Narcolepsy is a rare condition that can cause a person to fall asleep without warning. Researchers are still studying the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccine on narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a rare, long-term brain condition that prevents a person from regulating sleep and waking patterns. Although it does not cause long-term physical health problems, it can affect an individual’s day-to-day life.
This article discusses what research says about possible links between narcolepsy and COVID-19 and the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on this condition.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Narcolepsy often results from a person having low levels of the brain chemical hypocretin, also known as orexin. There are two types of narcolepsy: type 1 and type 2.
Narcolepsy symptoms can vary from person to person and may develop over several years or weeks. Everyone diagnosed with the condition will experience daytime sleepiness, but only
Symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): This is the most common symptom and
causesexcessive sleepiness, regardless of how much sleep the individual gets at night.
- Sleep attacks: This is where a person falls asleep suddenly and without warning and is a common symptom of narcolepsy.
- Cataplexy: A sudden temporary muscle weakness or loss of muscular control that triggers due to strong emotional reactions.
- slurred speech
- facial drooping
- legs collapsing
- Hallucinations and sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis is a
temporaryinability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking. It usually only lasts a few seconds, and hallucinations may accompany it. People can quickly recover their movement following an episode.
A person can take stimulants, such as amphetamine, to help keep them awake, or sedatives, such as barbiturates, to help them sleep. Lifestyle adjustments, such as keeping a regular sleep pattern and avoiding smoking and alcohol before bed, can also help ease symptoms.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Participants of this
- sleep paralysis
- nocturnal awakenings
As a result, their sleep and wake times changed, resulting in altered sleeping patterns. Additionally, people in the same study took fewer antidepressants but more stimulants.
However, this 2021 study found that participants who worked from home could manage their daytime sleepiness better, allowing themselves more naps and gaining an increased nocturnal sleep time. However, participants who continued their usual working schedule experienced more frequent nocturnal awakenings.
The COVID-19 pandemic stunted people’s ability to follow a routine through the use of quarantine. This study shows that routine is important to ensure a good quality of life for those with narcolepsy. Working from home during the pandemic improved some people’s routines as they could better regulate their sleeping patterns.
According to a
The study further suggests that the inflammatory response due to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may trigger chronic autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. These infections can initiate specific conditions in susceptible individuals, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and narcolepsy.
Experts have not undertaken any large-scale genome-wide association study on vaccination responses of those with narcolepsy for routinely used vaccines.
However, in this
Similarly, the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 saw associations of the H1N1 vaccine with a several-fold
According to this
Studies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that people with narcolepsy may have benefitted through improved working conditions that match their needs, such as later rising times and the ability to nap during the day.
However, more studies are necessary on the effect of the COVID-19 vaccine on those with narcolepsy and those prone to developing it. Current studies have found that the COVID-19 vaccine may trigger the condition in people at risk.