Hypersomnia is a condition characterized by repeated episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or excessive sleep at night.
People who experience hypersomnia can fall asleep at any time, such as launching WebMD for example at work or when they drive. They may have other sleep-related problems, including lack of energy and difficulty thinking clearly.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 40 percent of people have some symptoms of hypersomnia from time to time.
Type of Hypersomnia
Primary hypersomnia occurs without other medical conditions. The only symptom is excessive fatigue.
Secondary hypersomnia is caused by other medical conditions. These can include sleep apnea, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, and chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition causes poor sleep at night, making you feel tired during the day.
Hypersomnia is not the same as narcolepsy, which is a neurological condition that causes sudden sleep attacks that cannot be prevented during the daytime. People with hypersomnia will stay awake by themselves, but they feel tired.
Causes of Hypersomnia
Primary hypersomnia is thought to be caused by a problem in the brain system that controls sleep and waking functions. Secondary hypersomnia is the result of conditions that cause fatigue or lack of sleep. For example, sleep apnea can cause hypersomnia because it can cause breathing difficulties at night, forcing people to wake up several times throughout the night. The following are other causes of hypersomnia:
- Hypersomnia may be caused by other sleep disorders (such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea), autonomic nervous system dysfunction, or abuse of drugs or alcohol
- In some cases, hypersomnia can be caused by physical problems, such as tumors, head trauma, or injury to the central nervous system
- Certain medications, or stopping certain medications when you are addicted (dropping out), can also cause hypersomnia
- Medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, depression, encephalitis, epilepsy, or obesity can cause this disorder
- Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to hIpersomnia; and in other cases, the cause is unknown
- Usually, hypersomnia is first recognized in adolescence or young adulthood.
Symptoms of Hypersomnia
In contrast to feeling tired from lack of sleep or disturbed at night, hypersomnia sufferers are forced to take naps repeatedly during the day, often at inappropriate times such as at work, while eating, or in conversation. Daytime naps usually do not provide relief from symptoms. Patients often have difficulty waking up from a deep sleep, and may feel confused.
Other symptoms include:
- Easily offended
- Decreased energy
- Think slow
- Speak slowly
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble remembering
Some sufferers lose the ability to function in family, social life, work, or other conditions.
To diagnose hypersomnia, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. Physical examination can test vigilance. Doctors use several tests to diagnose hypersomnia, including:
- Sleep diary: You record sleep time and stay up all night to track sleep patterns
- Epworth Sleepiness Scale: You assess your sleepiness to determine the severity of the condition
- Some sleep latency tests: You take a nap during the day. This test measures the types of sleep you are experiencing
- Polysomnogram: You stayed in a sleep center overnight. The machine monitors brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, oxygen levels, and respiratory function.
Treatment is symptomatic. Changes in behavior, such as avoiding night work and social activities that delay sleep, and diet may be helpful. Patients should avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Stimulants such as the following may be prescribed
- Methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin)
- Modafinil (Provigil)
Other drugs used to treat hypersomnia include:
- Clonidine (Catapres)
- Bromocriptine (Parlodel)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
Prognosis of Hypersomnia
The prognosis for people with hypersomnia depends on the cause of the disorder. While the disturbance itself is not life threatening, it can have serious consequences, such as a car accident caused by falling asleep while driving. Attacks usually continue indefinitely.
Research on hypersomnia
Many organizations and communities do research on hypersomnia. The purpose of this research is to increase scientific understanding of the condition, find better diagnostic and treatment methods, and find ways to prevent it.
Who is at risk of experiencing hypersomnia?
People with conditions that make them tired during the day are most at risk for hypersomnia, as reported by Healthline. These conditions include sleep apnea, kidney conditions, heart conditions, brain conditions, atypical depression, and low thyroid function. The American Sleep Association states that this condition affects men more than women.
People who smoke or drink regularly also are at risk of developing hypersomnia. Medications that cause drowsiness can have side effects similar to hypersomnia.
Prevention of Hypersomnia
There is no way to prevent some form of hypersomnia. You can reduce the risk of hypersomnia by creating a calm sleep environment and avoiding alcohol. Also avoid drugs that cause drowsiness and avoid working late at night.