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How to Stay Healthy With Narcolepsy

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on July 07, 2021

If you or a loved one live with narcolepsy, you may already know how symptoms like sleep attacks and sudden muscle weakness can affect your daily life. Since there’s no cure for this rare disorder, pacing yourself and learning to manage your symptoms is key.

Making lifestyle changes, or keeping new ones you’ve started, can keep narcolepsy from taking a toll on your physical and mental health. Here are some things you can do to feel your best.

Aim to Get Enough Sleep

Sleep has plenty of perks. It keeps your immune system strong and can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight among other benefits. When you sleep well at night, you also won’t feel as drowsy during the day. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. If you can, aim for 8 hours of rest each night.

Get Active Every Day

Regular exercise can help you get better sleep at night. It also lowers your risk for heart problems, which tend to be more common in people who have narcolepsy. Your brain feels the difference, too. Even after a brisk walk, you may think more clearly and feel less anxious. This may help with the mental or emotional stress of narcolepsy. Try to find time to move every day. Schedule your workout at least 4 to 5 hours before bedtime so it won’t interfere with your sleep.

Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

Narcolepsy raises your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, but what you eat can help lower those risks. Choose meals with lots of colorful fruits and veggies, lean chicken or fish, nuts, and legumes (like black beans and peanuts). Cut back on sweets, red meat, and sodium. When you cook with vegetable oils, avoid the tropical ones like palm and coconut, which contain saturated and trans fats.

Limit Your Drinking

Drinking alcohol during the day can make you feel more drowsy than usual. If you drink before bedtime, you’ll have a harder time getting the deep sleep your body needs. Swap alcoholic drinks for alcohol-free options like sparkling water with fresh fruit. If you feel that stress triggers your desire for a drink, look for other ways to relieve it, like going on a short walk or talking to a friend.

Schedule Naps

During the day, aim to have 2 to 3 short naps around the times when you tend to feel sleepiest. Well-timed rest breaks will help you feel more alert.

Take Care of Your Emotional Health

Narcolepsy can bring up a lot of emotions, like fear, embarrassment, and anxiety. If you ignore them, they can have a negative effect on your everyday life. For instance, you may pull back from your friends or leave your house less often. Talking to a counselor can help improve your coping skills. A support group might be helpful, too.

Seek the Support of Family and Friends

Talk to your loved ones about your condition and how it can affect you. Until you do, they may not have a clear idea of what it’s like to have this sleep disorder. Opening up to your family and friends also lets them step in and help you when you need it.

Take Your Meds

Your medication will work best when you take it like you’re supposed to. Don’t stop any drugs or change the dosage without first checking with your doctor. If you have side effects that make you want to avoid your medication, let your doctor know. They may be able to prescribe something else.

Quit Smoking

Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals that raise your risk for lung cancer and heart disease. They also contain nicotine, which is a powerful stimulant that can keep you awake at night and prevent you from napping when you need to. Talk to your doctor about ways you can quit tobacco.

Follow Up With Your Doctor

Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, so you may need some changes to your treatment plan every now and then. See your doctor as often as they suggest and call them with any questions or concerns.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Best known as a sleep disorder, narcolepsy may also impact heart health.”

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

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Narcolepsy.”

Winchester Hospital: “Lifestyle changes to manage narcolepsy.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Narcolepsy,” “Why you should limit alcohol before bed for better sleep.”

Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “Narcolepsy: Daily Life.”

SCL Health: “The Benefits of Getting a Full Night’s Sleep.”

CDC: “Benefits of Physical Activity.”

Summit Health: “Narcolepsy.”

Cancer Council Victoria: “Tips to reduce your drinking.”

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