding a clinical trial to participate in, you can search for one by visiting:
Continue your education on narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a complex sleep-wake disorder that breaks down into two subtypes. Not everyone experiences every symptom, and some people may be more likely to develop narcolepsy than others.
The following articles can help you learn more about narcolepsy, its symptoms, and who it affects the most.
There’s no cure for narcolepsy yet, a sleep-wake disorder featuring episodes of unintentional sleep and irresistible urges to nap. But sometimes, narcolepsy can go into complete remission, and treatment can improve symptoms.
Remission is the absence of symptoms, but it isn’t the same as a cure. Your doctor would need to be able to certainly say it wouldn’t return for them to consider narcolepsy cured.