Experts believe stress may make a person’s narcolepsy worse. However, there are several ways people can manage and reduce stress.

Narcolepsy is a brain condition that affects how a person sleeps and wakes up. It is a chronic condition that affects daily life.

Stress is a physical and emotional reaction people experience as they encounter life challenges. Everybody experiences some stress during their lives.

Although experts do not yet know the exact cause of narcolepsy, stress may be a possible trigger. It may also increase a person’s narcolepsy risk.

This article discusses the connection between stress and narcolepsy, other triggers of narcolepsy, and how narcolepsy affects sleep. It also outlines some tips for managing stress and getting better sleep.

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Stress may be a trigger for narcolepsy symptoms.

People with narcolepsy may experience cataplexy. Cataplexy is a sudden and temporary loss of muscle control that results in weakness. It may also cause people to collapse. Strong emotions such as stress can trigger cataplexy in people with narcolepsy.

Researchers are still investigating the cause of narcolepsy. However, nearly all people with narcolepsy who have cataplexy have very low levels of the brain chemical hypocretin. Hypocretin is a naturally occurring chemical that helps to regulate sleep. It is also known as orexin.

Due to this, experts believe narcolepsy may result from a combination of factors leading to a lack of hypocretin.

Recent studies have found that hypocretin is linked to short- and long-term stress. Long-term stress may disrupt the function of hypocretin in the brain, possibly triggering narcolepsy.

Learn more about narcolepsy.

Researchers believe several factors may trigger or increase a person’s risk of narcolepsy.

These risk factors include:

People can also develop narcolepsy due to certain other conditions. This is called secondary narcolepsy. These conditions involve damage to the area of the brain that produces hypocretin, and can include:

Scientists have also found that the flu vaccine Pandemrix may increase a person’s narcolepsy risk. However, this vaccine is not licensed for use in the United States.

Read more about how narcolepsy affects the brain.

Narcolepsy affects a person’s sleeping and waking cycles. It can prevent them from choosing when to sleep or wake up.

They may:

  • feel very sleepy throughout the day, despite feeling rested after waking
  • have uneven and interrupted sleep
  • wake frequently during the night
  • fall asleep suddenly, without warning
  • be temporarily unable to move or speak when waking or falling asleep
  • have excessive dreaming, such as:
    • dreams that come when falling asleep
    • dreams just before waking
    • dreams during waking

They may also experience cataplexy when awake.

Read about narcolepsy and insomnia.

Stress and sleep

Stress can also affect a person’s sleep quality and patterns. This in turn may make narcolepsy worse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following tips for coping with and managing stress:

  • limiting news to twice a day
  • disconnecting from phone, TV, and computer screens for periods of time
  • practicing self-care, by:
  • making time for enjoyable activities
  • talking with trusted friends or family about concerns and feelings
  • connecting with community or faith-based organizations
  • recognizing when to seek help if problems continue

Learn more about stress reduction.

The CDC suggests a person can improve their sleep by:

  • going to bed at the same time each night
  • getting up at the same time each morning, including on weekends
  • having a bedroom that is:
    • quiet
    • dark
    • relaxing
    • at a comfortable temperature
  • removing electronic devices from the bedroom, such as:
    • TVs
    • computers
    • smartphones
  • avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • being physically active and exercising during the day

Learn more tips for better sleep.

Here are some questions people frequently ask about narcolepsy.

What are the three types of narcolepsy?

Type 1 narcolepsy is where a person has cataplexy and excessive daytime sleepiness. Type 2 narcolepsy is more common and refers to narcolepsy without cataplexy. Secondary narcolepsy may cause brain problems as well as typical narcolepsy symptoms.

Can stress and anxiety cause narcolepsy?

Current research suggests narcolepsy is a neurological disorder with genetic and autoimmune factors. Conditions such as anxiety are common in people with narcolepsy. However, scientists do not know if this is due to narcolepsy or narcolepsy’s impact on a person’s quality of life.

What can be mistaken for narcolepsy?

People or healthcare professionals may mistake psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia for narcolepsy. This can be due to overlapping symptoms or unfamiliarity with narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that affects how a person sleeps. Stress may trigger some symptoms of narcolepsy. It may also affect sleep quality. This in turn may make narcolepsy worse.

People can use various management techniques to reduce stress and improve their sleep quality.