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How Is Narcolepsy Treated?

Narcolepsy has no cure. However, medicines, lifestyle changes, and other therapies can relieve many of its symptoms. Treatment for narcolepsy is based on the type of symptoms you have and how severe they are.

Not all medicines and lifestyle changes work for everyone. It may take weeks to months for you and your doctor to find the best treatment.

Medicines

You may need one or more medicines to treat narcolepsy symptoms. These may include:

  • Stimulants to ease daytime sleepiness and raise your alertness.
  • A medicine that helps make up for the low levels of hypocretin in your brain. (Hypocretin is a chemical that helps promote wakefulness.) This medicine helps you stay awake during the day and sleep at night. It doesn't always completely relieve daytime sleepiness, so your doctor may tell you to take it with a stimulant.
  • Medicines that help you sleep at night.
  • Medicines used to treat depression. These medicines also help prevent cataplexy, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can interfere with your sleep. Ask your doctor about these medicines and how to avoid them, if possible. For example, your doctor may advise you to avoid antihistamines. These medicines suppress the action of histamine, a substance in the blood that promotes wakefulness.

If you take regular naps when you feel sleepy, you may need less medicine to stay awake.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes also may help relieve some narcolepsy symptoms. You can take steps to make it easier to fall asleep at night and stay asleep.

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Do something relaxing before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath.
  • Keep your bedroom or sleep area quiet, comfortable, dark, and free from distractions, such as a TV or computer.
  • Allow yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep or fall back asleep after waking up. After that, get up and do something relaxing (like reading) until you get sleepy.

Certain activities, foods, and drinks before bedtime can keep you awake. Try to follow these guidelines:

  • Exercise regularly, but not within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, chocolate, and drinks that contain caffeine for several hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages just before bedtime.
  • Avoid bright lights before bedtime.

For more tips on sleeping better, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

Other Therapies

Light therapy may help you keep a regular sleep and wake schedule. For this type of therapy, you sit in front of a light box, which has special lights, for 10 to 30 minutes. This therapy can help you feel less sleepy in the morning.

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November 01, 2010 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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