Idiopathic hypersomnia can impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. But lifestyle changes can help you cope with its effects.

Idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) is a neurological condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty waking up, even after a full night’s sleep. Increasing sleep time may not relieve drowsiness for people with IH.

Living with IH doesn’t just affect your energy levels. People with IH may experience:

  • mental or emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, and irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • nightmares or sleep paralysis
  • hallucinations
  • headaches or dizziness
  • difficulty remembering things or organizing thoughts

These effects can impact relationships, work or school performance, and safety.

In addition to medications, lifestyle changes are often recommended by healthcare professionals to help cope with the symptoms of IH. Many people find that while lifestyle changes may not completely relieve drowsiness, they can help make living with IH more manageable.

In this article, we look at nine tips for living with IH, including recommendations for minimizing drowsiness and mitigating the effects of excessive sleepiness on your overall health and safety.

Having a daily sleep schedule is often a core component of IH care plans. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time regularly.

Avoid activities late at night that may delay your bedtime. It may also help to avoid taking naps later in the day, which may make it harder to fall asleep at night and actually worsen drowsiness.

While short naps may be helpful for people with other types of sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, many people with IH find that their naps tend to be long and hard to wake up from. This can cause grogginess and disorientation.

If you do find that you need naps during the day, developing a structured schedule that includes short naps as needed may help improve your ability to complete daily tasks. A sleep therapist may be able to help with this.

Many people with IH report using caffeine to manage their drowsiness and get through the day. While not a cure, this can provide temporary relief that helps you take care of important tasks that need to be done.

However, be sure to avoid using caffeine at times when it may disrupt your sleep schedule. Limiting caffeine use to the mornings or early afternoons may help avoid problems falling asleep at night.

It’s also important to be mindful of how much caffeine you are using. The Food and Drug Administration states that 400 milligrams (mg) per day (the amount typically found in 4 to 5 cups of coffee) is a good upper limit.

Alcohol can disrupt signaling in the brain, including many of the signals that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep.

Many people find that drinking alcohol helps them fall asleep because alcohol initially acts as a sedative that can make you sleepy. But your body metabolizes the alcohol while you sleep, causing the levels in your blood to change, which can lead to dysregulation of your body’s natural sleep signals.

Some types of medications for other conditions can cause drowsiness and may worsen the symptoms of IH. These include both over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as:

  • antihistamines
  • antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants
  • blood pressure medications
  • muscle relaxers
  • pain medications

It’s important to take your medications when you need them. Stopping medications without a backup plan can lead to health complications that may worsen IH symptoms.

Talk with your healthcare team about possible alternatives if your medications contribute to your daytime drowsiness.

Excessive daytime sleepiness may affect your ability to drive and could lead to serious injury or harm. Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when you are tired.

If you need to drive, try to plan your day around when you are most alert, and be sure to take any medications that your doctor has prescribed to help prevent drowsiness.

A survey study showed that up to 92% of respondents with IH reported concerns related to their mental health. IH can negatively affect one’s overall quality of life. Difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in regular activities, irritability, and social isolation are especially common.

If your IH symptoms are impacting your mental health, your healthcare team can help connect you with resources and professionals who may be able to help.

Experiencing excessive drowsiness or difficulty waking up can make it difficult to complete your day-to-day activities. This can be especially troubling for people with IH who also have caregiving responsibilities, like caring for children or aging parents.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. If friends or family aren’t available, professional resources may be available to help with certain daily tasks.

People who don’t know about IH may make incorrect assumptions about the work ethic or commitment capabilities of a person with IH. It may be challenging to meet expectations at work or school. These assumptions can also make it hard to maintain relationships.

However, research suggests that asking for workplace accommodations can help improve self-confidence in your abilities.

The Hypersomnia Foundation website provides recommendations for requesting educational or workplace accommodations related to IH.

Educating your friends and family about IH can help them better understand your experiences, which may help relieve stress and anxiety around maintaining these relationships.

Finding others who share your experiences and understand what you’re going through can help you feel more supported and less isolated. They may also be able to help you understand the resources available to help manage life with IH.

The Hypersomnia Alliance website lists online support groups for people living with hypersomnia. Consider exploring these groups and deciding which is right for you.

Living with IH can affect your physical and mental health. IH symptoms can also make it harder to maintain an active social life. In addition to medications, lifestyle changes can help minimize drowsiness and manage the impact of this condition on your daily activities.

If you want to make lifestyle changes to help manage IH, talk with your healthcare team about incorporating these tips to optimize your overall well-being.