Management of narcolepsy

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2008 Jul;9(10):1721-33. doi: 10.1517/14656566.9.10.1721.


Background: Narcolepsy is a rare chronic sleep disorder classically characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. Other symptoms of the disease, including cataplexy, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations and disturbed nocturnal sleep, may follow later. The disease can be incapacitating and frequently results in impaired psychosocial interaction. In the absence of a cure for narcolepsy, medical therapy is directed at symptom control.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to review the current approach to the treatment of narcolepsy.

Methods: A search of three bibliographic databases (MEDLINE/PubMed, EMBASE and the Cochrane Library Database) was conducted from 1966 to January 2008 using the National Library of Medicine MeSH search terms narcolepsy and cataplexy. Relevant studies, case reports, review articles, editorials, short communications and chapters from selected textbooks were then extracted and manually cross-referenced.

Results/conclusions: Traditionally, stimulants have been used to improve the symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness. However, the treatment of narcolepsy has evolved recently with the widespread use of newer drugs, including modafinil for daytime sleepiness, newer antidepressants for cataplexy and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (sodium oxybate) for both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cataplexy / drug therapy
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Narcolepsy / drug therapy*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sodium Oxybate / therapeutic use


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Sodium Oxybate