When a Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice study showed that a variety of stress- and fatigue-related issues have been improved through functional medicine, Jose Colon, MD, MPH, was far from surprised.

For years, he’s seen the benefits of utilizing functional medicine, a science-based healthcare approach with an emphasis on addressing the root causes of chronic diseases.

Through his clinical practice, Colon, the founder of Paradise Sleep, has found taking an integrative functional medicine approach to treating sleep disorders—including narcolepsy—to be very effective.

“When we look to treating sleep disorders, we often spend a lot of time worrying about the nighttime but it’s especially important to address what’s going on during the daytime as well,” says Colon, author of The Sleep Diet-A Novel Approach to Insomnia. “I think of disorders like narcolepsy, a 24-hour disorder.”

That means helping patients with narcolepsy look at other factors that contribute to excessive sleepiness, such as their lifestyle choices. Colon says it’s all about helping patients make lifestyle adjustments that will help improve their condition (along with the sleep disorder medication that’s necessary).

While treatment approaches and methods vary from patient to patient, one lifestyle change Colon has recommended to some narcolepsy patients is a low glycemic diet. Eating low glycemic foods has been found to improve mood and lower fatigue, according to a 2010 study.

“Patients like to know what’s going on with their disorder and what kind of lifestyle accommodations we can make,” says Colon. “That includes scheduling naps or making nutritional changes to ultimately improve the quality of life among patients that have excessive daytime sleepiness.”

Other recommendations include reminding patients to stay hydrated, since fatigue can be a sign of dehydration. Even trying out essential oils in the peppermint or citrus variety to maintain wakefulness sometimes provides a needed boost.

“There are of course medications that can sustain alertness but sometimes a patient just needs to get through a test, sometimes a patient just needs to get through a meeting, and it is an option that you can add another medication or give them another short-acting medication. But another option is that they can look at another option backed by science that can be helpful,” says Colon.

Will functional medicine approaches become more prevalent in our conversations about narcolepsy?

Most likely so.

“I think we’re making movements, and if you take a look at the amount of data on mindfulness today and the amount of data that was on mindfulness 10 years ago, it’s a boom in the amount of information that’s out there,” says Colon.