Narcolepsy and Emotional Experience: A Review of the Literature

Behav Brain Funct. 2018 Dec 26;14(1):19. doi: 10.1186/s12993-018-0151-x.


Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. This disease affects significantly the overall patient functioning, interfering with social, work, and affective life. Some symptoms of narcolepsy depend on emotional stimuli; for instance, cataplectic attacks can be triggered by emotional inputs such as laughing, joking, a pleasant surprise, and also anger. Neurophysiological and neurochemical findings suggest the involvement of emotional brain circuits in the physiopathology of cataplexy, which seems to depending on the dysfunctional interplay between the hypothalamus and the amygdala associated with an alteration of hypocretin levels. Furthermore, behavioral studies suggest an impairment of emotions processing in narcolepsy-cataplexy (NC), like a probable coping strategy to avoid or reduce the frequency of cataplexy attacks. Consistently, NC patients seem to use coping strategies even during their sleep, avoiding unpleasant mental sleep activity through lucid dreaming. Interestingly, NC patients, even during sleep, have a different emotional experience than healthy subjects, with more vivid, bizarre, and frightening dreams. Notwithstanding this evidence, the relationship between emotion and narcolepsy is poorly investigated. This review aims to provide a synthesis of behavioral, neurophysiological, and neurochemical evidence to discuss the complex relationship between NC and emotional experience and to direct future research.

Keywords: Cataplexy; Dreaming; Emotions; Narcolepsy; REM sleep.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cataplexy / diagnosis
  • Cataplexy / physiopathology
  • Cataplexy / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Narcolepsy / diagnosis
  • Narcolepsy / physiopathology*
  • Narcolepsy / psychology*
  • Polysomnography / trends
  • Sleep, REM / physiology