Is Narcolepsy Genetic? (2021)

Updated May, 2021
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Narcolepsy is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, having a member of your family who suffers from narcolepsy does increase your chances of developing the disorder. Though many of the environmental factors leading to this illness have been identified, some remain unknown.

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder often characterized by extreme drowsiness due to your brain's inability to regulate your sleep cycles. Though it's a chronic disorder, it's manageable through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Narcolepsy is typically identified through a variety of symptoms. These include:

  • Extreme daytime drowsiness (EDS). The sufferer endures persistent, overwhelming fatigue throughout the day.
  • Cataplexy. Muscle loss or weakness during periods of wakefulness.
  • Sleep paralysis. The inability to move or speak immediately after waking.

Are my genes playing a role in narcolepsy?

Though it is unclear exactly what causes narcolepsy, it is possible that your genes play a role in you developing this disease. It's important to note that many sufferers of narcolepsy don't have an immediate family member who also suffers from the illness. However, there are a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this disorder. Such as:

  • Your family has a history of other sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep paralysis.
  • Your family has a history of depression or anxiety.
  • Your family has a history of other neurological illnesses, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimers, or epilepsy.

What are ways I can treat my narcolepsy?

Genetics are only one factor that determines whether a person is at risk of developing narcolepsy. Your lifestyle plays a large role in maintaining a healthy quality of sleep and keeping your risk factors low. There are a few small changes you can make to improve your overall sleep hygiene.

  • Cut out alcohol and caffeine, particularly close to bedtime.
  • Manage your symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In addition to lifestyle changes, there are several medications currently in use for the treatment of narcolepsy:

  • Modafinil. Used to combat excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Amphetamines. These are used in more extreme and acute cases of EDS.
  • Antidepressants. This type of drug helps control cataplexy by limiting wakeful REM.

If you're considering medication to treat your symptoms associated with narcolepsy, it's best to contact your physician to discuss which treatment is right for you.

Will a new mattress help with narcolepsy?

Many people go years without even considering their mattress. But, as the foundation of your good night's rest, it's important to consider it might be time to replace your old, lumpy mattress. Your body changes as you age, and restful sleep is necessary to control your symptoms of narcolepsy and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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