Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness, even making a person fall asleep involuntarily during daily activities like driving, talking, or eating. Other symptoms of the condition include sleep paralysis, vivid or dream-like hallucinations, and cataplexy, a state of sudden muscle weakness. There is no cure for narcolepsy, but various strategies can make the disorder manageable.
Every person with narcolepsy experiences unique variations of the condition. Some people are triggered by intense emotions such as laughter, anger, and surprise. Determining one's triggers and preparing for or avoiding them can help prevent episodes. For example, they could schedule naps for times they often grow tired or use a standing desk if sitting still tends to prompt sleepiness. They might take medications at certain times or keep a to-do list handy for moments of brain fog.
Because a narcoleptic episode could occur at any moment, it is important for people with narcolepsy to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Those with severe cases may not be able to drive; people with narcolepsy have a three to four times higher risk of having a car accident. They should avoid jobs that require work with heavy machinery, ensure they are seated during emotional moments, and wear ID bracelets that identify their condition in case of emergency.
Friends, family, and caretakers who know of an individual's disorder can react quickly, calmly, and efficiently during a narcoleptic episode. Sharing one's triggers and communicating any early signs of an episode can ensure everyone is prepared. Along with educating others, the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School advises family and friends to give honest feedback or inform the individual of any narcoleptic symptoms of which he or she may not be aware.
It is vital for people with narcolepsy to inform their employers and co-workers, to inform them and clear up misconceptions such as the appearance that the individual is just sleeping on the job. Students and employees may request that a doctor write a note explaining the condition, noting medication procedures, and recommending accommodations such as a lunch-time naps, flexible start times, or being excused from class to take medications.
For most people will narcolepsy, naps are a necessary way to manage and control their symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, brief, regularly-scheduled naps should be taken during the day when the person starts to feel sluggish. This will hopefully make them less likely to fall asleep at inopportune times. Being open about one's condition ensures classmates or coworkers will not resent these rest periods.
Those with narcolepsy often avoid jobs that require long periods of stillness or boredom, and they look for employers who will work with their condition — offering flexible start times, allowing a 30-minute nap break each day, providing active furniture, or altering job duties. The National Sleep Foundation recommends people work as much flexibility into their routines as possible but also be aware of when they need a break in social situations.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, almost everyone with narcolepsy takes some medication. Five pharmaceutical treatments are approved for narcolepsy, and antidepressants and stimulants can also help. However, some of these drug therapies, while successful at controlling narcolepsy, have potentially severe side effects that can make them intolerable. It is essential to be in regular communication with a doctor whenever beginning a new regimen or if one notices any unexpected, adverse side effects.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise is key to managing stressors that may trigger narcoleptic episodes. Exercise is great for improving alertness for 15 to 30 minutes. Eat smaller meals with vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. Doctors may also recommend increasing vitamin and mineral intake, receiving regular massage or acupuncture, or practicing meditation. All these methods can help limit stimulation or promote relaxation to appropriate times and places.
People with narcolepsy benefit from solid sleep routines in which they go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. To accomplish this, the Mayo Clinic and National Sleep Foundation recommend avoiding big meals, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, cigarettes, other stimulants, and digital screen time later in the evening to accommodate easier and deeper sleep. Additionally, the bedroom should be quiet, dark, and cool to help the person sleep more soundly and avoid distractions or disruptions.
Supportive groups can be found online on websites, forums, chat groups, local groups, and national organizations. At these gatherings with people in similar situations, individuals with narcolepsy can learn new strategies, share tips, and discuss research. Plus, since narcolepsy can make it hard to maintain a regular social life, acquaintances who understand the condition can be enormously helpful to self-esteem and overall wellbeing.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.