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Narcolepsy: How You Can Help Yourself

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 23, 2021

Lifestyle changes are a crucial part of treating narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes daytime sleepiness. They won’t cure the condition. But, along with medicine, they can ease your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and help keep you safe.

Sleep Hygiene

A nightly sleep routine is one way to improve narcolepsy symptoms. Ideas for better sleep include:

  • Stay on schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends. Reading a book or taking a shower can help you relax before bed.
  • Avoid stimulants. Substances like caffeine and nicotine can cause your heart rate to spike and keep you awake.
  • Watch what you eat. Stick to light meals or snacks before bed. Eating a heavy meal can keep you awake.
  • Manage your sleep environment. For the best sleep, your room should be cool, dark, and quiet. Also be sure to limit your bedroom activities only to sleep and sex.
  • No electronic devices. When it’s time to fall asleep, your body releases melatonin. The blue light from your TV, smartphone, or computer can slow this hormone. Turn off these devices at least an hour before bedtime, dim your screen’s brightness, or change it to a warmer color.

Naps

Narcolepsy can make you feel sluggish at work or school. A short nap helps you feel refreshed so you can finish out the rest of your day. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep naps brief. Take a short nap (10 to 20 minutes) around the same time each day. You’ll feel revived without going into a deep sleep, which can make you more lethargic when you wake up.
  • Stick to an early nap schedule. Nap before 3 p.m., or you may have trouble sleeping at night.
  • Gradually get back to your day. After you wake up from your nap, ease back into the rest of your day. This is especially important for things that need your complete attention, like driving.

Other Lifestyle Changes

Here are a few more lifestyle changes to consider when you have narcolepsy:

  • Steer clear of alcohol. Alcohol and other sedatives can make you sleepy and narcolepsy worse.
  • Keep a healthy weight. When you have narcolepsy, you also have a greater chance of obesity. Keep a healthy weight with a balanced diet and exercise. Exercise also helps you stay alert during the day and sleep better at night.
  • Drive safely. Cautious driving is critical for those with narcolepsy. Stay safe by taking a nap before you drive and avoiding long, dull drives.
  • Find support. People with narcolepsy may face depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Join a support group or talk to a mental health professional to help you improve your emotional health.
  • Get some sun. Whether natural or simulated with special lights, sunlight helps your brain make chemicals that keep you awake.

Tell Others About Your Condition

Talk to your employer or teachers. Let them know you may need accommodations for a health condition, like taking a nap during the day. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers and schools can’t be biased against workers or students with narcolepsy. They must meet your needs, within reason, so you can continue to work or go to school.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Sleep Foundation: “Narcolepsy,” “How Blue Light Affects Kids’ Sleep.”

Mayo Clinic: “Narcolepsy,” “Napping: Do's and don'ts for healthy adults.”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Narcolepsy Fact Sheet.”

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “Narcolepsy.”

Narcolepsy Network: “Lifestyle Adjustments,” “Practice Good Sleep Hygiene.”

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