Narcolepsy and psychosis: A systematic review

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2021 Jul;144(1):28-41. doi: 10.1111/acps.13300. Epub 2021 May 5.


Objective: Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder in which psychotic-like symptoms can present diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. We aimed to review the association between, and medical management of, narcolepsy and psychosis in children and adults.

Methods: We reviewed the full text of 100 papers from 187 identified by a PubMed search on narcolepsy plus any of these keywords: psychosis, schizophrenia, delusion, side effects, safety, and bipolar disorder.

Results: Three relevant groups are described. (i) In typical narcolepsy, psychotic-like symptoms include predominantly visual hallucinations at the sleep-wake transition (experienced as "not real") and dissociation because of intrusion of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phenomena into wakefulness. (ii) Atypical patients ("the psychotic form of narcolepsy") experience more severe and vivid, apparently REM-related hallucinations or dream/reality confusions, which patients may rationalize in a delusion-like way. (iii) Some patients have a comorbid schizophrenia spectrum disorder with psychotic symptoms unrelated to sleep. Psychostimulants used to treat narcolepsy may trigger psychotic symptoms in all three groups. We analyzed 58 published cases from groups 2 and 3 (n = 17 and 41). Features that were reported significantly more frequently in atypical patients include visual and multimodal hallucinations, sexual and mystical delusions, and false memories. Dual diagnosis patients had more disorganized symptoms and earlier onset of narcolepsy.

Conclusion: Epidemiological studies tentatively suggest a possible association between narcolepsy and schizophrenia only for very early-onset cases, which could be related to the partially overlapping neurodevelopmental changes observed in these disorders. We propose a clinical algorithm for the management of cases with psychotic-like or psychotic features.

Keywords: delusion; hallucination; narcolepsy; psychosis; schizophrenia; side effects.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Narcolepsy* / diagnosis
  • Narcolepsy* / drug therapy
  • Narcolepsy* / epidemiology
  • Psychotic Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia* / epidemiology
  • Sleep, REM