Uncovering the Truth About Hypersomnia

We’ve all been sleepy at one point or another during the day – maybe even really tired, but for some, this is a serious condition. Hypersomnia may not be as well known as we’d like, which is why we wanted to spread the word so everyone can know about this condition. Read on to see if you could have hypersomnia and find ways to treat it!

 

What is it?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states, “Hypersomnia is characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged nighttime sleep. Different from feeling tired due to lack of or interrupted sleep at night, persons with hypersomnia are compelled to nap repeatedly during the day, often at inappropriate times such as at work, during a meal or in conversation.” 1 Another name for hypersomnia is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). This can be a primary or secondary condition – meaning the result of another condition.

Dr. Mostafavi states, “Hypersomnia is really just excessive sleepiness or trouble staying awake, and there are many reasons why someone could have hypersomnia. It differs from insomnia, as that is the inability to sleep. Hypersomnia is the inability to stay awake. Some think of it as a disorder, but I see it as more of a symptom of an underlying condition/disorder rather than a disease itself.”

 

What are the different types?

As stated, there are two main types: primary and secondary. We’ll explain these and then move into the specifics. Primary hypersomnia is thought to be caused by problems in the brain systems that control sleep and waking functions. Secondary hypersomnia is the result of conditions that cause fatigue or insufficient sleep. For example, if you have sleep apnea and are kept awake at night by troubled breathing, it can cause hypersomnia.

In regards to secondary hypersomnia, Dr. Mostafavi says, “There are typically two common diagnoses that show this is a symptom: OSA or insomnia. We know a lot about sleep apnea, and it is usually fixed with a CPAP or PAP device. If that alone doesn’t solve it, then we find and offer other methods of treatment. Insomnia would be the second cause, as this can be caused by emotional issues, depression, racing thoughts, physical issues/pain (male prostate issues) and so on.” If you believe you’re experiencing any of these issues, it could be causing your hypersomnia. 

He also says, “Another uncommon type is idiopathic hypersomnia. This is a sleep disorder in which a person is excessively sleepy (hypersomnia) during the day and has great difficulty being awakened from sleep. Idiopathic means there is not a clear cause  – meaning not overweight or having an underlying cause, etc. No one really knows much about this or how to treat it, sadly.”

There are also very rare types of hypersomnia, including:

  • Menstrual Hypersomnia – in women who get excessive sleepiness when they are on their cycle/period. It leaves when their cycle is over. 
  • Kleine Levin Syndrome – is a rare disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive sleep (hypersomnia) along with cognitive and behavioral changes. Affected individuals may sleep for up to 20 hours per day during an episode. The Kleine Levin Syndrome Foundation states, “Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction. KLS episodes may continue for 10 years or more. KLS is sometimes referred to in the media as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ syndrome.” 2 There is no overall consensus on a treatment for this disorder. Some people have treated this with a large amount (1,000mg) of steroids.

 

What are the symptoms?

“Patients often have difficulty waking from a long sleep, and may feel disoriented. Other symptoms may include anxiety, increased irritation, decreased energy, restlessness, slow thinking, slow speech, loss of appetite, hallucinations and memory difficulty. Some patients lose the ability to function in family, social, occupational or other settings,” states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

There are so many different symptoms, as they can vary based on whether you experience primary or secondary insomnia. And if it’s secondary, then additional symptoms can come from the underlying cause. This means it’s extremely important to go to your doctor or a specialist to get diagnosed. Then, you’ll be able to find out what you can do to treat it! A few ways to help diagnose hypersomnia are by using a sleep diary, Epworth Sleepiness Scale, multiple sleep latency test and a polysomnogram. Advanced Sleep Medicine Services can easily help aid in your polysomnogram, as we offer in-center sleep tests!

 

How can you treat it?

Stimulants, such as amphetamine, methylphenidate and modafinil, may be prescribed. Other drugs used to treat hypersomnia include clonidine, levodopa, bromocriptine, antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. The Hypersomnia Foundation says, “Sodium oxybate is medication taken at bedtime (and again during the night) that promotes deep sleep and improves daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy.” 3 This has been shown to help those with hypersomnia. 

There are also non-drug-related options such as making changes in behavior (for example avoiding night work and social activities that delay bedtime) and diet may offer some relief. Patients should avoid alcohol and caffeine at all times, as this can make hypersomnia worse. As mentioned before, if you have an underlying condition causing your hypersomnia, such as sleep apnea, there are plenty of PAP options. This will help you breathe through the night, so you have a more restful sleep.

Now that you’ve learned more about hypersomnia, it’s time to go to your doctor and come to us for a sleep test. Once you see if something is causing your hypersomnia, you’ll be on the right path to a better night’s rest! We wish you a night of deep sleep, and are always here to answer any questions you may have – contact us today!

 

“Hypersomnia Information Page.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health

 and Human Services, 27 Mar. 2019, www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Hypersomnia-Information-Page.

Trotti, Lynn M. “Treatment.” Hypersomnia Foundation, May 2019, www.hypersomniafoundation.org/about-treatment

“What Is Kleine Levin Syndrome?” KLS Foundation, https://klsfoundation.org/what-is-kleine-levin-syndrome.   

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    If you believe you’re experiencing any of these issues, and it could be causing your hypersomnia.

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    Patients should avoid alcohol and caffeine at all times, as this can make hypersomnia worse.

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    Secondary hypersomnia is the result of conditions that cause fatigue or insufficient sleep.

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    Everyone experiences daytime drowsiness and even extreme fatigue at some point, but for some people, sleepiness is a significant medical issue. The condition of hypersomnia may not be as well-known as we would want; therefore, we aimed to raise awareness of it.

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