Hypersomnia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness or longer nighttime rest. A person with hypersomnia will often need to nap multiple times during the day. The need to rest can happen at inappropriate times, such as meal periods, while at work, or during a conversation. The naps usually do not resolve the tiredness, and the individual may have difficulty waking up. Other symptoms of hypersomnia can include anxiety, irritation, less energy, restlessness, impaired cognitive and communication skills, loss of appetite, hallucinations, and memory issues.

There are two classifications for hypersomnia: primary and secondary. Primary hypersomnia means that the condition is caused on its own. Secondary hypersomnia means the disorder results from or is linked to another condition. The primary types of hypersomnia are idiopathic hypersomnia, Kleine-Levin syndrome, and narcolepsy. The secondary types of hypersomnia are caused by medical conditions, medications or substances, regular insufficient sleep, or psychiatric disorders. Hypersomnia is not considered life-threatening, but it can have other dangerous consequences. Hypersomnia can increase one’s risk for automobile or workplace accidents. These risks can put the individual and others in danger, which is why finding ways to treat or prevent hypersomnia is vital.

What is Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is a disorder that causes extreme daytime tiredness or longer periods of rest at night. A main sign of hypersomnia is that the individual feels an urgent need to sleep during the day, sometimes several times. Sleep attacks can happen even at inappropriate times, like eating food, speaking with someone, or working. In most cases, the individual with hypersomnia will remain tired after napping. They may also have trouble waking up from sleep. Additional hypersomnia symptoms might include anxiety, irritation, reduced energy, restlessness, impaired memory or concentration, poor communication skills, loss of appetite, and hallucinations.

What are the Types of Hypersomnia?

The types of hypersomnia are placed into two categories: primary and secondary. A primary  hypersomnia is caused on its own. A secondary hypersomnia is caused by another condition. The primary types of hypersomnia are idiopathic hypersomnia, Kleine-Levin syndrome, and narcolepsy. The secondary types of hypersomnia are caused by medical conditions, medications or substances, recurring sleep deprivation, or psychiatric disorders. The full list of hypersomnia types is below.

Primary Hypersomnia: Primary hypersomnia means that symptoms are not considered the result of another condition. Primary hypersomnia is classified according to symptoms and the results of sleep tests. The primary types of hypersomnia are idiopathic hypersomnia, Kleine-Levin syndrome, and narcolepsy.

Secondary Hypersomnia: Secondary hypersomnia is when the disorder is linked to another condition. Secondary hypersomnia can be caused by medical conditions, medications or substances, chronic sleep deprivation, or psychiatric disorders.

What are the Causes of Hypersomnia?

The causes of hypersomnia are listed below.

  • Idiopathic hypersomnia: Idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) is a primary hypersomnia. IH is a neurological disorder. The cause of IH is unknown, but according to the Hypersomnia Foundation, IH may result from extra production of a specific molecule in the cerebrospinal fluid. They say this molecule can act similar to a sleeping pill or anesthetic. People with IH will experience extreme daytime tiredness even if they get a full night’s rest. Other symptoms of IH include not waking up refreshed, trouble waking up, and disorientation or grogginess.

  • Kleine-Levin syndrome: Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS) is considered a rare disorder in which a person experiences periodic bouts of excessive sleep, higher food intake, and abnormal behavioral changes. The National Organization for Rare Disorders reports that KLS mainly affects adolescent males. The cause of KLS is unknown, but researchers hypothesize it may be hereditary and due to an impairment in the part of the brain responsible for regulating things like sleep and appetite.

  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which the individual experiences extreme tiredness and sudden sleep attacks. Other symptoms of narcolepsy include sleep paralysis, REM sleep changes, and hallucinations There are two types of this disorder: narcolepsy type 1 and type 2. People with narcolepsy type 1 can also experience cataplexy. Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone usually triggered by strong emotions. The cause of narcolepsy is not known, but the Mayo Clinic reports it could be genetic. People with narcolepsy type 1 typically have lower levels of hypocretin, a neurochemical that manages wakefulness and REM sleep.

  • Medical condition: Certain medical or health conditions can lead to secondary hypersomnia. These conditions include epilepsy, hypothyroidism, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, delayed sleep phase syndrome, multiple systems atrophy, myotonic dystrophy, and mood disorders.

  • Medications or substances: Taking certain medications or substances could result in secondary hypersomnia. Medications linked to hypersomnia include sedatives, anti-hypertensive drugs, anti-epileptic drugs, anti-parkinsonian agents, skeletal muscle relaxants, antipsychotics, and opiates. Substances linked to hypersomnia include cannabis and alcohol.

  • Chronic sleep deprivation: A consistent lack of rest could cause secondary hypersomnia. This term has also been described as insufficient sleep syndrome. Healthy adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of shuteye each night. Regularly not getting this amount of rest may lead to hypersomnia.

  • Psychiatric disorder: Psychiatric disorders have been linked to hypersomnia. Experts say this form is different from the other secondary types in that the mental health disorder is not necessarily the direct cause of hypersomnia. For example, patients diagnosed with depression-related hypersomnia must exhibit both depression and hypersomnia, as well as a correlation between the two. However, it is unclear whether the mental health issue causes hypersomnia or vice-versa.

Is Hypersomnia a Neurological Disorder?

Yes, hypersomnia can be a neurological disorder if the condition is classified as primary hypersomnia. A neurological disorder is a disease affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems. The central and peripheral nervous systems include the brain, spinal cord, cranial nerves, peripheral nerves, nerve roots, autonomic nervous system, neuromuscular junction, and muscles.

The primary types of hypersomnia – idiopathic, Kleine-Levin syndrome, and narcolepsy – are all considered neurological conditions. Therefore, primary hypersomnia would be regarded as a neurological disorder.

What are the Risk Factors for Hypersomnia?

The risk factors for hypersomnia include gender, age, certain medical conditions, and taking certain medications or substances. The Cleveland Clinic reports that women and people between the ages of 17 and 24 are at an increased risk for hypersomnia. Certain medical conditions can raise one’s risk of hypersomnia. These conditions include epilepsy, hypothyroidism, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, delayed sleep phase syndrome, multiple systems atrophy, myotonic dystrophy, and mood disorders. Lastly, certain medications or substances can create a higher likelihood of hypersomnia. Sedatives, anti-hypertensive drugs, anti-epileptic drugs, anti-parkinsonian agents, skeletal muscle relaxants, antipsychotics, and opiates are medications linked to hypersomnia. People who consume cannabis and alcohol may also experience hypersomnia.

What is the Relationship between Autism and Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is one of the sleep issues reported among people with autism. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. As a result, people with ASD may experience challenges to their social, communication, and behavior skills.

There is a significant link between sleep and autism. According to Living Autism, 44-83 percent of autistic children have sleep problems. Hypersomnia is one of those issues. Autistic individuals may experience other common sleep issues such as difficulty falling asleep, sleepwalking, sleep apnea, rhythmic movement disorder, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and bedwetting.

What are the Symptoms of Hypersomnia?

The symptoms of hypersomnia are listed below

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Sleeping more at night
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Less energy
  • Restlessness
  • Impaired cognitive and communication skills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory issues
Stress versus Anxiety Illustration

How is Hypersomnia Diagnosed?

A sleep specialist typically diagnoses hypersomnia. The specialist will start by asking about your symptoms, medical and sleep history, and any medications you are currently taking. Following the examination, the specialist will have you track your sleep for several weeks with a diary. During this time, the specialist may also have you wear a sensor on your wrist to help monitor any sleep disruptions. You may also undergo other examinations, such as a polysomnography, sleep latency test, and a sleep questionnaire. You should speak with a doctor or specialist as soon as possible if hypersomnia is affecting your safety and well-being.

There are three main criteria for a hypersomnia diagnosis. First, the individual must have excessive daytime sleepiness after getting seven hours of sleep. Along with the excessive daytime sleepiness, they must have a secondary symptom. The secondary symptom could be taking several daytime naps, not feeling refreshed after 9 hours of rest, or not feeling alert after waking up abruptly.

The second hypersomnia diagnosis measure is that the individual must have hypersomnia at least three times a week for a minimum of three months. The third diagnosis measure is that hypersomnia has a severe impact on the person’s livelihood. This includes areas like their mental, social, and work functioning.

What are the Treatments for Hypersomnia?

The treatments for hypersomnia will depend on the cause. One way to treat hypersomnia is through medication prescribed by a doctor. These medications are designed to promote wakefulness. A physician should closely monitor medical treatment. A second way to treat hypersomnia is by making healthy lifestyle changes, particularly when it comes to sleep. Good habits to follow include keeping a consistent sleep schedule, having a bedroom that fosters optimal relaxation, and avoiding caffeine or exercise late at night. A consistent sleep schedule helps train your body to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day. A good bedroom for rest is cool, dark, and quiet. Consuming caffeine or exercising before bed could make it harder to fall asleep, thus impacting your sleep schedule.

Is It Possible to Treat Hypersomnia at Home?

Yes, it is possible to treat hypersomnia at home. Certain lifestyle habits could have a positive impact on your hypersomnia. These habits include maintaining a regular bedtime and wake-up time, sleeping in a comfortable environment, and avoiding caffeine or exercise close to your bedtime. However, lifestyle changes alone may not treat hypersomnia. If you do not see a change in your symptoms, you should consult with a doctor or sleep specialist for additional treatment options.

What are the Prevention Options for Hypersomnia?

There are no prevention options for hypersomnia. However, you can find ways to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations. First, take extra caution when it comes to driving or operating heavy machinery. In some cases, you may need to make adjustments for these types of situations. Secondly, people with hypersomnia should avoid taking night shift work, which leaves them susceptible to falling asleep on the job.

What is the Difference between Insomnia and Hypersomnia?

The difference between insomnia and hypersomnia is that insomnia is when you get too little sleep and hypersomnia is when you get too much. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which a person has trouble falling or staying asleep. Hypersomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences excessive daytime sleepiness or longer nighttime rest.

People with insomnia and hypersomnia can both experience excessive daytime sleepiness. However, people with insomnia are tired during the day due to a lack of rest. People with hypersomnia may sleep a full 7-9 hours and still feel extremely tired. Furthermore, hypersomnia can cause sleep attacks in which the individual falls asleep during inappropriate times such as while eating, talking, or working.

What is the Difference between Parasomnia and Hypersomnia?

The difference between parasomnia and hypersomnia is that parasomnia involves unusual sleep behaviors, whereas hypersomnia causes excessive rest. Parasomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences abnormal nighttime behaviors. These behaviors include sleep terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousals, sleep-related eating disorder, nightmare disorder, sleep paralysis, and REM sleep behavior disorder (RSBD). Hypersomnia is a disorder in which a person experiences extreme tiredness during the day, even after a full night’s rest. Hypersomnia can also lead to prolonged nighttime rest or daytime sleep attacks.

People with parasomnia or hypersomnia can both exhibit excessive daytime sleepiness. Parasomnias can disrupt a person’s sleep. As a result, they may not get enough rest, causing them to feel tired the following day.

Editor

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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