Harriet Tubman: Narcolepsy

Updated: Apr 22

by Cloe Gray, Ph.D., Senior Medical Writer at BioSerenity | March 10, 2022 | Sleep

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman led hundreds of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad and became a Union Army spy. When she was a young girl, she got between an overseer and an escaped enslaved boy. The overseer threw a weight at the boy, hitting Tubman. Ever since that incident, she was prone to falling asleep mid-conversation, a symptom of narcolepsy. She even believed that these attacks helped her by giving her ‘visions’, as when she awoke, she would know the best way to go on the route to freedom. These visions could be another symptom of narcolepsy, termed hypnagogic hallucinations, which occur when a person enters REM sleep soon after falling asleep.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by falling asleep at inappropriate times and waking up frequently at night. As stated above, a person with narcolepsy can also enter REM sleep at inappropriate times as well. There are two types of narcolepsy, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 narcolepsy is characterized by cataplexy (sudden episodes of loss of muscle tone), whereas cataplexy is not observed in Type 2. Cataplexy is caused by a person falling into a REM-like state as they are awake.

Type 1 narcolepsy is typically thought to be caused by the loss of hypocretin neurons in the brain, whereas the cause of Type 2 remains unclear. Narcolepsy is typically treated with wakefulness-promoting drugs, such as modafinil. Sodium oxybate is used to treat cataplexy, as it allows a person to sleep more soundly at night and decrease their daytime sleepiness (this reduces the chances of falling into cataplexy’s REM-like state).

How can BioSerenity help with the diagnosis of narcolepsy?

Disordered sleep can be due to a number of factors, including narcolepsy. Disordered sleep may be diagnosed by keeping a sleep diary or undergoing a sleep study (also called polysomnography).

BioSerenity can assist with the diagnosis of narcolepsy by performing a sleep study. Polysomnography consists of a monitored overnight sleep recording; sleep studies are performed by licensed sleep technologists and the results are reviewed by board certified sleep specialists. Hallmarks of narcolepsy, including disordered sleep and altered REM staging, can be observed in these recordings and used to help make an accurate diagnosis.

About BioSerenity

Headquartered in Paris, France and Atlanta, GA, USA, BioSerenity is an innovative med tech company and leader in Tech based Healthcare as a Service. We focus on Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and producing real-world evidence in Neurology, Sleep Medicine, and Cardiology. BioSerenity offers diagnostic solutions to healthcare providers and patients in the USA, Europe and Caribbean.

BioSerenity is also the preferred provider for several Contract Research Organizations (CROs) and prominent university medical facilities across the US, France, and other parts of the world.

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