How to Manage Narcolepsy Symptoms

Three Methods:Regulating Your Sleep ScheduleTrying MedicationChanging Your Lifestyle

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. Individuals suffering from narcolepsy can experience daytime sleepiness, sudden weakness, vivid dreams, and temporary muscle paralysis known as cataplexy. While this disorder does not have a cure, certain medications and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms.

Method 1
Regulating Your Sleep Schedule

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    Improve your sleeping habits. As there is no exact cure for narcolepsy, doctors recommend patients ease symptoms of fatigue by better managing their sleep schedules. Try to develop solid sleeping habits to help minimize the random sleeping spells associated with narcolepsy.
    • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try to get up and fall asleep around the same time each day, including weekends. Your body's circadian rhythm will adapt to the schedule you've set and you'll eventually start to feel tired naturally around the same time each night and wake up feeling energized in the morning.[1]
    • Practice some kind of relaxing bedtime ritual each night. Pick low key activities, like reading or taking a warm bath, that will calm your mind and body in preparation for sleep. Avoid activities like watching television or using electronics, however, as the blue light from screens has a stimulating effect that can keep you awake.[2]
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    Nap. While napping is generally not advised for coping with sleep problems, people with narcolepsy tend to benefit from daily naps. Scheduled, brief naps throughout the day can help manage the fatigue associated with narcolepsy.
    • Schedule 20 minute naps throughout the day, focusing on the times you're most likely to feel tired. If you tend to have flare ups mid-afternoon, for example, try to fit in a short nap around this time.[3]
    • While 20 minute naps work for most people, you may need to sleep more or less depending on your symptoms. You might have to experiment sleeping in different intervals for awhile until you find a routine that works for you.[4]
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    Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Having a good environment in your bedroom can help promote restful sleep. Making certain alterations to your bedroom can help with your sleep.[Image:Ease the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Step 4.jpg|center]]
    • Make sure your mattress and pillows are firm, supportive, and comfortable. If you consistently wake up with a sore neck or sore back you may need to replace your pillow or mattress. Make sure linens, comforters, and other bed supplies are free of allergens that might disrupt sleep.[5]
    • Try to separate your waking life from your sleeping life. Laptops, televisions, and phones should be kept out of the bedroom area.[6]
    • If you live in a noisy area, consider putting a white noise machine in your room to drown out unwanted sounds.[7]
    • Make sure your room is cool. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If your room is usually warmer than this, consider installing an air conditioner.[8]

Method 2
Trying Medication

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    Take stimulants. Central nervous stimulants are usually the first course of action to treat narcolepsy with drugs. About 60-85% of narcolepsy patients experience an improvement in their symptoms.
    • There are a variety of different kinds of stimulants doctors prescribe to treat narcolepsy. Modafinil (Provigil) or armodafinil (Nuvigil) are usually used first as they're less addictive than other varieties. Side effects are fairly rare but can include headache, nausea, and dry mouth.[9]
    • If the first round of treatment is ineffective, methylphenidate (Aptensio XR, Concerta, Ritalin) and other amphetamines may be prescribed. While these medications are very effective, side effects can be more severe. Such meds are very addictive and they can cause nervousness and heart palpitations.[10]
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    Use SSRI's and SNRI's. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are usually used to treat mental illnesses like depression. However, they have been used with some success to address symptoms of narcolepsy.
    • Such meds, such as Prozac and Effexor, typically work by suppressing REM sleep, which can temporarily paralyze muscle movement. As a symptom of narcolepsy, cataplexy, has this effect on the body such medications can help. Such meds can cause some side effects, such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and digestive problems.[11]
    • If SSRI's and SNRI's do not work, older types of antidepressants may be prescribed instead. While these meds are generally effective at treating cataplexy, side effects like lightheadedness and dry mouth are common.[12]
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    Ask about sodium oxybate. Sodium oxybate is generally taken before bed and in the morning. It treats cataplexy, as well as nighttime sleeplessness. It can also treat daytime sleepiness in high doses.
    • The biggest drawback to sodium oxybate is that side effects can be fairly severe. Bedwetting, sleepwalking, and nausea have been reported in patients. It can also be potentially fatal to take sodium oxybate with other sleeping medications, narcotic pain relievers, and alcohol.[13]

Method 3
Changing Your Lifestyle

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    Change your eating habits. Diet can affect symptoms of narcolepsy. Eating a healthy diet, low in heavy foods, can result in symptoms improving.
    • Heavy meals should be avoided. Try to eat 6 to 5 small, light meals throughout the day instead of 3 heavier meals.[14]
    • Foods with a low glycemic index, such as white breads and processed foods, can cause a temporary spike in insulin that results in fatigue shortly after meals. These types of foods can make anyone drowsy, but the effect can be more intense if you suffer from narcolepsy. Try to stick to whole foods, like whole wheat bread and brown rice, and avoid microwaved dinners or fast foods.[15]
    • Large meals eaten 3 to 4 hours before bedtime can cause indigestion which can affect your ability to sleep. Try to keep late light meals light and healthy.[16]
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    Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Stimulants in these substances can be very disruptive for sleep. Try to minimize use if you suffer from narcolepsy.
    • Smoking can be particularly dangerous if you suffer from narcolepsy. Not only is nicotine a stimulant, it can be very dangerous to fall asleep with a cigarette in hand. Many narcoleptics feel smoking helps them stay alert throughout the day, but cigarettes are best avoided if you have narcolepsy.[17]
    • Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but the sleep you get will be less restful. Restful sleep can result in fatigue during the day. Even moderate alcohol consumption can be discouraged if you have narcolepsy.[18]
    • Caffeine is often used by narcoleptics to manage feelings of fatigue throughout the day. However, caffeine does not replace sleep. It merely alters brain waves to block sleep inducing chemicals from entering the brain. As caffeine stays in the body for about six hours, keep caffeine consumption light and only drink, coffee, soda or energy drinks early in the day.[19]
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    Exercise regularly. Exercising can help you to stay alert, awake and focused. Exercising 3 or 4 times a week for 30 to 40 minutes can help with your sleep schedule. However, as exercise produces adrenaline avoid working out 3 to 4 hours before bedtime.[20]
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    Manage stress. Stress can exasperate symptoms of narcolepsy. Trying to keep your stress levels under control can result in a lessening of symptoms. There are a variety of activities you can participate in that result in a reduction of stress.
    • Practicing breathing exercises. There are certain deep breathing exercises designed to slow heart rate and other physical symptoms of stress.
    • Meditate. Meditation can help reduce stress by placing your thoughts in the present moment. Meditating each day can help with symptoms of narcolepsy.
    • Try yoga. Practicing yoga gets all of the parts of your body to work together and can help clear your mind. Yoga has the added benefit of being a form of exercise, which can help regulate your sleep schedule.
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    See a therapist. Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that can be difficult to manage. People suffering from narcolepsy often develop psychiatric problems, like depression and anxiety, as a result of their disorder. Seeing a therapist can help you manage the emotional toll of narcolepsy.
    • Ask your regular doctor for a referral for a therapist if you're experiencing a chronic low or anxious mood as a result of your narcolepsy. If you're a student, you may be entitled to free counseling from your college or university.[21]
    • Look out for support groups, whether online or in person as well. As narcolepsy is not a well understood disorder, many people feel isolated or frustrated. Talking to others who've experienced similar issues can help.[22]


  • Do not drive if you are feeling stressed, angry, or otherwise experiencing an intense emotion. Intense emotions can lead to an onset of drowsiness and other symptoms of narcolepsy that could result in a car accident.

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Categories: Neurological Disorders | Sleep Disorders