Children's Hospital Colorado

Narcolepsy in Children

What is narcolepsy? 

Narcolepsy is a condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and an irresistible urge to sleep. Children with narcolepsy can fall asleep at any time during a 24-hour day. Although children are severely sleepy, they may not sleep well during the night. Children with narcolepsy also may have problems "seeing their dreams while awake" or hallucinating, or feeling like they cannot move when they want to during the night. They may have a sudden weakness in the muscles that is often brought on by laughter or emotion during the daytime.

What causes narcolepsy?

Most commonly, narcolepsy is caused in part by having a certain gene that is passed down in the family. Not everyone with narcolepsy will have relatives with it. Lots of people have the narcolepsy gene, but most do not develop narcolepsy because the gene needs a "trigger" to turn it on. We think that trigger may be an infection, but there might be other triggers too.

Who gets narcolepsy? 

The peak age of reported symptoms is 15 to 25 years, but narcolepsy may be found as early as age 2 years. Many centers are seeing very young children with the symptoms. It is important to recognize because narcolepsy can be misdiagnosed for many years.