Narcolepsy is a long-term disorder of the brain and nervous system that interferes with a person’s sleep-wake cycle. Type 2 narcolepsy is similar to type 1 narcolepsy but usually does not cause cataplexy.

Narcolepsy is a disruptive disorder that causes spontaneous, unplanned sleep attacks throughout the day.

Type 2 narcolepsy causes daytime sleepiness and other symptoms. However, it does not cause cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone that occurs in people with type 1 narcolepsy. Healthcare professionals previously referred to type 2 narcolepsy as “narcolepsy without cataplexy.”

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of type 2 narcolepsy. This article also looks at causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

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Symptoms of type 2 narcolepsy are generally less severe than those of type 1 narcolepsy.

The symptoms of narcolepsy are lifelong, though they may develop one at a time. People with type 2 narcolepsy may eventually develop cataplexy.

Excessive daytime sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is the main feature of both types of narcolepsy. Getting enough sleep at night does not improve EDS in a person with narcolepsy.

This symptom takes the form of sleep attacks, in which extreme feelings of tiredness develop suddenly. The duration of these attacks may range from a few seconds to several minutes.

However, EDS does not usually affect a person’s level of awareness and energy between sleep attacks.

Sleep paralysis and hallucinations

During sleep paralysis, people are unable to speak or move when waking up or falling asleep. People regain movement and speech after a sleep paralysis episode is over. These episodes can last seconds or minutes.

Hallucinations of fear-inducing images might also occur during sleep paralysis. These can affect senses other than vision.

Learn more about sleep paralysis and narcolepsy.

Disturbed sleep

A person with type 2 narcolepsy may find it hard to stay asleep at night.

Several factors can interfere with sleep, including:

  • insomnia
  • intense dreams
  • sleep apnea, a type of breathing difficulty during sleep
  • limb movement while dreaming or acting out dreams

Automatic behaviors

People with narcolepsy can experience seconds-long sleep episodes that interrupt daily activities such as eating, talking, typing, driving, or writing something down.

After these episodes, people often report feeling temporarily refreshed.

During the sleep episodes, a person will continue the activity without full awareness. For example, a person’s handwriting may trail off, change, or become extremely difficult to read during these seconds. If an episode occurs while a person is driving, it can cause them to lose control of the vehicle.

Learn about narcolepsy with cataplexy.

More research is necessary to find out the exact cause of type 2 narcolepsy.

Type 1 results from a shortage of a hormone called hypocretin or orexin. This hormone helps control rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and helps people feel awake. However, people with type 2 have normal hypocretin levels.

It is not clear why some people have type 2 narcolepsy rather than type 1. It might involve a less severe shortfall in hypocretin, as people with type 2 have normal levels in cerebrospinal fluid testing.

Another theory is that disturbances in receptors in the brain that detect hypocretin affect how the receptors receive or interpret signals and interfere with wakefulness.

In rare cases, people might develop type 2 narcolepsy after a brain injury or tumor.

To help them reach an accurate diagnosis, a doctor will take a detailed medical history and will usually ask a person who is experiencing possible narcolepsy symptoms to complete a sleep journal. They may also do a physical exam to rule out other conditions that can cause excessive sleepiness.

A specialized sleep clinic can carry out two overnight tests to measure sleep activity: a polysomnogram and a multiple sleep latency test.


This is a sleep study that records:

  • brain activity
  • muscle movements
  • eye movements
  • breathing

Multiple sleep latency test

This test measures how quickly a person falls asleep and when REM sleep starts in their sleep cycle. It can help a doctor explain daytime sleepiness.

Cerebrospinal fluid test

The doctor may also order a test to measure the amount of hypocretin in a person’s cerebrospinal fluid. A person may have type 2 narcolepsy if their hypocretin levels are normal and they meet other criteria for the condition.

Learn more about tests for narcolepsy.

Although there is no cure for type 2 narcolepsy, a combination of medications and lifestyle changes may help a person manage the condition.


Medications can help reduce daytime sleepiness and improve quality of life.

Modafinil is often the first-line treatment. This medication stimulates the central nervous system, reducing daytime sleepiness and increasing alertness.

If modafinil does not have the desired effect on daytime sleepiness, a doctor might prescribe amphetamines such as methylphenidate. However, these have more side effects than modafinil.

Learn more about medications for narcolepsy.

Lifestyle changes

People with type 2 narcolepsy can adjust their lifestyle and sleep schedule to accommodate sleep attacks and reduce daytime sleepiness. Possible strategies include:

  • taking 15- to 20-minute naps throughout the day
  • keeping a regular sleep schedule
  • avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals too close to bedtime
  • getting at least 20 minutes of exercise or physical activity every day, more than 4 to 5 hours before going to bed
  • engaging in relaxing activities, such as meditation or a warm bath, before bed

It is also important that a person discuss narcolepsy with their employers so that they may incorporate naps into their work schedule.

Seeking emotional support from loved ones and from other people living with narcolepsy may help people navigate the emotional effects of the disorder.

The exact number of people with narcolepsy in the United States is unclear.

However, a study involving data from 2008 through 2010 found that about 14 in every 100,000 people had type 1 narcolepsy and 65.4 in every 100,000 people had type 2.

Type 2 narcolepsy is more common than type 1.

Learn more about narcolepsy prevalence.

Because the exact cause is not clear, there is currently no way to prevent or cure narcolepsy.

However, taking medications and making certain lifestyle changes may help prevent sleep attacks or reduce their frequency.

No cure is available for narcolepsy, but it is possible to partially improve symptoms over time.

Narcolepsy does not lead to ongoing physical problems or dramatically affect a person’s overall health. However, the condition can have lasting effects on daily life and cause emotional complications. People may avoid extreme emotions to prevent attacks, and they may withdraw from their social or professional lives due to the impact of attacks.

People with narcolepsy might also have a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents than those without the condition. Depending on individual management of the disorder, the severity of symptoms, and state laws, a doctor may recommend that a person with narcolepsy not drive.

If a person is experiencing excessive sleepiness despite full nights of sleep and thinks they might have narcolepsy, they should contact a doctor.

It is also best to contact a doctor if a person is experiencing sleep problems — particularly if reduced sleep affects daily functioning or has endangered a person’s life, such as while driving or operating heavy machinery.

Here are some frequently asked questions about narcolepsy.

What is the life expectancy of a person with narcolepsy?

There is not enough data on narcolepsy to suggest that it reduces a person’s life expectancy. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), narcolepsy does not cause any serious, long-term physical issues.

However, a 2014 study found that narcolepsy may have links to increased mortality at all ages. More research is necessary to better understand this.

How do people with narcolepsy stay awake?

Medications such as modafinil can help people with narcolepsy stay awake. Lifestyle measures such as adjusting the sleep schedule and getting enough physical activity can also support improved wakefulness with narcolepsy.

Type 2 narcolepsy is typically less severe than type 1 and does not involve attacks of cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone. Symptoms include daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations.

The exact cause of type 2 narcolepsy is unclear. Levels of a hormone called hypocretin are low in people with type 1 but not in people with type 2.

A doctor can use sleep studies to diagnose narcolepsy. Treatment options include medication and lifestyle strategies.

Narcolepsy does not usually cause long-term physical problems, but it can have significant emotional effects. A person can talk with their doctor if they have concerns about narcolepsy or its impact on their well-being.