Hypersomnia

Written by Heaven Stubblefield | Published on January 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 8, 2014

What Is Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is a condition that causes a patient to feel sleepy throughout the day. It may occur even after long stretches of sleep time. It can be a primary condition or a secondary condition. Secondary hypersomnia is caused by another medical condition. Hypersomniacs have difficulty functioning during the day because they are frequently or always tired.

Types of Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia can be primary or secondary.

Primary hypersomnia occurs with no other medical conditions present. 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, as well as others. These conditions cause poor sleep at night, so patients feel tired during the day.

Hypersomnia is not narcolepsy, which causes unexpected and uncontrollable napping. Hypersomniacs can stay awake on their own, but they feel fatigued.

What Causes Hypersomnia?

Primary hypersomnia is thought to be caused by problems in the brain systems that control sleep and waking functions.

Secondary hypersomnia is caused by conditions that cause fatigue. For example, sleep apnea can cause hypersomnia because patients have trouble breathing at night.

Some medications can also cause hypersomnia. Frequent drug and alcohol use may trigger sleepiness during the day. Other possible causes are low thyroid function and head injury.

Who Is at Risk for Hypersomnia?

People with conditions that make them tired during the day are most at risk for hypersomnia. These conditions include sleep apnea, kidney conditions, heart conditions, brain conditions, atypical depression, and low thyroid function.

People who smoke or drink regularly are also at risk of developing hypersomnia. Medications that cause drowsiness can cause side effects similar to hypersomnia.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypersomnia?

The main sign of hypersomnia is constant tiredness. A person may take naps throughout the day without ever relieving drowsiness. Hypersomniacs have difficulty waking from long periods of sleep.

Other symptoms of hypersomnia include:

  • low energy
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • loss of appetite
  • slow thinking or speech
  • difficulty remembering
  • restlessness

How Is Hypersomnia Diagnosed?

To diagnose hypersomnia, a doctor will review a patient's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam can test for alertness.

Several tests can be used to diagnose hypersomnia:

  • Sleep diary: The patient records sleep and awake times through the night to record sleeping patterns.
  • Epworth Sleepiness Scale: The patient rates sleepiness to determine the severity of the condition.
  • Multiple sleep latency test: The patient takes a monitored nap during the day. The test measures the types of sleep experienced.
  • Polysomnogram: The patient stays at a sleep center overnight. A machine monitors brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, oxygen levels, and breathing function.

How Is Hypersomnia Treated?

Hypersomnia can be treated in the following ways:

Medications

Many narcolepsy drugs can treat hypersomnia. These include amphetamine, methylphenidate, and modafinil. They are stimulants that help a patient feel more awake.

Home Care

A doctor may recommend getting on a regular sleeping schedule. Avoiding certain activities can also improve symptoms. Most patients are asked not to drink or use drugs. A doctor may also recommend a high-nutrition diet. This helps to maintain energy levels naturally.

What Is the Outlook for Hypersomnia?

Some hypersomniacs can improve their symptoms with the right lifestyle changes. Treatments can help this condition. Some people never get full relief. This is not a life threatening condition but it may impact a person's quality of life.

How Is Hypersomnia Prevented?

Some forms of hypersomnia cannot be prevented. To avoid the risk of hypersomnia, do not drink alcohol. Create a peaceful sleeping environment. Avoid medications that cause drowsiness, as well as working or partying late at night.

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