“I become more frustrated and then have another cataplexy attack.” – Nicki

Advancements in the understanding of narcolepsy are happening. Be the first to know. Sign Up Now

Advancements in the understanding of narcolepsy are happening. Be the first to know.

Sign Up Now

What Is Cataplexy?

Cataplexy can be different for each person.

Nearly two-thirds of people living with narcolepsy have cataplexy, which means they have type 1 narcolepsy. Cataplexy is the sudden and brief loss of muscle strength or muscle tone brought on by strong emotions or situations (e.g., laughter, surprise, stress). Cataplexy attacks—sometimes called episodes or events—can be different for each person.

Laughter is the most common trigger of cataplexy, but it can be triggered by many different emotions and situations.

Emotional Triggers

  • Laughter
  • Happiness
  • Excitement‚ anticipation
  • Anger
  • Stress‚ tension
  • Anxiety
  • Embarrassment‚ frustration

Situational Triggers

  • Telling/hearing a joke or making a witty remark
  • Being tickled
  • Being the center of attention
  • Unexpectedly encountering a friend
  • Being startled
  • Being intimate or romantic
  • Remembering emotional or romantic events
There's More to Know
Obvious Cataplexy

Cataplexy can cause muscle changes that are obvious. In response to certain emotions or situations, people’s knees may buckle, or they may have a complete attack and collapse to the ground. During these attacks, people can be paralyzed but have total awareness of what is happening.

Less Obvious Cataplexy

Most often, cataplexy causes loss of muscle tone that is less obvious to the observer than a complete attack. These partial attacks can affect almost any muscle group, but the head and neck are most commonly affected, causing head drops, slurred speech, or sagging of the jaw or eye muscles.

People may describe tingling, a tremor, shaking, a small muscle jerk or twitch of the face, or simply being clumsy, and may not recognize these as signs of cataplexy.

Everyday Life With Cataplexy

People may have learned tricks to avoid or control attacks or believe these experiences are normal and not realize that they have cataplexy. However, someone who knows the person well may notice these signs. People with cataplexy may hold back emotions or avoid situations that trigger an attack, which can have an emotional and social impact.

Watch Video

Nicki describes what triggers her cataplexy and what it feels like when she loses muscle control.

The impact of narcolepsy on your life is in every aspect.

Nicki, 29 years old, living with narcolepsy with cataplexy

Stories about living with narcolepsy are personal.

Listen to them now »

What causes narcolepsy symptoms?

Discover the science »

Performance of routine tasks without awareness or memory.

Difficulty focusing or concentrating.

Brief loss of muscle tone with retained awareness, often triggered by strong emotions.

Frequent shifts between different states of sleep and wakefulness at night.

The inability to stay awake and alert during the day; a constant need for sleep or unintentionally falling asleep.

A chemical in the brain that helps maintain wakefulness.

Vivid, realistic, and frightening dream-like events that occur when falling asleep.

Dream-like events that occur when falling asleep. Called hypnopompic hallucinations if they occur when waking up.

A chemical in the brain that helps maintain wakefulness and prevent non-REM sleep and REM sleep from occurring at the wrong time.

Unintentionally falling asleep due to excessive daytime sleepiness; “sleep attacks.”

Restorative sleep state with decreased muscle tone.

Occurs at night and includes vivid dreams; muscles are not active to prevent people from acting out dreams.

Daytime and evening habits to improve sleep.

Brief total loss of voluntary muscle control when falling asleep or while waking up.

People with type 1 narcolepsy can be diagnosed by their cataplexy or low levels of hypocretin.

The cause of type 2 narcolepsy is unknown.