sleep foundation


The National Sleep Foundation

Medically Reviewed by

The National Sleep Foundation

Written by

The National Sleep Foundation


NATIONAL SLEEP FOUNDATION — The most common way to treat narcolepsy is often with a combination of medication and behavioral changes. These lifestyle changes can include good sleep habits, napping, knowing how to stay alert, and developing self-awareness.

Maintain good sleep habits. Keep a regular bedtime, make your room cool and dark (use darkening shades or curtains, remove any electronic devices from your room, and use ear plugs if necessary), and avoid heavy meals or alcohol before bed. If you can’t sleep in the middle of the night, leave your bed to read a book or do another non-stimulating activity until you feel drowsy again. Do not look at your cellphone, computer or other electronic screen during the night.

Take smart naps. Strategic naps can help people with narcolepsy feel refreshed and productive. The best naps are 15-20 minutes and spaced throughout the day, without happening too close to bedtime. The point in the day when people often feel most sleepy is 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. If it’s appropriate, find a place to nap at work and explain your condition to your co-workers. Napping can increase your work productivity.

Stay active. Sitting for long periods of time can increase sleepiness. Stand up and take walks, go outside, sit near a window or in the back of class so you can stand up periodically. If you can use an adjustable standing desk, or a yoga ball to sit on, this may help you stay alert.

Get to know your triggers. What are the factors that cause you to be most drowsy? Consider time of day, activities, temperature, and light. Are you more likely to experience cataplexy when you’re very tired or during a strong emotion? It helps to know your triggers and manage them so you feel more in control.

Seek counseling. You don’t have to do this alone. Counseling is an important aspect of narcolepsy treatment. Talk to an individual therapist and/or join a support group (whether online or in person). Anxiety, isolation, or self-esteem issues can arise because of narcolepsy symptoms and talking about this with others helps you learn, take control, and not feel alone.