Narcolepsy Specialist

Houston Neurology & Sleep Diagnostic Center

Allen Chu, MD, PhD

Neuromuscular Medicine Specialist & Sleep Medicine Specialist located in Greater Houston, TX

Narcolepsy is a relatively rare and widely misunderstood neurological condition that causes severe daytime sleepiness, disrupted sleep patterns and other intrusive symptoms, including hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Allen Chu, MD, PhD, diagnoses and treats narcolepsy at Houston Neurology & Sleep Diagnostic Center in Houston, Texas. Call Dr. Chu or schedule a consultation online today.


What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder that affects only 1 in every 2,000-3,000 people. While it’s commonly believed that narcolepsy will make you fall asleep at any time, the condition is significantly more complicated. Narcolepsy can indeed cause sleep attacks; however, you’re far more likely to have:

  • Extreme daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Disrupted nighttime sleep
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Cataplexy — emotionally triggered loss of muscle control
  • Hallucinations

There are two major types of narcolepsy. Type 1 narcolepsy (which used to be known as narcolepsy with cataplexy) is caused by low levels of hypocretin, the hormone that controls your REM patterns and promotes wakefulness.

Type 2 narcolepsy is even less common. It has milder symptoms and doesn’t cause cataplexy. If you have Type 2 narcolepsy, you also have normal hypocretin levels.

In addition to these two types, there is secondary narcolepsy, which occurs as a side effect following an injury to your hypothalamus.

What causes narcolepsy?

Several factors contribute to your risk of narcolepsy. For example, if you have a family history of the condition, your risk of developing narcolepsy increases. Additionally, if you have a personal or family history of autoimmune problems, you may have an increased risk of narcolepsy. Medical researchers believe that an autoimmune disorder can cause your body to destroy the cells responsible for producing hypocretin, leading to Type 1 narcolepsy.

What testing can diagnose narcolepsy?

At Houston Neurology & Sleep Diagnostic Center, Dr. Chu uses comprehensive physical exams, lab tests, and sleep studies to diagnose narcolepsy and rule out other conditions that could contribute to your symptoms. If necessary, Dr. Chu may order a spinal tap to test the hypocretin levels in your cerebral fluid.

What does narcolepsy treatment involve?

Dr. Chu provides highly customized treatments for narcolepsy. Depending on your specific needs and your overall health, he may prescribe medication such as stimulants, antidepressants, and sodium oxybate. Dr. Chu can also help you modify your lifestyle to reduce the disruptiveness of your symptoms. For example, he may encourage:

  • Daytime napping
  • Adding at least 20 minutes of exercise to your day
  • A relaxing bedtime routine
  • Improved sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene includes changes and habits to give you the best possible night’s sleep. For example, you can remove all screens and phones from your room, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and rich or spicy foods in the evenings.

If you’re concerned about daytime fatigue and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, call Houston Neurology & Sleep Diagnostic Center or schedule a consultation online today.