Hypersomnia is a sleep related disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness in people, often irregardless of the presence of other sleeping disorders, or poor sleep hygiene. Hypersomnia shares many similarities with narcolepsy in terms of symptoms, but where people with narcolepsy tend to suffer poor sleep and have other sleep related disorders, people with hypersomnia may have none of these, and in fact may get more sleep than would otherwise seem necessary in most people.
People with hypersomnia will often sleep in excess of 10 hours, and are very difficult to wake during this time. Despite what would be considered an abundance of sleep for most people, they will still feel tired during the day, and may feel compelled to nap multiple times, even at times or in places that would not be considered socially acceptable. Like the prolonged sleep periods, these naps often provide only short periods of relief from the chronic tiredness, and another desired nap session will quickly approach.
Hypersomnia may be caused by other sleeping disorders, though these would generally be categorized as such , and not as hypersomnia. It may also be a case of genetics in some people, and could also be the cause of certain drugs or medications, brain damage, or other medical disorders like fibromyalgia. In some cases, hypersomnia has no directly attributable cause and these cases are classified as idiopathic hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia is a relatively rare sleeping disorder, affecting under 1% of the population. It is slightly more common in females than in males, and typically starts in early adulthood. It is very rarely found in children.
Diagnosing hypersomnia will require some tests to make ensure there aren’t any other medical conditions or sleeping disorders causing the excessive sleepiness. A doctor may want you to maintain a sleep diary for one or more weeks before setting up these tests, and will also want to know the length of time the excessive daytime sleepiness has afflicted you for. A diagnosis of hypersomnia will probably not be made unless the offending symptoms have been around for at least three uninterrupted months, and with no apparent cause.
Polysomnogram and multiple sleep latency tests are both good tools in detecting hypersomnia or other sleeping disorders. The multiple sleep latency test measures the speed at which a person enters deep sleep over numerous 2 hour intervals. People with hypersomnia and other related disorders like narcolepsy tend to fall asleep very quickly, and this is considered the best test for detected these sleeping disorders. A multiple sleep latency test of less than 10 minutes may indicate one of the above sleeping disorders. The polysomnogram test measures the subject’s brain waves and bodily movements during sleep phases, and this is good for detecting other sleep disorders that may be leading to the daytime sleepiness. If nothing abnormal is detected during this test, you may be asked to come back for a 2nd test to validate the data, and barring changes in the results, it may be determined that you have hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia is most commonly treated with stimulants like amphetamine and modafinil. Other treatments could include antidepressants. Behavioural changes are also instituted in most cases, and for those with idiopathic hypersomnia, this is one of the only treatment methods available at present.
Proper sleep hygiene is the most important behavioural change that must be implemented. This includes setting a regular sleeping schedule, having a sleeping environment that is well suited to quality sleep, a comfortable bed and pillow, and avoiding caffeine or other stimulants near bedtime.
Some treatment plans may include an attempt at avoiding naps completely through the use of daytime stimulants, others will attempt to remove naps systematically, while others will encourage naps in balanced doses and at proper times and locations. How hypersomnia gets treated, and with what ultimate goal(s) in mind is up to the patient, and these should be ambitious yet realistic.
Reviewed September, 2007