And Other Causes of Hypersomnia, Hypersomnolence (Excessive Sleepiness)

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Narcolepsy and other sleep disorders that cause excessive sleepiness -- doctors call this hypersomnia or hypersomnolence -- can zap your stamina and disrupt your life. While these conditions can be difficult to manage, Duke’s sleep medicine specialists put their expertise to work for you by offering treatments that can help improve your nighttime sleep and increase your daytime wakefulness.

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About Narcolepsy, Idiopathic Hypersomnia, and Other Hypersomnia Disorders

Narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia are the most common types of hypersomnia disorders.

Narcolepsy causes you to fall asleep throughout the day and disrupts nighttime sleep. Narcolepsy can also cause sleep paralysis -- a temporary inability to move -- and hallucinations, usually when you first wake up or are falling asleep. 

  • Type one narcolepsy may be accompanied by cataplexy (muscle weakness that can be triggered by strong emotions). 
  • Type two narcolepsy does not involve cataplexy. 

Idiopathic hypersomnia causes you to feel extremely tired all the time. 

Hypersomnia can also be brought on by medical conditions like traumatic brain injury, medication side effects, substance abuse, and other factors. Kleine-Levin syndrome is an extremely rare type of hypersomnia that can make you sleepy for days at a time.

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Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Diagnosing narcolepsy and other disorders of hypersomnia requires about 24 hours of sleep testing.

Overnight Sleep Study

This sleep test, called polysomnography, is used to diagnose sleep disorders by measuring your breathing patterns, muscle movement, brain activity, heart rate, oxygen levels, and more during sleep.

Multiple Sleep Latency Test

This test requires you to take five, 20-minute naps about two hours apart during the day. A sleep technologist will record how long it takes you to fall asleep and whether you enter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during each nap. This can indicate narcolepsy.


A sample of your urine will be tested for medications and other substances that could be causing your symptoms.

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Although there are no cures for narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia, several types of medications can improve your symptoms. Your sleep disorders team may suggest a combination of these drugs to help you function as normally as possible.


These promote wakefulness by boosting levels of key chemicals in your brain, similar to how caffeine works.

Sodium Oxybate

Sodium oxybate is a central nervous system depressant. It is taken in liquid form at night to help you sleep soundly and get the right amount of REM and non-REM sleep. It can also reduce cataplexy episodes in people with narcolepsy.

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Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 02/09/2022