Orexin: The Body’s Natural Sleeping Pill

Contents hide Overview Impact of Orexin Deficiency on Sleep Discovering Orexin Function of the Orexin System Other Options for Increasing Orexin Aspects of Narcolepsy Who is affected by Narcolepsy? Managing the Symptoms of a Sleep … Read more

Written by:


, Sleep Researcher
Last Updated: Fri, November 23, 2018
Fact checked by:

Marko Jevtic

, Sleep Specialist

The finding of hypocretin or orexin deficiency in individuals who have narcolepsy indicates that the hypothalamic neuropeptide serves a major function in the regulation and maintenance of sleep or wakeful states along with energy homeostasis.

The hypothalamic neuropeptide may be particularly important for stabilizing behavioral states since the main symptom of narcolepsy is the instability of every behavioral state, resulting in fragmentation of sleep or wakefulness. The afferent and efferent systems of the orexin neurons indicate that there are interactions between the cells and sleep/wakefulness or arousal centers within the brainstem along with essential feeding centers within the hypothalamus.


Studies show that the regulation of orexin neurons is undertaken by acetylcholine and monoamines along with metabolic cues that include ghrelin, glucose, and leptin. Therefore, orexin neurons consist of the vital functional interactions with cholinergic or monoaminergic centers and hypothalamic feeding paths and provide a crucial link between the core mechanisms that are responsible for coordinating sleep and wakefulness as well as motivated behavior like looking for food and energy balance.

Impact of Orexin Deficiency on Sleep

Discovering Orexin

Orexin is also referred to as hypocretin, which is a neuropeptide that works by regulating appetite, arousal, and wakefulness. The most prevalent form of narcolepsy that is characterized by cataplexy, results from a lack of orexin inside the brain when the cells that produce it are destructed.

The two groups of researchers approached their discoveries differently. One team focused on identifying new genes in the hypothalamus with a reported discovery of numerous genes within the rat brain. On the other hand, the other team was interested in studying orexins in terms of being orphan receptors. The naming of the hypocretin and orexin system recognizes the historical background of its discovery.

Function of the Orexin System

The orexin system was first suggested to be mainly involved in stimulating food intake according to the finding that the core administration of A and B caused an increase in food intake. Additionally, it modulates the visceral function, regulates the expenditure of energy and stimulates wakefulness.


Among knockout mice, obesity has been attributed to the inability to differentiate brown preadipocytes into brown adipose tissue. Subsequently, this reduces thermogenesis of brown adipose tissue. Restoration of brown adipose tissue differentiation in the mica can be achieved through orexin injections.

Orexin deficiency is also associated with a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. Additionally, people who are narcoleptic are more likely to be obese. Therefore, obesity in a narcoleptic person may be the result of orexin deficiency that leads to impaired energy expenditure and thermogenesis.



Narcolepsy leads to cataplexy, a loss of muscle tone when responding to usually positive, strong emotions, inability to consolidate sleep at night and wakefulness during the day and excessive daytime sleepiness. Dogs that do not have a functional orexin receptor have narcolepsy and people and animals that lack the actual orexin neuropeptide also have narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy in humans is linked to a specified human leukocyte antigen complex variant. Additionally, along with the variant, narcoleptic people also showcase a T-cell receptor mutation. In combination, these genetic anomalies result in the immune system attacking and killing the vital orexin neurons. The absence of neurons that produce orexin in narcoleptic people may result from an autoimmune disorder.

Food Intake

Orexin increases food cravings and has a correlation with the function of elements that promote its production. The orexin system is also shown to increase the size of meals due to the suppression of inhibitory post-ingestive response. Some studies, however, suggest that orexin’s stimulatory effects on feeding may be caused by genetic arousal that does not necessarily increase the overall intake of food.

Sleep Deprivation and Energy

Sleep deprivation subsequently results in a lack of energy. Many people use high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods to make up for this lack of energy, which can ultimately result in weight gain and poor health.

Amino acids are other dietary nutrients that can activate orexin neurons as well. They can suppress the orexin neurons glucose response at psychological focus, which causes the balance of energy that is maintained by orexin to be thrown off its usual cycle.


The first round of research that had been carried out shows orexin blockers can potentially treat alcohol, opioid, and cocaine addiction. For instance, lab rats that have been given drugs that target the orexin system lose interest in alcohol when given unlimited access to it during experiments. There have been mixed results of studies conducted to assess the involvement of orexin in nicotine addiction.



High orexin A levels have been linked to happiness in humans while low levels are linked to sadness. Findings suggest that boosting orexin A levels can elevate mood as a possible treatment solution or disorders such as depression.

Clinical Considerations

The hypocretin and orexin system is a target for insomnia medication that functions by blocking the orexin receptors. Clinical trials have been registered for the use of this type of medication for individuals with cocaine dependence.

Increasing Orexin

Orexin or hypocretin controls sleep patterns and may affect your metabolism as well as your ability to lose weight. When your body does not produce a sufficient amount of orexin, you can consider changing your diet by consuming less carbs and sugar, for example. Doctors may recommend medication or supplements as well. It is also advisable to take proper care of your body by losing weight and exercising to naturally increase the orexin levels.

Consuming Fermented Foods

Consuming fermented foods such as pickles and sauerkraut can help to increase the production of orexin. Fermented foods consisting of lactic acid and producing lactic acid can inhibit glucose production, which reduces orexin production. Consuming more fermented foods can be useful for increasing orexin production.

Reducing Carbs and Sugar

When you eat carbs and sugar, your body turns them into glucose. According to research, increasing glucose levels prevents orexin production. Eating less carbs and sugar gives your body an opportunity to produce a higher amount of orexin, which can promote weight loss or increase your energy.

You can minimize carb intake by avoiding starchy foods such as potatoes as well as pasta and bread. Avoid foods that have high sugar content. Several processed foods contain added sugar and it is important to check the nutritional information and facts.


Intermittent fasting can increase your levels of orexin. This involves fasting for a substantial number of hours during the day and end the day with a nutritious large meal. If this approach makes you feel worse, resume your normal eating patterns immediately and identify other dietary changes that you can implement to increase the levels of orexin.


Consult your doctor about medication. If your doctor establishes that you have low orexin levels, certain medications may be prescribed to help your body boost orexin production. If orexin levels are linked to narcolepsy, your doctor may prescribe a controlled substance that you should take responsibility to avoid overdosing.

Orexin A can also be prescribed to increase orexin levels. The drug is administered according to your levels and is usually given in the form of an injection or through the nose. Omega 3 supplements may help to increase levels of orexin in individuals who are not narcoleptic.

Other Options for Increasing Orexin

There are some medically unproven ways to boost orexin levels online but it is advisable to talk to your doctor first before trying anything. Consult your doctor about omega 3 supplements and the appropriate dosage.


Increasing your blood acidification can boost your levels of orexin. One of the simple and effective ways to do this is through exercise. Regular exercise is good for overall health and increasing orexin levels.

Weight Loss

Leptin can inhibit orexin production. Since it is produced by fatty tissue in the body, weight loss can reduce the amount of leptin that is produced by the body. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about healthy weight loss techniques. They can inform you about aspects such as different types of exercises and the amount of calories you should consume on a daily basis.

Portion control is one of the best ways to start losing weight. A qualified nutritionist can give you insight into ideal portions and what they should look like. For example, rather than 2 or more servings of each meal, you may be advised to stick to one.

Bright Light

This type of therapy can help to naturally boost orexin production. It involves sitting next to a bright light for a number of hours each day. You may find that you feel less tired. The devices are available online through various retailers.

Monitoring your Sleep Patterns

Everyone is susceptible to feeling tired or worn out from time to time. However, your levels of orexin may be low if you are fatigued or feel sleepy every and occasionally fall asleep during the day. Low levels of orexin can lead to a disorder that is referred to as narcolepsy. See your doctor if you find yourself feeling excessively sleepy during the day.


Low levels of orexin can lead to changes in how much you eat your appetite. If you find it hard to control the amount of food you eat or feel hungry all the time, your orexin levels may be the culprit.


Another sign of low levels of orexin is lack of sexual interest or low libido. If you notice a drastic change that affects your sex drive, your levels of orexin may have dropped.


Fidgeting a lot may be another symptom of low levels of orexin. You can ask someone else to keep track of how often you fidget since you may not always notice when you do it.

Aspects of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a type of sleep disorder that is characterized by hallucinations. sleep paralysis, excessive sleepiness and cataplexy (total or partial loss of muscle control that is usually triggered by strong emotions like laughter) in some cases.

Support Groups

People who have been diagnosed with the condition are advised to seek counseling through support groups and educational networks. Getting a narcolepsy diagnosis and dealing with the symptoms can be challenging and the general public does not fully understand the disorder. It is always helpful to access support from other people who have the disorder and become familiar with the best practices.

Sleep-Wake Cycle

Causes of Narcolepsy

Scientists have made significant progress towards finding out the genes that are strongly linked to the disorder. The genes control chemical production in the brain that affects sleep-wake cycles. Many experts consider narcolepsy as the result of a deficiency in the production of hypocretin or orexin by the brain.

Additionally, researchers have found abnormalities in the different parts of the brain that are involved in controlling REM sleep. The abnormalities may contribute to the development of symptoms. Experts believe that narcolepsy consists of numerous factors that interact and cause REM sleep disruptions and neurological dysfunction.


Narcolepsy symptoms include the following:


An exhaustive medical history and physical exam are crucial for properly diagnosing narcolepsy. However, it is important to note that none of the symptoms are exclusive to the disorder. Many specialized tests that can be carried out in a sleep lab or clinic are usually required before establishing a diagnosis.


Who is affected by Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy that is linked to orexin deficiency is regarded as a relative rate condition. It is not easy to know the exact number or percentage of people who have narcolepsy because several cases are not reported. However, estimates show that a significant number of people are affected.

Men and women are equally affected by the disorder although there are some studies that indicate the condition may be more prevalent among men. Symptoms may start to appear during adolescence but the condition is typically diagnosed from the age 0f 20.

Managing the Symptoms of a Sleep Disorder

With more research showing how lack of orexin can affect have an adverse effect on the sleep-wake cycle, it is important to be able to deal with the sleep disorder effectively and improve the overall quality of life. Narcolepsy is characterized by a lower quality of sleep and a disrupted sleep pattern.

Individuals who suffer from the condition may experience brief muscle paralysis that is commonly referred to as cataplexy, vivid dreams, sudden weakness, and daytime sleepiness. The disorder cannot be cured but certain lifestyle changes and medications can effectively manage the symptoms.

Identifying the Causes

One of the important steps towards living a productive and normal life despite having a sleep disorder is to understand what may be causing it. Various things can trigger or cause narcolepsy. Identifying the underlying problem can make it easier for you to manage the symptoms.

For several people, lack of orexin (hypocretin) in the body causes narcolepsy. This may be the result of an autoimmune response or a genetic problem. With an autoimmune response, the body attacks parts of the body where orexin is produced. You might be able to increase orexin or hypocretin in your body.

Improving Sleeping Habits

Since there is no clear cure for this particular type of sleep disorder, patients are assured that they can ease the symptoms by managing their individuals sleeping schedules better. Make an effort to develop healthy sleeping habits to minimize the sudden muscle collapse and excessive daytime sleepiness that is associated with narcolepsy.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

Having a comfortable environment within your bedroom or sleeping area can be useful for promoting restful sleep. You can make a few alterations to your room to improve your sleep.

Relieving Stress

Making an effort to control your stress levels can help to reduce the symptoms. There are various activities that you can get involved in to reduce stress.

Therapy and Medical Intervention

Any type of chronic condition can be hard to manage. People who suffer from hormone imbalances and sleep disorders may develop psychiatric issues such as anxiety and depression as a result of the condition. Consulting a therapist can be helpful in the management of the emotional effects of a sleep disorder. Physical aspects of the condition can be handled by a qualified physician.

Boosting Orexin

Lack of orexin has been linked to narcolepsy in many cases. You might be able to boost orexin production naturally by reducing inflammation within your body, eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis. Some of the ways to increase the chemical production in your body include going outside, identifying the food allergies that might cause inflammation, consuming fermented food and bright light therapy.

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