Narcolepsy Causes

(Also Known As: Insomnia Causes, Narcoleptic Causes)

(Reviewed by: Paul Peterson, Licensed Therapist)

What Causes Narcolepsy?

There have been varieties of conditions that can cause narcolepsy as follow:


Genetic factor has been attributed to the development of narcolepsy, specifically chromosome 6 known as the HLA complex. There are some variations of the HLA complex believed to increase the risk of an auto-immune response to the neurons in the brain that produce protein (orexin and hypocretin) responsible for controlling sleep patterns and appetite. A mutation with chromosome 12 also appears to contribute to the occurrence of narcolepsy by disrupting neurotransmitters, hypocretins and orexins. These neurotransmitters are necessary to regulate biological process. Hypocretins are responsible for the wakefulness function of the brain system and prevents it from shutting down unexpectedly. Factors such as brain infection and abnormal immune response can lead to the damage of these neurotransmitters that are valuable for regulating the sleep-wake cycle of the brain.

Disturbed REM

It is believed that a disturbed REM, or rapid eye movement, can also cause disruption in the normal sleep-wake cycle of the body resulting in narcolepsy. The normal process of sleeping usually begins in a non-rapid eye movement phase of sleep where the brain waves slow down gradually. After a few hours of sleep, the brain activity commences again at the beginning of REM sleep, where dreaming now can occur. In narcolepsy, however, there is a lapse in the non-REM sleep which can occur even during day time. The sleep process of a narcoleptic is one without experiencing the non-REM sleep. Conditions such as sleep paralysis, vivid dreams and sudden lack of muscle tone also occur at times other than during the REM sleep.

The Role of Hypocretin Depletion

Scientists found that narcoleptics contain a depleted number of hypocretin-producing neurons. Some HLA substances increase the susceptibility of an immune attack on the hypocretin neurons from the hypothalamus which causes the degeneration of the hypocretin system. The major role of hypocretine is to regulate sleep, appetite and feeding behavior which also associated the condition of narcolepsy to the increased rate of obesity with the condition.

Other Factors

In rare cases narcolepsy may also develop after a traumatic injury to a specific part of the brain that is involved in the REM sleep. Tumor growth and other infection affecting specific brain areas involved with REM sleep can also cause narcolepsy. Toxin, stress, dietary factor, hormonal changes occurring during menopause and alteration of the regular sleep schedule of a person, may be contributing factors that can exert either a direct or indirect effect to the brain that contributes to the development of narcolepsy.

Could You Have Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy Topics

Related Conditions

Dyssomnia – Difficulty Remaining Asleep, Disturbed Quantity and Quality of Sleep
Hypersomnia – Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, Prolonged Nighttime Sleep, Repeated Daytime Naps
Parasomnias NOS – Abnormal Movement When Sleeping, Abnormal Emotion and Behavior During Sleep, Sleepwalking, Bruxism, Sleep Terror Disorder, Nightmare Disorder