Medical Fact or Fiction: Narcolepsy

The Simpsons, a very well know television show that brought attention to a not so well-known medical condition, narcolepsy. The show provided a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. The video first mentions that narcolepsy is a medical condition involving excessive daytime sleepiness, which is true. However, when the doctor suspects narcolepsy, the first thing he does is a spinal tap (done to evaluate spinal fluid). A spinal tap is not the first step in diagnosis, it may not be done at all. According to Ruoff and Black (2014), spinal taps are rarely done to diagnose narcolepsy. When they are done, doctors look at hypocretin which is responsible for wakefulness, low levels indicate narcolepsy. Although Homer took advantage of the diagnosis, as the doctor mentioned, it is possible to live a normal life with narcolepsy. Medications help control the symptoms. However, often times there is a delay in diagnosis and various types of treatment options need to be tried before finding what works for each person.

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a movie released in 1999 which includes a woman who states she has narcolepsy. As with many topics in the media, there is a great deal of exaggeration with the condition. One of the first things the woman mentions is that she cannot fly in a plane or drive a car with narcolepsy, which according to Linley (2014) is not true. Furthermore, the woman appears to lose all muscle control (cataplexy) and fall asleep at the same times, which is not something that occurs. Cataplexy is a symptom that some with narcolepsy experience, but the person is completely conscious, it does not happen simultaneously with sleep (Schub & Pravikoff, 2019).


What television and movies don’t tell you about narcolepsy:

  • Symptoms often appear at an early age, but it can take years for an accurate diagnosis due to narcolepsy presenting like other conditions, including depression (Linley, 2014).
  • Symptoms can include excessive daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, disturbed nighttime sleep, and/or cataplexy (Schub & Pravikoff, 2019).
  • Treatment includes daily medication, scheduled naps, decreasing caffeine intake, not smoking, and a regular sleep schedule (Schub & Pravikoff, 2019).
  • You can live a happy, healthy life with narcolepsy, I do it every day. I drive, I fly in planes, I work full times, I go to school, I spend time with friends and family. Narcolepsy does not have to control your life, it just becomes a part of it.


Click here to open a PDF article that discusses a woman’s struggle with narcolepsy and now her life completely turned around once she was finally diagnosed.




Linley, L. (2014). Understanding narcolepsy. Focus Journal, 21–22. Retrieved from

Ruoff, C., & Black, J. (2014). The psychiatric dimensions of narcolepsy. Psychiatric Times31(1), 1–3. Retrieved from

Schub, T., & Pravikoff, D. (2019). Narcolepsy. CINAHL Nursing Guide. Retrieved from