Hypersomnia: What it is, and how it impacts your health
We often hear about how people can’t seem to fall asleep, thus leading to people pulling all-nighters. In reality most are trying to go to bed. We know that insomnia can make depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms worse. Alas, insomnia has a counterpart that is known as hypersomnia – a sleeping disorder that is categorized by excessive sleeping. To learn more about the sleeping disorder, and the affects it may have on your health, continue to read the article below!
What is hypersomnia?
Hypersomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is a sleeping condition opposite to insomnia. While it’s hard for those who suffer from insomnia to fall asleep, this sleeping condition refers to excessive amounts of sleep. Those with this condition can easily sleep through the day and have a very hard time staying awake throughout it.
This can be especially scary and life-threatening to those who suffer from this condition because it can be indicative of other health problems and mental disorders. A person struggling with this sleep condition can fall asleep at their desk and even more drastically, asleep at the wheel of a car, train, or ferry. Also, it doesn’t discriminate against other machinery the individual may be operating.
According to the American Sleep Association, hypersomnia affects only 5% of the population, with the sleeping condition being more prevalent in men than in women.
Primary vs. Secondary Hypersomnia
There are a few tests that an individual has to undergo when diagnosing hypersomnia. When testing is over, results can show that a person either has primary or secondary hypersomnia. In this portion of the article, you will also learn about the causes of EDS since the types of hypersomnia are merely symptoms of more serious underlying conditions.
It is a very rare type of EDS. It originates in the brain which shows that it can be due to some other neurological phenomena. This type of hypersomnia affects less than 1% of the population and is often affiliated with more known diagnoses. These diagnoses usually include:
- Idiopathic Hypersomnia
- Kleine-Levin Syndrome: Also referred to as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome – is another rare sleeping condition. KLS is characterized by episodic hypersomnia. It is accompanied by an increased libido (hypersexuality), and an increased appetite (hyperphagia). A few months normally elapse between episodes. However, when they reoccur, episodes can last for a week or more.
Neurological disorders can also disguise itself as hypersomnia. Excessive sleepiness in an individual can be due to a dysfunctional hypothalamus, thalamus, brainstem, brain tumors, and lesions. Other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have symptoms that resemble primary hypersomnia.
Genetic disorders such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Norrie disease, and myotonic distrophy are often times associated with this condition as well. In such cases, this disorder may be considered as a secondary symptom to one of the genetic disorders previously listed.
It is a symptom as a result of another underlying disease: Depression, prescription drugs such as tranquilizers or antihistamines, sleep apnea, sleep deprivation, multiple sclerosis, obesity, and epilepsy.
Nacrolepsy vs. Idiopathic Hypersomnia
Both of these disorders are commonly compared to one another. However, there are some key differences to take in consideration before you decide to group them together. Polysomnograms (PSG) report that those who have narcolepsy fall quickly into REM sleep, whereas idiopathic hypersomnia patients fall quickly into NREM sleep.
Narcoleptics frequently wake up from nighttime sleep, and suffer from insomnia, while patients who have idiopathic hypersomnia can go a whole night without waking up. Another difference is how each patient feels after waking up from a daytime nap. Narcoleptics wake up feeling fully refreshed, and idiopathic hypersomnia patients still feel as if they haven’t slept enough. It is also possible that a person can have narcolepsy and hypersomnia, but it is not possible to have narcolepsy, and idiopathic hypersomnia occur simultaneously.
How is hypersomnia detected?
When a person suspects that they may suffer from this sleeping disorder, and they go to the doctor, a variety of sleep latency tests are used to help detect the condition. It is also possible that a person is given a PSG. This type of test is used when studying sleep behaviors and used to determine if a person suffers from a sleep disorder. While the latency tests measure the speeds at which a patient falls asleep, the PSGs measure brain wave activity, and bodily movements.
In some cases, a doctor may order a blood test, a CT scan, and perhaps an additional electroencephalogram (EEG) which measures the electrical brain activity of the subject.
A way you can detect if you have this sleeping condition is if you begin to realize you are excessively drowsy throughout the daytime. It is imperative that you speak to a doctor immediately so they can perform tests and figure out a treatment plan that can combat your EDS.
Treatments for hypersomnia
Treatments for the sleep disorder are dependent on the cause. Commonly, those who have hypersomnia, are diagnosed with sleep apnea. In this case, a doctor may prescribe a CPAP to use when sleeping. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a mask that is worn over an individual’s nose. The mask is hooked up to a machine that passes continuous airflow through the nostrils to keep airways open.
Lifestyle modifications may be advised by a doctor as well. These modifications include: trying to go to bed early and eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption. Sometimes, a medication a patient is on can be the main culprit of why they suffer from a sleeping condition. That being said, a doctor may take an individual off that medication and will prescribe another one that won’t have the same side effect.
If a person is diagnosed with primary hypersomnia, medications will be prescribed. These medications include Sodium oxybate (commonly used with narcoleptics), antidepressants, and stimulants.
Detriments to daily life
Leaving this sleeping condition left untreated could have some serious effects on your family relationships, intimate relationships, work life, social life, and overall health.
For obvious reasons, sleeping for excessive amounts of time can destroy relationships you hold dear. Sleeping for 10+ hours a night, plus long naps in the day will mean that you may miss out on family activities. You may also miss out on spending quality time with a loved one. Going out would be a chore, or perhaps you’ll fall asleep when attending an event or outing with friends. You could also be the best worker on a team, but if you’re falling asleep on the job, it will leave plenty of room for termination. It would create a vicious cycle, and just as insomnia worsens depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms, hypersomnia will have the same effect.
Other things to keep in mind is ignoring this condition means you are neglecting your health. Throughout the article, you will see that hypersomnia in most cases is just a symptom of a bigger underlying issue. If you don’t get this checked, it will allow for the problem to progress and harder to treat.
To really put it in perspective, leaving hypersomnia unchecked doesn’t only destroy interpersonal relationships, and disintegrate your health, but you can also harm other people around you. If you’re operating a vehicle and you fall asleep at the wheel – it can cause a very fatal accident. Several cases of this have happened in New York City and around the tri-state area in 2013 and 2016.
In 2013, a sleep-deprived Metro-North engineer fell asleep on the job and caused the train to go 82 mph at a curve that was only meant for only 30 mph. In 2016, two engineers in Brooklyn, New York and Hoboken, New Jersey crashed their trains into stations at high speed. Reports show that both engineers were asleep at the wheel, and weren’t diagnosed with sleep apnea until after the travesties.
Do you or someone you know suffer from this excessive sleeping disorder or sleep apnea? How did you combat it? What were some of the challenges did you face? Please let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t hesitate to start a conversation about this article. Questions and feedback are highly encouraged! 🙂
American Sleep Association (n.d.). Hypersomnia
Oelke, K. (2015). Clarifying hypersomnia disorders
Phillips, K. (2015). What is a polysomnogram test?
Webmd.com (n.d.). Sleep and Hypersomnia
Jessica is a New York City native who graduated from undergrad with her B.S in Psychology. While her focus is steadily on trauma, and how it manifests itself in different cultural and religious contexts, she enjoys writings articles about the brain, its functions, and other mental disorders. Jessica enjoys educating those on all things psychology, neuroscience, as well as sharing her experiences. Any questions you have, she encourages you to not withhold them! Start a conversation with her under her blog posts, she will be more than delighted to chat with you!