Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that makes it hard to stay awake during the day and asleep at night. Self-care can help.

Living with narcolepsy can affect the quality of your life and your mental health. Treatments are available, but there’s no cure yet.

When it comes to managing your symptoms, you may want to consider natural options, including self-care, alongside professional narcolepsy treatments. These options won’t be a stand-alone solution, but they can support your other efforts.

These tips might be a useful first step in your narcolepsy self-care path:

People with narcolepsy usually experience excessive sleepiness and episodes of involuntary sleep, also known as sleep attacks, throughout the day. These episodes don’t always help you feel rested.

When you voluntarily schedule time to sleep throughout the day, however, you may see a reduction in fatigue and sleepiness during the day.

You might want to plan a few short voluntary naps at strategic moments in the day. It’s a good idea to keep these under 20 minutes to avoid drowsiness when you awake You could set a few alarms to make sure you wake up from the nap on time.

Narcolepsy is considered a disability. This means you have certain rights at work, and accommodations may be available to you. This could help you schedule these naps during working hours.

A 2017 study of 42 people with narcolepsy showed that cardio exercise is inversely related to episodes of muscular loss and sleepiness.

In other words, the more cardio you do, the less sleepy you might feel during the day and the less likely you are to experience cataplexy, one of narcolepsy’s common symptoms. Cataplexy is the term used to describe when your muscles go limp or feel weak without warning.

Try to get at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day. It might help to measure your movement with a fitness tracker to try to get your heart to the cardio zone.

Consider discussing any changes in physical activity routines with a health professional first.

Some ways to get your cardio in include:

  • swimming
  • walking at a faster speed
  • dancing
  • jumping rope
  • climbing stairs
  • pedaling
  • yoga

You may find that changing some aspects of your diet helps with managing narcolepsy symptoms.

Limiting carbs may:

  • help you feel less sleepy during the day
  • decrease episodes of involuntary sleep
  • lower the chance of sleep paralysis

An experimental study from 2004 looked at 9 people receiving pharmaceutical treatment for narcolepsy. After following a low carb keto diet over a period of 8 weeks, participants reported less daytime sleepiness. However, this study was small and self-reported, so more research is needed to support these findings.

A keto diet is low in carbs and high in fat. It helps lower levels of blood sugar and helps you burn more fat for energy. In this case, it may also help you stay awake during the day.

If you want to consider switching to a low carb keto diet, it might be a good idea to discuss it with a healthcare professional first to avoid adverse health effects.

A 2015 systematic review examined 112 research papers evaluating the effectiveness of mind-body interventions. These are techniques that work on both your mental state and physical body.

Studies included in the review worked with participants who lived with various sleep disturbances, not narcolepsy exclusively.

The review found that most studies pointed to evidence that mind-body interventions improve the quality of sleep in participants.

The most effective interventions included:

A small 2020 study included 10 people living with narcolepsy and also found that meditation-relaxation therapy reduced the chance of sleep paralysis and visual hallucinations, common symptoms of the condition.

Acupuncture can help relieve pain, but can it help narcolepsy? Perhaps.

A 2016 clinical trial compared Mongolian warm acupuncture with drug therapy for insomnia and found superior results in the acupuncture group. It’s not clear if these results would be the same in people with narcolepsy, though.

Though more research is needed, you may still want to consider finding a licensed warm acupuncture practitioner and trying this out for yourself with a green light from your health professional.

Skin temperature at night might be related to your symptoms of narcolepsy.

A 2008 study found that using a thermosuit to increase the temperature of specific areas of the body at night — particularly around the trunk, abdomen, face, and thighs — helped participants decrease episodes of wakefulness during the night. It also improved restorative sleep.

On the flip side, researchers found that heating up hands and feet had the opposite results. Participants were more likely to wake up throughout the night and couldn’t reach a restorative sleep stage.

In the end, study results indicated that warming the skin on the trunk, face, and thighs while cooling hands and feet achieved the best results when it came to sleeping more and better.

In other words, sometimes the foot must stick out of the blanket!

Sleep hygiene refers to the habits you have when it comes to going to bed and resting. It can make a difference in how much and how well you sleep.

Consider these tips when trying to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • following a regular sleep-and-wake schedule by going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day, even on days off
  • keeping your bedroom comfortable by making it cool, quiet, and dark when possible
  • making your the bedroom a place for only sleeping by avoiding use of your TV, computer, and phone in bed
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate after 2 p.m. and especially before bedtime
  • avoiding smoking, especially in the evening
  • avoiding intense physical activity within 3 hours of bedtime
  • avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime
  • relaxing before bedtime by taking a warm bath or shower, meditating, or doing gentle yoga

Living with narcolepsy can be challenging. Involuntary sleep episodes and extreme fatigue may impact your academic work, job, and social life.

You don’t have to do this alone. There’s support available.

You could try to contact a patient advocacy group for people with narcolepsy. There, you can learn more about the disorder and new medical and nonmedical treatments.

Joining support groups can also help you develop new coping skills and learn from other people’s experiences.

If you haven’t yet, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who may help you manage the emotional aspects of living with narcolepsy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found effective in the management of mental health symptoms related to narcolepsy, like depression, according to a 2021 review.

If you can’t afford therapy at the moment, consider downloading a phone app instead.

Most mental health apps include a sleep diary that may help you track your sleep cycles. CBT apps can also help you regulate emotions and develop actionable skills to manage your symptoms.

There are many herbs and supplements promoted as sleep aids and even as narcolepsy natural treatments. However, consider being cautious when trying one of these out.

Some natural supplements may interact with your medications and could cause side effects.

Some, like valerian root, have not been studied in detail, so long-term effects aren’t established yet.

If you’d still like to try some natural remedies for narcolepsy, you may want to first discuss your options with a healthcare professional.

Narcolepsy can impact your daily life. Managing symptoms is possible, though.

Medications for narcolepsy are available from your doctor and are the gold standard of treatment, but self-care strategies may be able to help you further manage symptoms.

Trying tools like meditation, yoga, regulating skin temperature, and strategic napping can help.