Sleep disorders are incredibly common and can run the gamut from not being able to fall asleep to sleeping for too long.

According to a 2016 study, anywhere from 50 to 70 million American adults live with one or more sleep disorders. These conditions can prevent people from achieving the essential restorative sleep that’s needed to not only function properly but to maintain proper health.

While most people are generally familiar with insomnia, a condition that makes falling asleep difficult, not everyone is aware of a general sleep disorder category known as hypersomnia.

Understanding how the two conditions differ and potentially pose the same risks can help individuals struggling to get proper sleep to make informed decisions when seeking treatment.

Insomnia and hypersomnia are two conditions that sit on opposite ends of the sleep disorder spectrum. Both can impact a person’s overall well-being but in different ways.

Insomnia symptoms

Insomnia is one of the most well-known sleep disorders that centers on struggling to fall asleep, being unable to stay asleep, or a combination of the two issues. Poor sleep quality is usually the result.

Insomnia can be further categorized as either acute or chronic.

Acute insomnia is typically short-term and caused by external factors such as stress, traumatic events, work, and even personal relationships. Meanwhile, chronic insomnia is classified by sleep difficulties that last longer than a month. Typically, this type of insomnia is a byproduct of underlying health factors such as taking certain medications and even substance use.

Common symptoms include:

  • sleeping for short periods
  • lying awake for extended periods before falling asleep
  • waking up too early
  • frequently feeling as if you haven’t slept
  • staying awake for most of the night

Hypersomnia symptoms

While insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, hypersomnia is characterized as excessive daytime sleepiness. But it can also include excessive nighttime sleeping. However, this condition is more than simply being a little sleepy.

People with hypersomnia may feel like they need to sleep more because the rest they receive isn’t recuperative. More importantly, those naps may come at odd or inappropriate times such as while at work, when eating, or even in social settings. These individuals may get more than 11 hours of sleep a day, yet still, feel tired.

Unlike insomnia, hypersomnia is only a chronic condition, and it can impact mood and cognition. Common symptoms include:

Both insomnia and hypersomnia can have far-reaching impacts both for mental and physical health if they’re not well-managed. Each condition can leave a person feeling overtired and with poor energy throughout the day.

In some cases, this can be dangerous as both people with insomnia and hypersomnia have a heightened risk of impaired driving. Likewise, both sleep disorders can make focusing and cognition harder to achieve.

Long-term insomnia effects

People with acute insomnia do have a heightened risk of developing the chronic version of the condition. Often, this is because anxieties around difficulty sleeping can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Additionally, chronic insomnia has been linked with an increased risk of developing depression and high blood pressure.

Long-term hypersomnia effects

Beyond being chronically tired and drowsy, hypersomnia can interfere with a person’s daily life. Those with hypersomnia often have trouble maintaining jobs, personal relationships, or other social obligations.

Similar to insomnia, depression can also develop. But people with hypersomnia have also reported experiencing frequent headaches, dizziness, as well as cold hands and feet.

Both sleep disorders can be treated, but the approach is often different and will be catered to the severity of a person’s condition as well as what’s causing it to be present.

Treating insomnia

Developing a treatment plan for insomnia depends on whether a patient has acute or chronic insomnia. It’s also important to note that insomnia could be caused by an underlying medical disorder (like sleep apnea) and that may need to be treated before your insomnia improves.

Acute insomnia can often be treated by incorporating lifestyle changes for better sleep habits. This can include stopping all electronic device usage before bedtime, cutting back on alcohol, or even practicing mindfulness exercises to relax.

Chronic insomnia can leverage lifestyle changes as well. But it may also require a combination of medications to aid in establishing a better sleep schedule. Both chronic and acute insomnia may also use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to tackle the anxiety often associated with the condition.

Treating hypersomnia

It’s important to note that hypersomnia can require different treatment plans depending on which type an individual has.

  • Primary hypersomnia includes conditions such as narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia, and even Kleine-Levin syndrome.
  • Secondary hypersomnia is when the condition is caused by an underlying medical condition, taking medications or substance use, or even insufficient sleep syndrome.

As a result, treatment solutions may vary. Basic steps can include adhering to regular sleep times and avoiding substances like alcohol which can impact sleep as well as cognition.

For people with secondary hypersomnia, targeting the underlying health condition is a primary goal. However, people with primary hypersomnia may find relief by following the same treatment plan that’s often recommended for narcolepsy.

Can you have both insomnia and hypersomnia?

Insomnia and hypersomnia can be present simultaneously. However, in most cases, the two conditions are more likely to co-present in people actively experiencing a major depressive episode. Traumatic events and experiencing grief often disrupts the sleep schedule.

Can insomnia cause hypersomnia?

Although insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness, it’s not associated with triggering hypersomnia.

Which is worse for your health, hypersomnia or insomnia?

Although hypersomnia isn’t directly linked with a risk of adverse health outcomes such as hypertension or diabetes like chronic insomnia, it’s still a debilitating condition. Being chronically sleepy leads to impaired cognition which can impact your ability to function.

At a minimum, this can influence your career and personal relationships. But living with chronic drowsiness or tiredness can increase your risk of accidents if you drive a car, as well as a higher chance of experiencing slips and falls.

Insomnia and hypersomnia are two ends of the sleep disorder spectrum, both have the ability to become chronic conditions.

  • Insomnia: the inability to fall asleep at night, and/or stay asleep
  • Hypersomnia: excessive drowsiness and sleeping during the day

Not getting enough recuperative sleep isn’t something to take lightly. While the occasional poor night of sleep won’t impact most people, consistently failing to either get enough sleep, or getting too much can leave a person disoriented, and chronically tired, and ultimately impact their quality of life and health.