Narcolepsy is a chronic condition, but symptoms sometimes change as you age. It’s common for people over age 60 to experience less daytime sleepiness but more nighttime awakenings.

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Narcolepsy is a condition that results in excessive sleepiness throughout the day. This is because, with narcolepsy, your brain is unable to regulate your sleep-wake cycle, which leads to symptoms.

This condition can cause you to feel overwhelming urges to sleep, and you might fall asleep for periods of time that last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer.

People of any age can experience narcolepsy. Typically, the condition begins when you are between ages 10 and 30. If you live with narcolepsy, your symptoms can change as you age.

Read on for more information about narcolepsy.

It’s very rare for narcolepsy to begin when someone is over 60 years old. In fact, in some people, symptoms of narcolepsy decrease with age.

Yet the condition can be chronic (long-lasting), and symptoms may differ in older adults.

Some symptoms of narcolepsy, such as sleep paralysis or episodes of weakened muscle control, called cataplexy, are reported with nearly equal frequency across age groups, according to 2021 research. But some people with narcolepsy may experience less excessive daytime sleepiness as they age, the researchers note.

Some research updated in 2017 indicates that other symptoms, such as difficulties in your ability to think and nighttime awakenings, can become more severe in older adults.

The symptoms of narcolepsy can vary. Some older adults with narcolepsy have only a few symptoms, while others can have many. Symptoms can be mild or severe.

Symptoms of narcolepsy in older adults include:

Older adults often see some symptoms, especially excessive daytime sleepiness, fade around age 60. Some older adults report that other symptoms, such as difficulty with focus and concentration and nighttime awakenings, worsen around this time.

Narcolepsy is typically diagnosed when you are between 10 and 30 years old. Older adults almost never receive a new diagnosis of narcolepsy.

If you do need to have a diagnosis confirmed, you might undergo testing in the form of a sleep study. During the sleep study, you’ll have tests such as:

  • Overnight polysomnogram (PSG): A PSG is a test that allows a specialist to monitor you overnight and record information about your sleep patterns.
  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): During an MSLT, a sleep specialist will monitor when you fall asleep and how quickly rapid eye movement sleep begins.

You might also have blood work done. People with narcolepsy often have changes in the HLA-DQB1 gene. A blood test can help doctors look for this gene mutation.

There are a few known risk factors for narcolepsy in older adults. But these risk factors do not typically lead to narcolepsy.

For instance, although narcolepsy can run in families, most people who develop the condition do not have a family member with narcolepsy. Similarly, although narcolepsy can be a complication of a stroke, this is rare.

Risk factors for narcolepsy in older adults can include:

Older adults with narcolepsy may be able to try several treatment options. The best one for you can depend on your symptoms, overall health, and any medications you’re already taking.

Treatment options include:

  • Nap therapy: Nap therapy is a treatment plan that helps you manage your symptoms with short naps throughout the day.
  • Lifestyle changes: Some older adults can get relief from narcolepsy symptoms with steps such as increasing exercise or changing some dietary habits.
  • Medications: Your doctor might prescribe a few medications for narcolepsy, including sedatives to help you sleep at night, stimulants to help keep you alert during the day, and depressants to help with excessive sleepiness and cataplexy.
  • Therapy: Sometimes, treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you better manage your sleep-wake cycle.

Healthcare team for narcolepsy

You’ll likely see a few different medical professionals to treat narcolepsy. This can include:

  • your primary care doctor
  • a sleep specialist
  • a neurologist
  • a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist
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There’s no cure for narcolepsy. It’s a chronic (long-term) condition. Yet treatment can help relieve the symptoms and improve quality of life. You and your doctor can work together to adjust your treatment if your symptoms change as you age.

Narcolepsy is a condition that affects people of all ages. It disrupts the sleep-wake cycle and causes symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, difficulty concentrating, and nighttime awakenings.

Narcolepsy is a chronic condition, and some people see their symptoms change as they age. Your doctor can help you adjust your treatment plan as your needs change.