Narcolepsy and Sleep Habits

A good night’s rest is important for everyone’s health. But sleep is even more critical if you have narcolepsy. This brain disorder interferes with your sleep-wake cycles. It may leave you dangerously drowsy during the day. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help you better manage your narcolepsy symptoms.

Why Good Sleep Matters

When it comes to sleep, humans are not like most other mammals. Most animals doze for short periods during the day. But people usually take one nap during the day or sleep for only one long stretch overnight. Researchers aren’t sure if this is our natural sleep pattern.

One in three adults in the U.S. get less than the recommended 7 or more hours of shut-eye a night. For those with narcolepsy, good sleep habits can help you make the most of your overnight rest so you can better carry on with your daily activities.

Tips for Better Sleep

Night

This is when you’ll get the bulk of your rest. You may sleep better if you:

  • Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Get into regular rituals like showering or reading before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Both are stimulants and will raise your heart rate and keep you awake.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It triggers a chemical in your brain that helps you to fall asleep fast. But the effect wears off quickly, so you may awake before you’re fully rested.
  • Exercise every day. Work out for at least 20 minutes a day. Do it at least several hours before you turn in for the night to give yourself time to wind down.
  • Avoid large meals. A heavy dinner before bed can make it harder for you to sleep.
  • Prep your bedroom. Keep it cool, comfy, dark, and quiet. Reserve your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
  • Turn off electronic devices. The blue light from your TV, smartphone, or computer delays the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you to fall asleep. If you just can’t disconnect, dim your screen’s brightness an hour or two before bedtime, or change your device’s screen settings to a warmer color.

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Day

Narcolepsy can make it hard for you to stay alert during the daytime. Here are some tips to refresh your mind and body in midday.

  • Take short naps. Aim to do it the same time each day when you feel the sleepiest. Keep your naps to 10-20 minutes. Resting longer may put you into a deep sleep cycle and leave you feeling even more sluggish when you wake up.
  • Avoid late afternoon naps. It’s best to do it before 3 p.m. so you won’t throw off your nighttime slumber schedule.
  • Talk about your condition. Tell your managers or teachers about your narcolepsy so you can work together to meet your needs. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for your condition, such as providing you a place to nap on the job.
  • Ease back into activities. Make sure you’re totally alert before you finish the rest of your day, especially activities that need your full attention.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on September 11, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Chris Norris, MD, board-certified neurologist and founder, SleepStandards.com.

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

The National Sleep Foundation: “Napping,” “How Alcohol Affects the Quality -- And Quantity -- Of Sleep,” “How Blue Light Affects Kids & Sleep.”

American Sleep Association: “Smoking and Sleep.”

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

CDC: “Sleep and Sleep Disorders,” “Getting Enough Sleep?”

Mayo Clinic: “Narcolepsy,” “Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults,” “Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants.”

MedlinePlus: “Modafinil.”

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