Could Fasting Improve Narcolepsy Symptoms Short-Term?

Content Note: While there are clinically proven health benefits to intermittent fasting, it is not recommended for children and teens under the age of 18, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with diabetes or blood sugar problems, and those with a history of eating disorders. Talk to your doctor before starting a new fasting or dietary regimen.1

My relationship with food has suffered since my type 1 narcolepsy onset. My new exhaustion resulted in me craving sugary foods and caused me to gain a massive amount of weight.

With medication, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and caloric restriction, I found my way to a healthy weight with narcolepsy. But I still fast during the day, even though fasting can trigger a binge-eating episode for me.

Why do I fast?

I notice myself feeling more energetic when I fast.

As soon as I eat something, I know that I will need a nap afterwards. It’s a fact of life for me. This means that lunch dates with friends are not possible unless someone else is driving me home!

Despite being treated for my type 1 narcolepsy, I still struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness that is easily triggered by consuming food. While being tired after eating can be a sign of diabetes, my blood sugar levels are normal. So why does this happen to me?

What is intermittent fasting, and how does it work?

Intermittent Fasting is an eating plan that balances periods of fasting and eating on a regular schedule. There are several different ways to do it, but all are based on choosing regularly scheduled periods of time to eat and fast in alternation. One option is only eating during an 8-hour period and then fasting for the other 16 hours in a day.1

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, intermittent fasting works by "prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and begins burning fat." Research shows intermittent fasting is not only a way to manage your weight, but also some forms of disease.1

Researchers posit that intermittent fasting might have "possible effects on the prevention and progress of brain-related disorders in animals and humans." Clinical studies have shown benefits for symptoms and disease progression in epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis. However, there are limited studies in humans measuring the impact of intermittent fasting on neurological disease, and more research is needed.2

It is important to talk to your doctor before trying a lifestyle change like intermittent fasting, as longer periods of fasting (more than 24 hours) may not be beneficial to you and may be dangerous.1

How do I fast?

I am not a doctor, so I can only speak to my experience. I try to skip breakfast most days, unless I have time in my schedule for a nap. Even then, if I eat before dinnertime at all, I will become more groggy and sleepy. If I eat at 9 AM, for example, I will try to save my next meal for 6 PM or later. Then I can eat my calories for the day and feel full before retiring to my bed.

I have only noticed short-term improvements in my narcolepsy symptoms from fasting. Although I wish I could report that my symptoms improved long-term from these eating habits, it just isn’t true.

I hope that as scientists continue to study the gut-microbiome-brain axis, we will be able to better understand the mechanisms that lead to neurological disease onset. In doing so, we may find ways to target narcolepsy treatments towards the source of the disease rather than just treating the symptoms.

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