There is no specific diet for narcolepsy. However, there is anecdotal evidence that the ketogenic or “keto” diet may reduce symptoms. This diet plan involves eating a low amount of carbohydrates and getting energy from fats instead.

The scientific evidence supporting the keto diet for narcolepsy is limited, but some people report that it helps them.

Dietary changes may also help with maintaining a moderate weight. Narcolepsy does not only affect sleep — doctors also link it to weight gain and obesity, even when a person consumes a typical amount of calories.

People may also find it helpful to avoid specific foods that can disrupt sleep, such as those containing caffeine or alcohol.

Continue reading for more information about narcolepsy, diet, and how nutrition may help with narcolepsy symptoms.

A plate with two fried eggs, bacon, and avocado for a person on the keto diet for narcolepsy.Share on Pinterest
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Some individuals believe that certain dietary changes help them manage their narcolepsy symptoms. Anecdotal reports suggest the keto diet may benefit some people with the condition.

However, there is a lack of clinical research proving that the keto diet reliably reduces symptoms or is safe to follow over the long term.

Keto diets are typically very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. Eating this way puts the body into ketosis, meaning the body uses its own stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates from food.

One small older 2004 study of nine people found that a keto diet improved daytime sleepiness by around 18% after 8 weeks. However, this study involved a low number of participants.

Researchers are not sure how the keto diet benefits people with narcolepsy, but it may have to do with the regulation of blood sugar levels.

Hypocretin is a chemical that regulates sleep patterns. People who have narcolepsy with cataplexy, or sudden muscle weakness, often have low levels of this neurotransmitter.

By keeping blood sugar low, a keto diet may increase neuronal activation and reduce tiredness during the day. However, research has not proven this claim.

Another potential benefit of dietary changes for narcolepsy is weight management. People with narcolepsy are more likely to have obesity than those without the condition. The keto diet may also help with reaching a moderate weight, although other diet plans may also have the same effect.

There is no specific diet for narcolepsy, and little research compares the different diet types for this condition. So far, the only dietary plan with any scientific evidence to support its use in narcolepsy is the keto diet.

The macronutrients comprising a keto diet typically divide into these approximate ratios:

  • fat: 55% to 60%
  • protein: 30% to 35%
  • carbohydrates: 5% to 10%

Specifically, in a 2,000-calorie daily diet, carbohydrates amount to 20 to 50 grams (g) per day. Additionally, fat ranges vary with keto diets and can go as high as 90%.

In comparison, a regular low carbohydrate diet is not as strict. Usually, a nonketogenic, low carbohydrate diet involves eating fewer than 130 g of carbohydrates daily.

However, the keto diet is very restrictive, so it is important to consult a doctor or registered dietitian before trying it. They can make sure someone still gets the nutrients they need.

Whether a person decides to try the keto diet for narcolepsy or not, there are some foods that doctors recommend limiting or avoiding when someone has this condition.

Consuming foods that contain caffeine later in the day, such as coffee or chocolate, may make it harder to get to sleep. It may be possible for some to use caffeine strategically in the mornings to wake up, but others may find they feel more awake without it.

Additionally, those with narcolepsy need to limit or avoid alcohol. Although it may make a person feel temporarily sleepy, it disrupts sleep overall.

If someone follows the keto diet, they need to limit their daily carbohydrate intake to no more than 50 g. To stay within these limits, it is usually necessary to avoid:

  • foods high in sugar, such as candy and cakes
  • grains, such as white bread and pasta
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash
  • legumes, such as beans and oats
  • most fruits, such as bananas and grapes

Low carbohydrate fruits and vegetables can still be part of a keto diet. It is important to include these for fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some examples include:

  • avocados
  • berries
  • olives
  • lemon
  • lime
  • leafy greens
  • bell peppers

A person can work with a registered dietitian or a doctor if they are interested in trying a keto diet. To reach and maintain ketosis, individuals need to measure their ketones regularly and stay within a specific range of macronutrients.

Find an example of a 7-day keto meal plan.

In addition to dietary changes, narcolepsy management may involve lifestyle strategies, such as:

  • sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends
  • getting exposure to natural sunlight in the morning
  • taking time to relax before bed
  • ensuring the sleep environment is cool, quiet, and dark
  • strategic napping during the day for 15–20 minutes
  • reducing stress where possible and trying relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing
  • getting regular exercise, but not in the evenings, as this may keep a person up
  • eating moderately in the evenings to avoid feeling uncomfortably full

If a person with narcolepsy is having difficulty managing their symptoms or wishes to try a specific dietary change, they can speak to a doctor.

A doctor may refer someone to a dietitian for advice on nutrition and weight management. Alternatively, if diet changes do not help, a doctor can prescribe medications, including modafinil or armodafinil, in the first instance. The second-line treatment is amphetamines.

There is no specific narcolepsy diet, although some people report that the keto diet helps them. This involves eating a very low amount of carbohydrates and getting energy from fats.

There is little scientific evidence suggesting that this diet plan works reliably or is a beneficial long-term management strategy. People with narcolepsy can consult a doctor or dietitian about this if they are interested in trying it, as the keto diet is restrictive.

Other lifestyle strategies, such as consistent sleep schedules and stress management, can help manage narcolepsy symptoms. However, if these strategies do not help, a doctor may also recommend trying medications.