What is hypersomnia? – Causes, Symptoms, and More

We’ve all experienced what it feels like to go a day or two without sleep. We are irritable, unable to fully concentrate, and have low motivation for doing life’s tasks. When this feeling of sleepiness persists, these symptoms amplify and it becomes more than just uncomfortable tiredness.

At this point you may wonder, “what if it’s more than just a touch of sleepiness?” What if it’s a constant, doggedness that makes it difficult to do even simple tasks? In your research for possible answers, you come across various sleep disorders, including hypersomnia. You may be wondering, “what is hypersomnia?” at this point, which means that you’ve come to the perfect place. The following article details the definition of hypersomnia, offers some suggestions for what causes excessive sleeping, as well as possible treatments available to help you get back on your feet and to stop sleepwalking through life.

What is hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia symptoms are mainly characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, making it extremely difficult to stay awake during the day. Those suffering from hypersomnia tend to sleep for more than 9 hours in a period of 24 hours. The sleepiness of those experiencing hypersomnia is not attributed to disrupted nighttime sleep or an issue with their circadian rhythm.

Hypersomnia FAQ

Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder than is mainly characterized by excessive sleeping and excessive sleepiness during the day. It affects between 4% and 6% of the population, and has similar symptoms to narcolepsy and insomnia. Those suffering from hypersomnia may find normal, daily tasks to be extremely difficult, and as a result of their excessive sleepiness their social, professional, and personal lives may begin to suffer. If you think you may suffer from hypersomnia it’s best to seek help from a medical professional.
Idiopathic hypersomnia means that there are unknown causes for the hypersomnia. Symptoms of idiopathic hypersomnia are essentially the same symptoms of hypersomnia and they include: excessive daytime sleepiness, getting more than the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep per night and still feeling drowsy during the day, difficulty waking from sleep, sleep inertia (state of poor coordination and confusion after waking), taking long naps that still aren’t satisfying, and cognitive dysfunction (poor memory, difficulty concentrating).
Hypersomnia is classified as a sleep disorder, but mental illness can have a great effect on sleep and vice versa. When poor sleep is part of the equation, individuals are at greater risks of developing or worsening symptoms of mental illnesses. On the other hand, if a mental illness already exists for an individual, poor sleep is likely a symptom of the mental illness.
Excessive sleeping could be caused by a variety of things. There may be an underlying disease or disorder present that is causing excessive sleepiness. Anxiety or depression (or other mental illnesses) could be a root cause of excessive sleeping, but also may be a result of excessive sleeping. Keeping a sleep diary may be an excellent way to discover potential causes for excessive sleeping.
Oversleeping is definitely a symptom of depression, meaning that hypersomnia may come along with symptoms of depression, but the reverse also may be true. Hypersomnia causes feelings of heightened depression or anxiety in some, and anxiety and depression may also cause hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia, commonly referred to as oversleeping, only affects between 4% and 6% of all adults, meaning that it is a fairly uncommon sleep disorder.
The reasons for excessive sleeping varies from individual to individual, meaning that the treatment for excessive sleeping will vary between individuals as well. If you also suffer from depression, going to see a therapist or taking doctor prescribed medicine may work best for you. If you suffer from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, your treatment may involve other, stimulating medications, a CPAP machine, behavioral therapy, or a number of other suggested treatments.
Both those who suffer from narcolepsy and those who suffer from hypersomnia may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, but there are some key differences. One of the main characteristics of narcolepsy is experiencing sudden sleep attacks. Individuals with hypersomnia may be oversleeping consistently, but they are able to stay awake once they are awake. Staying awake is much more difficult for those with narcolepsy, and they may experience instant attacks of sleepiness where they must lay down.
A doctor must diagnose hypersomnia after putting an individual through a series of tests to determine the quality of sleep and activity in the brain during sleep. You may be asked to participate in an overnight sleep study at a sleep lab, or you may be sent home with a device that monitors your sleep. Generally sleep patients are asked to rate their sleepiness on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale during each doctor visit as well to get a better picture of how sleep is affecting your life.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether your oversleeping is interfering with your life. If the answer is yes, then yes, it is not good to be oversleeping. If you are sleeping for more than 8-9 hours per night on a consistent basis, it may be time to talk to a doctor to get a better idea of what is causing your excessive sleepiness.
Excessive daytime sleepiness may be caused by a number of factors including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, narcolepsy, hypersomnia, or numerous other potential causes. For individuals with primary hypersomnia, excessive sleepiness is caused by irregularities with sleep and wake cycles in the brain.
Think back to a time in your life when you took a nap, were oversleeping longer than you meant to, and woke up feeling groggy and irritable, almost worse than when you laid down in the first place. This is a fairly common occurrence for individuals that aren’t suffering from a sleep disorder, but if you find yourself constantly tired though you feel as though you’re oversleeping consistently, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
When you have an excessive sleep disorder you may want to take steps to reduce your sleep in a day. It’s important to consider what causes your excessive sleeping first in order to begin the hypersomnia treatment that works best for you. Hypersomnia treatment may be as simple as limiting your naps, setting multiple alarms to ensure that you wake up on time, and drinking stimulating beverages, such as caffeine, to help combat feelings of drowsiness. If you suffer from hypersomnia or another excessive sleep disorder that persists for more than two weeks and is negatively impacting your life, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking a prescription stimulant to help combat powerful sleepiness.

What are the types of hypersomnia?

There are two predominant types of hypersomnia: primary and secondary hypersomnia. Primary hypersomnia symptoms occur when no other medical conditions are present and the main symptom is excessive sleepiness. Secondary hypersomnia symptoms are generally due to another medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, kidney failure, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Conditions such as these may disrupt sleep during the night, leading to excessive tiredness during the day.

Some may confuse hypersomnia symptoms with narcolepsy symptoms, but the main difference between these two is that those suffering from narcolepsy have uncontrollable sleep attacks during the day, whereas those with hypersomnia can stay awake. Both, technically, are known as excessive sleep disorders.

What causes hypersomnia?

Primary hypersomnia stands alone as something that is not the cause of another medical issue, and may be a result of issues with the sleep and wake functions in the brain. It may also be a result of the use of certain medications or medication withdrawal. In some cases, individuals seem to have a genetic component for hypersomnia because it occurs in clusters within their family, but with others it may be something that doesn’t affect anyone else in their family.

Secondary hypersomnia may be caused by a number of different things because it is present alongside other conditions that cause serious drowsiness as a side effect. Conditions such as sleep apnea may trigger hypersomnia because it disrupts an individual’s sleep throughout the night. Frequent drug and alcohol use may also cause symptoms of secondary hypersomnia.

What are the symptoms of hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia symptoms range from sleeping longer than the normal 8-9 hours per day to mild hallucinations. Feeling constantly tired is one of the main symptoms of hypersomnia, but many of the main symptoms of insomnia are also found with hypersomnia. Symptoms of of hypersomnia may include: restlessness, loss of appetite, anxiety, low energy, hallucinations, slow thinking or speech, and poor memory. For some, the inability to function in social, familial, or occupational settings may also be due to hypersomnia symptoms.

How is hypersomnia diagnosed?

Consistent drowsiness throughout the day is the biggest indicator of hypersomnia and doctors may order a series of tests in order to rule out other issues. More often than not a doctor will ask you to keep a sleep diary to keep track of potential factors that may be getting in the way of a restful night.

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is used to determine the sleepiness of someone experiencing a long period of difficulty sleeping. Doctors may use this scale in order to more fully understand your level of sleepiness. A multiple sleep latency test may also be used while you take a nap during the day in order to test the types of sleep you experience. A polysomnogram is another test that a doctor may recommend in order to get a better picture of what your sleep looks like at night.
The polysomnogram test is where you stay overnight at a sleep center and are hooked up to a machine that monitors brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, etc. This is one of the most effective ways to better understand the sleep difficulty an individual is going through.

How Is Hypersomnia Treated?

Depending on the cause of your hypersomnia, treatments are as varied as the individual suffering from the disorder. Since many difficulties with sleep are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors, an in-depth look into your sleep diary may point to some changes in habits that need to be made. Getting on a regular sleep schedule is huge as a hypersomnia treatment, along with avoiding behaviors before bedtime such as alcohol or drug use. A diet that is highly nutritious may also play a big role in helping the sufferer of hypersomnia maintain high levels of energy in a more natural way. When these lifestyle changes don’t work, medications for hypersomnia treatment may be prescribed.

Medications

Drugs used for narcolepsy such as amphetamine, methylphenidate, and modafinil, are stimulating and may be prescribed as a hypersomnia treatment. Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed to people suffer from sleeplessness.

If you are suffering from secondary hypersomnia, any medications you may take for another physical or mental problem may also help with your hypersomnia. Individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea, for example, may be given a CPAP machine. These CPAP machines (continuous positive airway pressure) are worn as a mask over the individual’s mouth and helps their airways remain open throughout the night.

It is possible that you may currently be taking medications that are interfering with you sleep. If you are having consistent difficulties sleeping it may be wise to talk to your doctor and be sure to bring any medications (over the counter or otherwise) that you are taking. Ensuring a good night of sleep may be as simple as switching out one medication for another because they may be interacting in a way that disrupts your nighttime rest.

Conclusion

Good sleep is something we tend to take for granted until we start having difficulties with it. Getting good rest consistently is one of the keys to living a healthy, well-balanced life, and if you’re not getting consistent rest, every area of your life is negatively affected in some capacity. If you suffer from an excessive sleep disorder such as hypersomnia, just know that you’re not alone. Hypersomnia affects 4% to 6% of the general population.

Resources, such as this guide outlining “what is hypersomnia?”, are available to help provide information and to urge individuals to talk to their doctors in order to find a solution that works best for you.

Sleep Authority by Resident