Hypersomnia

By:    Published: November 8, 2011

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A lot of people have sleeping problems, but for some people following a regular sleeping pattern is nearly impossible. Here, you can explore a little known, but serious, sleep disorder that affects about five percent of the population at any given time. According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 40 percent of people in America have some symptoms of hypersomnia at some point in their lives.

What Is Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder that causes a person to want to sleep at inappropriate times. While many people can be over tired or get sleepy in the middle of the day, hypersomnia is different. Those with this sleep disorder suffer from a debilitating tiredness despite getting a good night’s sleep. They are compelled to nap repeatedly throughout the day.

While hypersomnia may sound like narcolepsy, the two are in fact different, but they are related. The difference between hypersomnia and narcolepsy mostly has to do with being able to resist the urge to sleep. In the case of narcolepsy, the person has no ability to resist sleep urges and the sleep lasts for a shorter duration. Those with hypersomnia can resist the urge to sleep, but when they do sleep it is typically for a longer period of time. Narcolepsy can be a cause of hypersomnia. Typically hypersomnia occurs late in adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms often will begin before the age of 30, and they will continue if left untreated.

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no single cause of hypersomnia, but rather it is thought that several factors contribute to hypersomnia.

  • Hypersomnia can be caused by other sleep problems, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. It can also caused by dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system as well as drug or alcohol abuse.
  • In some cases brain injuries, head trauma, brain tumors, or physical problems can also cause hypersomnia.
  • Health problems such as obesity, epilepsy, encephalitis, or multiple sclerosis can cause hypersomnia, as well as mental health problems like depression.
  • Some medications can cause hypersomnia as well as withdrawing from medications.
  • Though more research needs to be done, it is thought that there could be a genetic component that predisposes some people to hypersomnia.

Risk factors for hypersomnia include:

  • Obesity
  • Working the night shift
  • Female
  • Depression
  • Long haul truck driver

Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms associated with hypersomnia, though most are ambiguous. They can easily be associated with any number of other conditions, which is one of the reasons that hypersomnia often goes undiagnosed.

The most prevalent symptom of hypersomnia is an excessive sleepiness that lasts for a month or more. The sleepiness can occur exclusive of any other illness or medical condition, though it is often triggered by some other medical or psychological problem.

Prolonged nighttime sleep, with difficulty waking in the morning, called sleep inertia, is quite common as well. People with hypersomnia are compelled to nap repeatedly throughout the day, but even after napping they still feel tired.

Other symptoms include irritation, anxiety, restlessness, decreased energy, foggy thinking, speech difficulty, loss of appetite, memory problems and sometimes even hallucinations.

Hypersomnia can keep people from being able to function in normal family, work and social situations.

Because diagnosing hypersomnia can be difficult, doctors use a few different diagnostic tests to help determine if the problem is hypersomnia or something else. These include blood tests, a CT scan, a sleep study, or an electroencephalogram (EEG). These tests will give doctors a more complete picture of the problem.

Treatment

Treatment for hypersomnia is symptomatic, meaning that the only way to treat hypersomnia is to treat the individual symptoms. This may include a multi-faceted approach or multiple medications, depending upon the symptoms someone is experiencing.

There are many medications used to treat hypersomnia. They are:

  • Stimulants such as amphetamine, modafinil, or methylphenidate are used to increase wakefulness during the day. These medications can be habit forming so they much be closely monitored by a doctor. They often lose their effectiveness over time, meaning that the dosage will have to be increased in order to remain effective.
  • Medications such as clonidine, levodopa, bromocriptine, anti-depressants and MAOIs are used as well to treat causative problems such as atypical depression.
  • If the hypersomnia is caused by sleep apnea, a doctor may prescribe a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. This keeps the airway from collapsing and disrupting sleep.
  • Behavioral changes such as avoiding late night work or social activities can help regulate the body’s sleep cycle, reducing the risk that someone will experience hypersomnia.
  • Dietary changes such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sugar in the evenings can help people sleep more soundly so that they wake feeling rested.

While hypersomnia can be frustrating and debilitating, there is treatment available to help restore normal sleep patterns. It’s important for people to talk with their doctors if they feel they are experiencing sleep problems, and sometimes they need to be persistent. A good night’s sleep is essential to good health and overall quality of life.

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