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Can Supplements or Alternative Therapies Help Manage Narcolepsy?

Posted on October 11, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Allen J. Blaivas, D.O.
Article written by
J. Christy McKibben, LPN

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder characterized by four primary symptoms: excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness), sleep paralysis, and hallucinations. Although there’s currently no cure for narcolepsy, some lifestyle changes and medications can help manage symptoms of the disorder. Some people with narcolepsy find that supplements and complementary or alternative therapies can also help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Talk with your doctor before adding a new therapy to your symptom management plan. It is important to note that although these alternative therapies may help manage narcolepsy symptoms, they have not undergone rigorous scientific review by agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to confirm their efficacy or safety in treating conditions or symptoms.

Practicing Healthy Sleep Hygiene

One lifestyle change recommended to help manage narcolepsy symptoms is improving your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to many habits that help improve the quality of your sleep. Try to stick to regular sleep patterns every day of the week, even on the weekends. If you deal with EDS, you might also want to include a short, regularly scheduled nap each day.

Avoiding alcohol and caffeine several hours prior to bedtime can also improve your nighttime sleep. Try to avoid smoking, especially in the evening. Exercising for at least 20 minutes a day between four or five hours before you go to bed can help you improve your quality of sleep and maintain a healthy weight.

Avoid heavy or large meals before going to bed, and don’t eat too close to bedtime. Also, try doing something that relaxes you, like taking a warm bath, before bed. And finally, be sure the space you sleep in is comfortable. Choose a comfortable mattress, pillow, and bedding, and consider things like a white noise machine or blackout curtains to reduce environmental disruptions.

Alternative Treatments for Narcolepsy

Many alternative treatments have helped some people manage their narcolepsy symptoms. Keep in mind that these approaches don’t help everyone, and there is always a risk of side effects when taking supplements or starting any alternative treatment. It’s important to be open with your doctor and consult with them before you start any type of therapy or supplement. Some herbal supplements, for example, can interact with prescription medications, so make sure your doctor knows which alternative medications you are taking.

Meditation, Prayer, and Imagery

Scientists are beginning to study how our brains and bodies may change through prayer and meditation. The study of how a person’s brain may change during prayer or meditation is called neurotheology. Some scientists believe that people can rewire the neural connections in their brains with prayer and with the intense concentration of meditation.

Some people with narcolepsy say they’re able to control hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis using imagery rehearsal therapy. This therapy operates under the notion that it is possible to change the images seen during nightmares in a waking state. It involves visualizing recent nightmares, writing them down, changing the content to a more positive tone, and rehearsing the rewritten dream. When the dream recurs, the brain is able to block it with the more positive version.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture and acupressure are ancient healing arts based on components of traditional Chinese medicine. The idea of both practices is to help release tension in the muscles and pressure points and to encourage blood circulation. These practices are used for a number of conditions and diseases. Anecdotal evidence has found that they can help manage pain, anxiety, and other ailments, including the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Massage

Massage helps to relieve muscles and improve blood circulation. One review examined a case of a young person with narcolepsy who was given five 45-minute massage sessions for five weeks. They kept a sleep record during the study, using a questionnaire to self-report the quality of her sleep and how they felt during the day. After the five-week period, their results were positive. Their questionnaire responses showed that they fell asleep more easily, had a higher quality of sleep, and felt better when they were awake. However, this case was small and took place over a short period of time. A much larger study or trial would need to be conducted to try to better understand how massage may potentially help with symptoms of narcolepsy.

Supplements for Narcolepsy

Some people with narcolepsy have tried dietary supplements and vitamins to manage their symptoms. In particular, these individuals reported trying omega-3 supplements, B-complex vitamins, and magnesium to address cognitive issues associated with the condition.

Although the FDA does regulate supplements, it treats them as special foods, not medications. They do not undergo the same tests for safety and effectiveness. Also, mixing supplements with certain medications can have a negative outcome. If you are interested in trying supplements to manage your narcolepsy symptoms, talk with your doctor beforehand.

Support Groups

Many people have found support groups to be beneficial. In these groups, individuals can share how they cope with certain situations and conditions. Members often exchange remedies and therapies that have helped them manage their narcolepsy symptoms. Support groups, such as MyNarcolsepyTeam, provide people with social contacts, as well as emotional support and practical help from others who understand what it’s like to live with narcolepsy.

Find Your Team

On MyNarcolepsyTeam, you’ll meet other people with narcolepsy, as well as their loved ones. Here, a growing community of members from around the world comes together to share support, advice, and stories from their daily lives.

Have something to add to the conversation? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyNarcolepsyTeam.

Allen J. Blaivas, D.O. is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, and Sleep Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
J. Christy McKibben, LPN is a freelance writer and licensed practical nurse in North Carolina. Learn more about her here.

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