Narcolepsy is a condition that causes you to feel overly drowsy when you’re awake. It also can result in sudden sleep attacks (loss of consciousness) during the day and fragmented sleep at night.

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder: a condition that affects your nervous system. Although it’s relatively rare, affecting about 1 in 2,000 people, it often goes undiagnosed.

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the healthy sleep patterns of many people worldwide. Is the virus to blame for this, or is this the result of the pandemic lockdowns? The short answer is probably both.

Let’s discuss what the research tells us about the connection between COVID-19 and narcolepsy.

Although it’s still too early after the beginning of the pandemic to claim that COVID-19 can trigger narcolepsy, researchers can make some predictions. These predictions are based on some common disease mechanisms and data from previous epidemics of respiratory illnesses, such as the flu.

A 2021 article explored a potential link between the immune response to the virus that causes COVID-19 and several neurological disorders, including narcolepsy. Researchers pointed out that during the swine flu epidemic of 2009, there was an increase in narcolepsy diagnoses.

How can COVID-19 trigger narcolepsy? Researchers speculate that the virus can travel from your respiratory system to the hypothalamus, the hormone “hub” of your brain. There, it can decrease the levels of a protein called orexin (also known as hypocretin).

An orexin deficit is the main driver of the most common type of narcolepsy called type 1 narcolepsy. This type includes a symptom of cataplexy, or sudden extreme muscle weakness. Additionally, the hypothalamus may become injured, which can lead to type 2 narcolepsy, or secondary narcolepsy.

According to researchers, if you already have type 1 narcolepsy, the COVID-19 virus may further decrease your orexin levels, making your cataplexy symptoms worse. Or, if don’t have cataplexy as one of the symptoms, COVID-19 can cause it to manifest.

But it’s important to remember that these are speculations. More research is needed to prove that COVID-19 can cause or exacerbate narcolepsy.

Aside from the virus itself, people with narcolepsy could’ve been affected by restrictions imposed during the pandemic. According to a recent study, being quarantined can worsen many narcolepsy symptoms, including:

Some people continue to experience symptoms even after the COVID-19 virus has cleared from their system. This is called long-haul COVID-19. New research suggests that neurological disorders are common in people with long-haul COVID-19.

In addition to narcolepsy, neurological conditions that can be triggered or exacerbated by COVID-19 cover the whole spectrum from mild to life threatening symptoms.

Life threatening and serious neurological disorders include:

Other, less severe symptoms of long-haul COVID-19 are:

During the swine flu epidemic of 2009, narcolepsy symptoms were triggered not only in those who caught the flu but also in some vaccinated people who never had it.

Because of that, it’s understandable that many people are worried that COVID-19 vaccinations can cause or exacerbate their narcolepsy symptoms. So, should you opt out of the shot if you have narcolepsy?

According to the experts, you should get vaccinated against COVID-19 even if you have narcolepsy.

Researchers have established that the increase in narcolepsy symptoms following the swine flu vaccinations happened because of a specific component of the vaccine used during the 2009 epidemic, called nucleoprotein.

None of the vaccines used to prevent COVID-19 contain this component.

In a recent preprint review of studies from eight countries including more 126 million people, cases of narcolepsy following COVID-19 vaccinations were rare across all ages and sexes. “Preprint” means that the review has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that can cause you to have sudden sleep attacks or feel extremely drowsy during the day.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some people have begun experiencing narcolepsy symptoms or have had their condition become worse.

Although there isn’t enough evidence to claim that COVID-19 causes narcolepsy, researchers believe that there’s a link between these two conditions. In addition, the pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions could’ve exacerbated narcolepsy as well.

To protect yourself from narcolepsy and other neurological disorders associated with COVID-19, experts recommend getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.