Improvements to the Detection, Psychosocial Aspects of Narcolepsy in Adolescents: Eric Zhou, PhD


The assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School provided perspective on the care needs of adolescents and young adults with narcolepsy, and the importance of early detection of lingering issues. [WATCH TIME: 3 minutes]

Improvements to the Detection, Psychosocial Aspects of Narcolepsy in Adolescents: Eric Zhou, PhD

WATCH TIME: 3 minutes

"We’ve spent all this time trying to make sure that we medically manage this [narcolepsy], which is a priority. But now we have the luxury of being able to step back and say, ‘what about everything else?’"

Narcolepsy is an uncommon sleep cycle disorder characterized by the tetrad of chronic excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis, with incidence rates that typically peak in adolescence or early adulthood. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, narcolepsy can have significant impacts on social relationships in adolescents, thus suggesting that structured routine for assessing social health is a vital first step for treatment.

Led by Eric Zhou, PhD, the study featured adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 years old and their parents who completed a semistructured interview individually between July 2021 and December 2021. The findings revealed that symptoms of daytime fatigue and cataplexy were the most significant and commonly discussed among these 2 groups as having an impact on social relationships. Specifically, narcolepsy affected social relationships in 3 primary domains: mood, physical activities, and driving. Adolescents reported feeling negative, annoyed easily, stressed out, and depressed, which were associated with their feelings of tiredness/fatigue because of the disorder.

Zhou, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, sat down to discuss the current state of care for narcolepsy in adolescents and young adults, including why there needs to be additional attention towards the psychosocial aspects of this disorder. Furthermore, Zhou answered questions regarding the detection and potential prevention of narcolepsy, and the steps needed to improve long-term outcomes for patients with the disorder.

1. Zhou ES, Revette A, Heckler GK, Worhach J, Maski K, Owens JA. Building a deeper understanding of social relationship health in adolescents with narcolepsy disorder. J Clin Sleep Med. 2023;19(3):491-498. doi:10.5664/jcsm.10372
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