Sleep Disorders Excessive Hypersomnia

Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by sleeping too much, experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness or a combination of the two. Hypersomnia is not the same as feeling tired due to poor quality sleep or not getting enough sleep. Often, people with hypersomnia fall asleep suddenly throughout the day, a symptom the condition shares with narcolepsy.

Symptoms of Hypersomnia

Symptoms of hypersomnia often develop in adolescence or early adulthood. People with hypersomnia may sleep for up to 12 hours at a time, but still wake up feeling tired. Individuals may struggle to wake up after deep sleep and seem disoriented and confused. Hypersomnia often develops gradually, making it difficult for people to realize they are sleeping too much.

Signs associated with hypersomnia include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy levels
  • Memory problems
  • “Nap attacks” during the day
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping too much
  • Slow speech
  • Slow thought processes.

Excessive sleepiness and sleep attacks increase the risk of accidents and injury, especially if a sleep attack occurs while driving or operating machinery. Personal relationships and work performance may also suffer.

Excessive Sleep, Hypersomnia and Narcolepsy

Hypersomnia has many features in common with narcolepsy. Both disorders can result in sleep attacks, for example. Hypersomnia, however, lacks certain defining features of narcolepsy. Cataplexy and REM sleep disorders are not seen with hypersomnia, and sleep paralysis is uncommon in cases of hypersomnia.

Hypersomnia Causes

Hypersomnia may occur with no identifiable cause, in which case the condition is called “idiopathic hypersomnia.” Severe, recurrent hypersomnia may be diagnosed as Kleine-Levin syndrome.

In other cases, hypersomnia may be related to another, underlying condition. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea may cause hypersomnia symptoms, as do nervous system disorders, tumors and injury to the brain or central nervous system. If the hypersomnia is related to an injury to the head or central nervous system, it may be called “post-traumatic hypersomnia.”

Physical conditions that can cause hypersomnia include:

  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Encephalitis (swelling/inflammation of the brain, often due to infection)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Obesity.

Hypersomnia symptoms can sometimes be traced to medication side effects. Substance abuse can also result in excessive sleeping and hypersomnia.

Depression, Hypersomnia and Insomnia

Hypersomnia is a common symptom of major depression. Hypersomnia can also affect people with bipolar disorder. Depression often disrupts sleep patterns, and is capable of causing either excessive sleep or insomnia.

Hypersomnia Treatment

Because the causes of excessive sleep are often unknown, hypersomnia treatment often focuses on controlling symptoms. Stimulants can be prescribed to prevent people from sleeping too much.

Hypersomnia treatment options include lifestyle changes. Practicing good sleep hygiene and avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bedtime may help people suffering from too much sleep. Working the night shift is not recommended for people with hypersomnia. Social activities that disrupt a regular sleep schedule should also be avoided. Some people find that a scheduled nap during the day lowers the risk of sudden sleep attacks and works well as a supportive hypersomnia treatment.

Resources

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Idiopathic hypersomnia. Retrieved August 28, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/hypersomnia/.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2008). NINDS hypersomnia information page. Retrieved August 28, 2010, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/hypersomnia/hypersomnia.htm.

PyschNet. (n.d.). Hypersomnia. Retrieved August 28, 2010, from http://www.psychnet-uk.com/dsm_iv/hypersomnia.htm.

South Texas Sleep Disorder Clinic. (n.d.). Sleep disorders: Hypersomnia. Retrieved September 2, 2010, from http://www.southtexassleep.com/disorders/hypersomnia.htm.