Narcolepsy cannot be cured, but its symptoms can usually be controlled so that a person with narcolepsy can lead a fairly normal life. Treatment needs to be individualized, as each person with narcolepsy is different. Each treatment plan will have several important aspects to it, including medication, behavioral treatment, and management of environment.
Many people with narcolepsy have tried over-the-counter medications which contain caffeine in an attempt to stay awake. These medications do not work well and can be dangerous. However, doctors can prescribe medications that can be effective in controlling excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy and sleep disruption. A balance between control of the symptoms and unwanted side effects of a drug will need to be worked out.
The effective treatment of narcolepsy requires not only medication, but also adjustments in life style. The following suggestions can bring substantial improvement:
- Follow a strict sleep-wake schedule. Your child should go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Take short naps once or twice each day, as needed, if recommended.
- Increase physical activity; avoid boring or repetitive tasks.
- Avoid activities that can be dangerous, such as driving, swimming, or cooking, except during times when you know your child will be alert.
- Follow doctor’s instructions regarding medications very carefully. Inform doctors of changes and problems.
Management of the environment
Narcolepsy can be a devastating disease if family, acquaintances and teachers do not understand the disorder. Daytime sleepiness may be mistaken for laziness, boredom or lack of ability. The experiences of cataplexy and dreaming during wakefulness may be wrongly seen as a psychiatric problem. Be sure to educate family members and help your child’s friends and their parents to understand narcolepsy. Most importantly, make sure your child’s teachers understand the disorder. Small adjustments in the classroom can make a tremendous difference with regard to your child’s self-esteem and ability to obtain a good education.