Narcolepsy is the most common neurological cause of chronic sleepiness. The discovery about 20 years ago that narcolepsy is caused by selective loss of the neurons producing orexins (also known as hypocretins) sparked great advances in the field. Here, we review the current understanding of how orexin neurons regulate sleep–wake behaviour and the consequences of the loss of orexin neurons. We also summarize the developing evidence that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disorder that may be caused by a T cell-mediated attack on the orexin neurons and explain how these new perspectives can inform better therapeutic approaches.
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