Narcolepsy is a disorder that affects 1 in 2,000 people and can have a significant impact on patients’ overall daily functioning. It is a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness, often occurring at inappropriate times and places. Patients with narcolepsy may report a combination of any of the following symptoms: fragmented nighttime sleep with frequent brief awakenings, cataplexy (sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone triggered by strong positive or negative emotions such as laughter or anger), hallucinations while falling asleep or awakening, and sleep paralysis (temporary paralysis that occurs for a few minutes when falling asleep or waking up).
Although pharmacological methods are considered the primary treatment for managing the symptoms of narcolepsy, behavioral methods play a large role in adjunctive treatment. Excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy often interfere with time spent socializing with others as well as the patient’s ability to effectively complete tasks at work and home.
These features may be disabling and can often lead to problems with employers, coworkers, family members and romantic partners. In addition, poor education regarding the disorder often leads to an inability to adequately cope with the symptoms.
Behavioral Sleep Medicine specialists work to improve the quality of life for patients with narcolepsy. They provide individuals and their families with information about narcolepsy and help them to acquire necessary skills to cope with the social impact of this condition.
Behavioral management of excessive daytime sleepiness includes the creation of personalized napping schedules, bed and wake-time scheduling, strategic use of caffeine, and dietary changes.