The best treatment options for narcolepsy

October 29, 2014

Narcolepsy still baffles doctors and there's unfortunately still no known cure. However, there are a few treatment options you can try to help manage the condition.

The best treatment options for narcolepsy

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is widely known as a debilitating sleep disorder. People who experience narcolepsy collapse suddenly, and nod off into a deep sleep (REM sleep) for no apparent reason. The spell can last for a few seconds, minutes, or sometimes hours.

Witnessing it looks like a fainting spell, but it's actually sleep. A narcoleptic episode immediately sends the person into a deep slumber. They enter a state of sleep which usually takes 90 minutes to occur, it’s the unconscious level where we start to dream.

Narcoleptics fall asleep at any given moment, spontaneously; sometimes several times per day.

Causes of narcolepsy

While little is known about the cause of narcolepsy, one thing we know is that hypo-cretin protein, which governs the functions of the waking brain, is somehow linked. There appears to be an increased risk to develop the condition if there is a family history.

We also know that certain emotions can trigger a narcoleptic incident, such as stress or sometimes even laughter. Narcoleptics can fall fast asleep in the middle of a laugh. Waiting times and moments of intense boredom or inertia can also prompt an episode.

Symptoms of narcolepsy

Aside from suddenly falling asleep (the only common trait shared by almost all narcoleptic patients), there are other symptoms:

  • Cataplexy:The condition causes a loss of muscle tone, which can be localized to specific muscles, or throughout the entire body. For example, a narcoleptic may remain fully conscious while their head falls forward into their chest as if they were dozing off.
  • Sleep paralysis:Sleep paralysis is characterized by a complete inability to move, it occurs just before falling asleep or just after waking up. It can be very traumatic but fortunately usually only lasts for a few seconds.
  • Hallucinations:These are actually dreams and they occur just before falling asleep or waking up. In a state of semi-consciousness, these hallucinations are seemingly realistic and particularly vivid.


A narcoleptic must live with and overcome the debilitating effects of this condition. Here are a few of the most common complications:

  • Decrease in overall quality and enjoyment of life;
  • Anxiety;
  • Inability to drive a car;
  • Fall related injuries;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Constant fatigue affecting mental faculties;
  • Exclusion from certain activities or professions.

Treatment for narcolepsy

There’s no cure for narcolepsy. However, some medications have been proven highly effective at reducing symptoms and helping people with narcolepsy lead normal lives:

  • Stimulant drugs such as amphetamines;
  • Modafinil, which improves wakefulness;
  • Antidepressants reduce symptoms including cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.

Finally, narcoleptics must maintain excellent sleep hygiene habits:

  • Always go to bed at the same time;
  • Engage in relaxation techniques before going to bed (e.g., reading, taking a bath, etc.);
  • Take three to four naps daily;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime.
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