How Narcolepsy is Treated

4 minute read

By Heather Fishel

Narcolepsy is a long-term neurological condition that can cause fragmented sleep and sleepiness every single day. Search online to learn what the symptoms of narcolepsy can look like and discover the latest treatment options for this condition.

If you’ve been diagnosed with narcolepsy, you’re probably wondering what comes next. With serious effects like sudden muscle weakness and body collapses, it’s critical that you find a way to live with narcolepsy that’s safe and healthy.


Medication can treat narcolepsy, and there are actually quite a few different types of medications that are approved to treat the symptoms of this condition. 

Your doctor may prescribe any of the following medications to treat narcolepsy and its symptoms or effects on your everyday life.


This medication can reduce excessive daytime sleepiness. It may be able to help you stay alert and focused while working, driving, and performing other tasks. Its most common side effects are nausea and headaches.

Methylphenidate Hcl

This type of medication is a stimulant, and it can reduce excessive daytime sleepiness. In fact, you may be prescribed stimulants that treat other conditions like ADHD – Ritalin, Concerta, and Ritalin LA are some of these medications. They can literally stimulate your brain and its production of certain chemicals to help you feel more well-rested and alert. Common side effects do include headaches, irritability, and difficulty sleeping at night.


Some antidepressant medications will work to treat narcolepsy. Tricyclic antidepressants as well as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be taken to decrease the frequency of cataplexy, or the sudden loss of muscle tone. This can prevent issues like sudden collapses or the sudden inability to move. You might experience common side effects like an upset stomach, dry mouth, fatigue, and weight gain while on antidepressant medications.

Sodium Oxybate

This medication is used only in a small number of narcolepsy cases. It may help individuals with narcolepsy who experience excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy that isn’t responding to other medications. Unlike other medications, this drug is the only one approved by the FDA for cataplexy. It is, however, a controlled substance.


Pitolisant is a relatively new medication that can treat excessive daytime sleepiness. It works by targeting your histamine receptors, mimicking histamine and prompting your brain to stay awake. 


Solriamfetol is a medication that acts in two ways: it’s an uptake inhibitor for both dopamine and norepinephrine. Together, these actions can help individuals with narcolepsy stay awake for longer periods of time. 

Make sure to discuss your medication options with your doctor. If one medication isn’t working for you, there may be another option that’s better or has fewer side effects. It may take some time and adjustments to find the right medication for you and your symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes

Whether you take medication for your condition or not, lifestyle changes are an important part of any narcolepsy treatment regimen. Making adjustments and changes to your daily habits, schedule, and more may be able to help you manage narcolepsy symptoms.

The following lifestyle changes are recommended for many people with narcolepsy:

While these lifestyle changes may take some time to make an impact, they can offer a natural way to manage your narcolepsy. They’ll have different effects on each individual, so make sure to discuss other options with your doctor.

Coping Methods and Support Systems

Lastly, coping methods and support systems can be another non-medication based way to deal with narcolepsy and its effects. While it may not actively treat the condition, these two approaches can offer individuals with narcolepsy support for their symptoms and increased safety.

Talking about life with narcolepsy can help those around you better understand your condition. You can discuss its effects with your family as well as employers or teachers to help them understand what kinds of accommodations you might need. You can discuss options like taking naps, breaking up monotonous tasks, or even talking brisk walks throughout the day. Working these adjustments into your life can be beneficial.

You can also cope with the effects of narcolepsy by planning around your symptoms. For example, if you know you’ll be driving a long distance, talk with your doctor about your medication schedule. You may be able to structure your medications to provide the greatest alertness when you need it the most. You can also develop other coping strategies, like taking breaks for naps or exercise as you begin to become drowsy.

Local support groups for yourself or your loved ones can also be helpful. Search for support groups in your area, and you’ll be able to meet others who have the same condition. This can bring greater understanding and help you feel a sense of support as you cope with narcolepsy.

Heather Fishel