How is narcolepsy treated?

There is at present no cure for narcolepsy, but the condition is manageable.

Narcolepsy is usually caused by the loss of certain cells within the brain (see What causes narcolepsy?). As there is currently no way to replace these cells, narcolepsy is a lifelong condition. Treatment is therefore focused on controlling the symptoms of narcolepsy in a way that allows the patient to live as normal a life as possible. Although the cause of idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) is not known, the treatment of this condition is similar to narcolepsy.

Treatments

There are several treatments available to help control the symptoms of narcolepsy or IH. What works best for one patient does not necessarily work for another, and your doctor will try to find the treatment that is most suitable for you. This usually involves a combination of medication and changes to lifestyle.

Medication

There are many drugs that are used to treat narcolepsy and IH. Some are licensed for the treatment of one or more symptoms of narcolepsy, while others are not licensed but are used “off label”, for which they can only be prescribed by a specialist. For many patients whose symptoms include cataplexy, sodium oxybate is widely considered to be the most effective treatment. However, that drug is currently very expensive and many people in the UK are refused treatment with it. Narcolepsy UK campaigns for greater access to the best medication for people with narcolepsy, irrespective of the cost.

More information can be found at the resource page Narcolepsy medications.

Lifestyle

As well as medication, simple changes to lifestyle are also particularly important in helping to manage the symptoms of sleep disorders like narcolepsy. Although it can be difficult, establishing and maintaining a regular routine (going to bed and waking up at the same time), taking planned naps during the daytime, avoiding coffee in the afternoon or at night, eating a healthy diet and leading an active life can all can reduce the unpredictability and severity of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

More information on key changes to lifestyle can be found at the resource page Managing narcolepsy.