Hypersomnolence is also known as hypersomnia and is a condition where the brain overproduces an (as yet unknown) substance that mimics the sleeping/hypnotic drugs like propofol or Versed®. This substance interferes with the gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA system in the brain that is part of sleep promotion. The substance triggers the action of GABA in the sleep centers of our brain so that sufferers experience a great deal need for sleep than the average person.
Hypersomnia is the opposite of insomnia. People who suffer from this disorder sleep a long time during the night and generally do not have problems with excessive nighttime wakefulness. Instead, they appear to get enough sleep or even more than the average amount of sleep but still feel the need to nap several times a day. It can look a lot like narcolepsy because the individual can fall asleep easily, even while directly in the middle of a conversation with someone. It has its implications regarding safety as these are people who have a greater than average chance of falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle.
People with excessive sleeping suffer from a two-fold problem. They sleep too much at night and they need also to nap during the day in order to function. Unfortunately, the daytime naps do not particularly help so these are people who are always tired, regardless of their sleep pattern.
Idiopathic hypersomnia (Excessive daytime sleepiness)
If you have this sleep disorder, you suffer from a difficult time becoming fully awakened after sleeping and have a longer time feeling disoriented after awakening. They can suffer from other symptoms as well, including the following:
- Increased irritability
- Chronic anxiety
- Poor energy levels
- Cognitive deficits (think more slowly than other people)
- Slowed level of speech
- Lack of appetite
- Daytime hallucinations
- Poor memory
People with this disease where you sleep too much can have such a severe condition that it negatively impacts their social life, family life and work environments.
Some people have a predisposition toward having hypersomnia because they have other affected family members; however, most cases have no known cause. The research into this sleep disorder has yet to identify the actual mechanism of action as to why people suffer from this disorder. It is more commonly found in teenagers and in young adults.
The diagnosis of this disorder is made by symptoms alone. There is acute hypersomnia in which the patient has had the disorder for at least a month but no longer than three months. In persistent hypersomnolence, the symptoms have been present for a minimum of three months. The individual must have episodes of prolonged sleep times and/or episodes of daytime sleeping that happen a minimum of three days out of a given week.
The abnormal sleep pattern needs to be severe enough that it is causing the patient a lot of distress and problems in daily functioning, including social and occupational situations. In order for it to be diagnosed with this sleep disorder, the individual can’t have another sleep-related disorder such as narcolepsy, insomnia, parasomnia or circadian rhythm disorder and they must receive an adequate amount of sleep during their main sleeping time (usually at night). It is unrelated to any type of sleeping pill use or the use of other sleep-promoting drugs and the patient has no other medical condition that could lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.
While people with this sleep disorder often suffer from other kinds of medical or psychiatric disorders, these disorders usually are not all that related to the underlying problem of sleeping too much and the patient has hypersomnolence as a diagnosis in its own right, regardless of other medical problems the patient might have. Some coexisting medical problems among people with this disorder include clinical depression, MS, obesity, epilepsy or encephalitis.
How do you treat hypersomnolence?
There are medications a person can take in order to counteract the symptoms of hypersomnolence. These include stimulant medications like methylphenidate and other amphetamines. Modafinil is another medication that can help these people stay awake. There are a lot of miscellaneous medications prescribed for excessive sleeping with mixed results, including levodopa, clonidine, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) and MAO inhibitors. Many people try to live specific lifestyles as part of having this sleep disorder, such as going to bed early and avoiding having a job that involves nighttime work. Things like alcohol and caffeine should be avoided as ways to manipulate the sleep-wake cycle. People with this sleep disorder tend to have more control over their sleeping times when compared to those who have narcolepsy so they can adopt lifestyle changes of taking scheduled naps during the day and they don’t often suffer from things like cataplexy, so often seen in narcolepsy. They also don’t have automatic behaviors or hallucinations seen in other sleep disorders.
About ¼ off all people with this sleep disorder recover from their condition without any intervention. For the remainder, this tends to be a lifelong condition treated with medications as noted above provided that they are found to be helpful.
Changes in your Lifestyle that can improve Hypersomnolence
There are things you can do to improve your chances of staying awake during the day that don’t involve medications or the use of illicit drugs. For example, you can set a routine for sleeping and waking that gives you enough sleep at night. Avoid getting into situations that leave you sleep-deprived. Make sure you schedule regular brief naps of fifteen minutes or less during the course of your daytime activities and make sure that people around you are aware of your condition so they can help whenever you need them. Get enough exercise during the day, stop smoking cigarettes and avoid other kinds of stimulants like caffeine. Alcohol can only mess up your sleep cycle and this should be avoided as well.