Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes it challenging for individuals with it to stay awake during the day or for a long period of time, and they can even fall asleep suddenly. This can significantly impact and interfere with their daily life, activities, and routines. There are some medications that can assist with narcolepsy, such as Wakix, Lumryz, and Sunosi, and help fight daytime sleepiness. Although the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, a brain chemical called hypocretin may be to blame—here are 5 common causes:
1. Immune system issues
Issues with the immune system cause antibodies to attack healthy tissue and cells. Individuals with narcolepsy have immune systems that produce antibodies against the protein trib 2, which is produced by the brain in the same area that hypocretin is produced. Ultimately, this results in a lack of hypocretin, the chemical that regulates sleep, thus impacting your sleep cycles and triggering narcolepsy.
2. Inherited narcolepsy
Most cases of narcolepsy are sporadic, but it can occur in clusters of a family. About 10% of individuals with narcolepsy also report having a relative that suffers from the same disorder.
3. Severe stress and anxiety
If you already experience daytime sleepiness or have a lack of hypocretin produced in your body, an added layer of stress or anxiety can make it much worse. Stress and mental health issues can trigger narcolepsy, creating a vicious cycle of sleep issues and dealing with symptoms from both. If you’re dealing with mental health issues or severe stress, you should talk to your doctor to find a solution that works for you.
4. Hormonal changes
Hormonal changes, such as changes that occur during significant life and health events like puberty or menopause, can trigger narcolepsy.
5. Brain injuries
If you have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a tumor, diseases, or other issues with the brain that occur in the same region that manages sleep, it can result in narcolepsy. If the injury impacts this area that regulates wakefulness and REM sleep, it can be a cause of the sleep disorder, although this is rare.