Hypersomnia: the opposite of insomnia
Many people have the experience of tossing and turning all night, hardly getting any sleep. You're groggy all the next day, have trouble focusing, your mind drifts, and you may even feel a little more irritable than normal. If this happens night after night, you may even be suffering from the widely known chronic condition, insomnia.
Now, imagine this is how you felt all the time but you have actually already had as much sleep, or potentially even more than is recommended by any doctor. Although you have had maybe 9 or 10 hours of sleep, you are still in a constant fight to even keep your eyes open. This is actually a relatively unknown but common condition called hypersomnia.
The Opposite of Insomnia
The more commonly known sleep disorder insomnia is a condition in which people can’t sleep, whereas hypersomnia disorders involve excessive daytime sleepiness or the inability to stay awake during the day.
People with a hypersomnia disorder typically sleep more than 9 hours in a 24-hour period, and the cause of their sleepiness can’t be attributed to disturbed nighttime sleep. The main symptom of hypersomnia is daytime sleepiness, which most people experience from time to time – who hasn’t turned to a much-needed cup of coffee on a Monday morning, after all? In fact, nearly half of all adults will have symptoms of a hypersomnia disorder at some point.
Causes of Hypersomnia
Hypersomnia that does not appear to be caused by another medical condition or medication is referred to as primary hypersomnia. Secondary hypersomnias result from other disorders or medications and include:
- The sleep disorders narcolepsy (daytime sleepiness) and sleep apnea (interruptions of breathing during sleep)
- Not getting enough sleep at night (sleep deprivation)
- Being overweight
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- A head injury or a neurological disease, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Prescription drugs, such as tranquillisers or antihistamines
- Genetics (having a relative with hypersomnia)
Symptoms of Hypersomnia
Although it does sound like everyday tiredness, this condition is different to just regularly feeling tired during the day. There are specific symptoms surrounding it. If you have hypersomnia, you will:
- Take long, unrefreshing naps. While naps can be taken for several hours, they rarely alleviate sleepiness, and waking from them is often followed by ‘sleep drunkenness’.
- Fall asleep during the day, often while eating or talking.
- Excessive sleep, often in excess of 9 hours.
- Cognitive dysfunction. This includes memory problems, automatic behaviour, and difficulties with concentration and attention.
Sleep specialists use several methods, or a combination of methods, to diagnose hypersomnia. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary or take a multiple sleep latency test: a monitored nap during which your sleep is measured. A polysomnogram, or overnight sleep study measuring your heart rate, breathing and brain activity during sleep, might also be used in your diagnosis. If you’re worried that you’re experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, speak to your doctor as the first port of call.
Things That May Help
Changing your sleep habits won’t cure hypersomnia, but it can help you feel better. Here are a few things you can try if you’re suffering from the symptoms of hypersomnia:
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks near bedtime.
- Follow a relaxation routine to prevent night-time anxiety, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a normal weight for your height.
- Eat a well-balanced diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
- If possible, change your environment to reduce disturbances; for example, don’t watch television in the bedroom.
- Be comfortable; make sure you don’t overheat or feel too cold in bed.
- Have a regular sleeping routine so that your body ‘knows’ it is time to sleep.
- Only go to bed when you feel sleepy.