Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that offers promising results in improving daytime wakefulness, sleeping patterns, and cataplexy in people with narcolepsy. However, more research is needed to assess its effectiveness as a treatment.

Narcolepsy is a disabling neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmented sleep. According to the Narcolepsy Network, it affects around 1 in 2,000 Americans.

There is no cure for narcolepsy. Treatment, which includes medications and lifestyle changes, is aimed at managing symptoms such as cataplexy, sleep fragmentation, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Recent studies suggest that baclofen may have benefits and can improve sleep and treat narcolepsy symptoms.

This article explores the benefits and effectiveness of using baclofen in treating narcolepsy. It also discusses the potential risk of using it and other alternative treatments for narcolepsy.

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Baclofen is a muscle relaxant. Doctors mainly prescribe it to relieve painful muscle spasms and reduce spasticity caused by various conditions. These include cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, trigeminal neuralgia, and spinal cord injuries.

Baclofen is a gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) agonist and blocks the signals from the central nervous system (CNS) that tell muscles to spasm. GABA is a crucial neurotransmitter in the CNS. This neurotransmitter is responsible for inhibiting neurons.

Baclofen specifically acts at GABA-B receptors. GABA-B is a type of GABA receptor that blocks the release of neurotransmitters or prevents the neuron from receiving another stimulus.

Due to its central role in neurobiology, GABA-B seems involved in several neurological and psychiatric disorders, including sleep disorders, stress, spasticity, neuropathic pain, depression, and anxiety.

A 2014 mice study found that giving R-baclofen (R-BAC) 2.8 milligram per kilogram twice nightly — the same dosing regimen given to people with narcolepsy — suppressed cataplexy to a greater extent than gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB). GHB has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to treat narcolepsy.

Cataplexy is a sudden, brief loss of muscle control triggered by strong emotions. Some people with narcolepsy experience cataplexy.

Learn more about narcolepsy.

However, the studies only reflected positive results in mice with narcolepsy. Further studies on humans with the condition are needed.

A 2015 report found that using baclofen led to an almost complete resolution of cataplexy in two people with narcolepsy and cataplexy who were experiencing multiple daily cataplexy episodes.

A 2019 study described five individuals with narcolepsy with excessive daytime sleepiness who reported subjective improvement in their sleep maintenance without excessive daytime sleepiness and fragmentation.

People experiencing minimal benefits or side effects with the initial or first-line of treatment for narcolepsy may respond to baclofen, similar to the 2019 study mentioned above.

A 2016 study also found that baclofen used with benzodiazepines can effectively treat GHB withdrawal.

It has many other uses and benefits besides its primary role as an antispasticity and spasmodic medication. Some doctors use it as an off-label prescription in treating alcohol use disorder.

A 2020 study also found that GABAB receptor agonists reduce depression and cocaine addiction in rats. A 2021 study suggested that a novel combination of the antidepressant opipramol and baclofen can potentially treat people with substance use disorder with comorbid mood or anxiety disorders.

While the FDA has approved baclofen for use in managing reversible spasticity in various conditions and is known to be safe for humans, it is not yet approved to treat narcolepsy.

There is no approved dose for baclofen for treating narcolepsy. Moreover, the dose that may be effective for spasticity may differ from the dose needed for narcolepsy.

As with any other medication, baclofen may cause side effects. The most common include:

Less common side effects include:

Baclofen toxicity can be life threatening with cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory failure, and hemodynamic instability, requiring ICU admission. Some signs of baclofen toxicity include:

It may not be safe for a pregnant individual to take baclofen. However, regarding breastfeeding or chestfeeding, the level of baclofen in breastmilk is very low and may have negligible effects on the infant.

Baclofen may also interact with other medications. Before taking baclofen, a person should inform a doctor of their nonprescription and prescription medications. It is essential to mention any of the following:

Drinking alcohol or smoking can also worsen the side effects of baclofen.

It is also essential for a person to inform the doctor if they have other comorbid conditions. These include:

There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, treatments and lifestyle changes are available to manage its symptoms.

Behavior modifications and lifestyle changes

A person can make specific lifestyle changes to help improve their sleep:

  • following a regular sleep schedule
  • taking short, scheduled naps
  • avoiding sleep deprivation and not skipping sleep
  • asking for school and work accommodations
  • avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and smoking
  • exercising daily
  • undergoing psychotherapy for some people

Learn more about ways to improve sleep here.


Doctors may prescribe different drugs for narcolepsy. Below are the main types of medications that control various narcolepsy symptoms such as sleepiness, disturbed nighttime sleep, and cataplexy:

Narcolepsy is often diagnosed late or misdiagnosed. A person experiencing sleep issues and a powerful urge to sleep during the day should consult a doctor.

A person not experiencing improvements with their current prescription and behavior management strategies should also ask the doctor about alternative management of their condition.

Here are some answers to common questions about baclofen.

Is baclofen a sleeping pill?

Baclofen is a muscle relaxant, not a sleeping pill. However, it acts on the CNS and has depressing properties that can cause mild sedation and sleepiness.

What is the best drug for narcolepsy?

There is no one-size-fits-all drug for narcolepsy. A doctor will prescribe the right medication for a person with narcolepsy, depending on their symptoms and severity.

Baclofen is a widely known muscle relaxant that affects the CNS. Recent studies are exploring its effectiveness as a drug for narcolepsy. Research shows promising results and found that baclofen can improve sleep quality in individuals with narcolepsy by acting on GABA-B receptors.

However, scientists need to conduct more clinical research into the ideal baclofen dosage for narcolepsy. Using baclofen may also cause risks and side effects. A person needs to consult a doctor before trying the drug.