Sleep is essential to a person’s health, and people who feel occasionally tired often boost their energy levels by taking a nap or ensuring a restful sleep the next night. But when sleep doesn’t relieve exhaustion, it could be a sign of hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia is a chronic condition characterized by episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged nighttime sleep (more than 11 hours), according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (opens in a new tab) (NINDES). This disorder may be rooted in neurological disorders or may be the result of poor sleep hygiene and other lifestyle factors.
It is not known exactly how many people experience excessive sleepiness, but Dr. Abhinav Singh (opens in a new tab)Indiana Sleep Center’s medical director told Live Science that hypersomnia appears to be a relatively common condition, affecting between 10% and 20% of adults worldwide.
Dr. Anita Raja (opens in a new tab), a general practitioner in the UK, told Live Science that the symptoms of hypersomnia should not be ignored. “They can have an adverse effect on our mood, concentration, relationships and energy levels,” he said. “If you feel fatigued during the day despite a good night’s sleep, or if you take regular naps during the day but still feel tired, talk to a medical professional.”
The term hypersomnia is often used interchangeably with excessive daytime sleepiness or hypersomnolence.
People with hypersomnia find it difficult to wake up and feel the need to nap repeatedly throughout the day. Also, sleep does not tend to relieve feelings of exhaustion and sleepiness.
“People with this condition can sleep 11 hours a night, but still feel fatigued during the day,” Raja said.
According to the NINDS, other symptoms of hypersomnia can include:
- low energy levels
- slow speech
- loss of appetite
- Memory problems
- Not being able to function in social, occupational, or other settings.
Hypersomnia is not a life-threatening condition, according to the NINDS, but it can have serious consequences, including accidents caused by falling asleep while driving.
Hypersomnia can be a symptom of many different medical conditions, and healthcare professionals often classify the disorder as primary or secondary, depending on the underlying cause.
According to the Sleep Foundation (opens in a new tab), a non-profit organization in the US, hypersomnia is classified as primary when it occurs on its own and is not caused by another known condition or factor. Secondary hypersomnia is when the disorder is due to other medical conditions, medications, substances, psychiatric disorders, or lack of sleep.
The most common reason for hypersomnia is acute or chronic sleep loss, Singh said. When a person persistently does not get enough sleep, he may develop insufficient sleep syndrome. This condition often develops as a result of poor sleep hygiene.
“Shift workers, such as doctors, nurses and caregivers, often suffer from poor sleep quality,” Raja said. “That’s because your circadian rhythm, the brain’s natural internal way of regulating the sleep cycle, is disrupted by night shifts. Your body is designed to compensate for sleep loss. If the quality of sleep is insufficient during the night, your brain likes to catch up during the day.”
Hypersomnia is often secondary to or a symptom of another medical condition. Excessive sleepiness can particularly develop as a result of hypothyroidism, brain injury, and diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.
Excessive sleepiness can also be an effect of certain sedative medications, excessive use of alcohol or withdrawal from stimulant drugs, according to the Sleep Foundation.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Cerebrovascular Accidents (opens in a new tab) (NINDS), primary hypersomnia disorders include:
- Narcolepsy type 1
- Type 2 narcolepsy
- Kleine-Levin syndrome
- idiopathic hypersomnia
Narcolepsy type 1 It is a chronic neurological disorder. This condition is caused by low levels of orexin, neurotransmitters central to the regulation of wakefulness, appetite, and arousal. The main symptoms of type 1 narcolepsy include hypersomnia, cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness), sleep paralysis, and hallucinations.
Type 2 narcolepsy it shares many of the same symptoms as type 1, with the exception of cataplexy. It is not triggered by low amounts of orexin, and the exact causes of this condition are unknown.
Kleine-Levin syndrome is a rare neurological disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of hypersomnia, as well as mental and behavioral disorders. This condition mainly affects young men, and episodes often subside over a period of eight to 12 years.
idiopathic hypersomnia It is characterized by excessive sleepiness without experiencing sudden muscle weakness. The exact causes of this condition are unknown, but it may be related to neurotransmitter abnormalities and predisposing genetic factors.
According to the Sleep Foundation (opens in a new tab), idiopathic hypersomnia appears to be a relatively rare condition, although its exact prevalence is difficult to determine. Symptoms often appear in a person’s teens or 20s, but they can start at any age. Idiopathic hypersomnia is diagnosed after ruling out any secondary causes of excessive sleepiness.
According to the Hypersomnia Foundation (opens in a new tab)Idiopathic hypersomnia can be diagnosed when the following conditions are present:
- Daily periods of excessive sleepiness or daytime lapses in sleep for at least three months
- No evidence of cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone caused by strong emotions) or sudden muscle weakness
- Results from a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) show a sleep latency (time taken to fall asleep) of less than 8 minutes or a total sleep time of 11 hours or more
- Hypersomnia due to insufficient sleep syndrome, medical conditions, medications, substances, or psychiatric disorders is ruled out
Treatment for hypersomnia depends on the cause of the disorder, according to the NINDS. For example, idiopathic hypersomnia can be treated with a drug called Xywav, the only treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which is believed to work during sleep to help with daytime symptoms, or stimulants such as amphetamine, methylphenidate and modafinil.
Treatment may also include non-drug options. “For primary hypersomnias, short naps along with caffeine may help increase wakefulness,” Singh said.
Patients with hypersomnia are often advised to modify their lifestyle in ways that minimize interruptions to their sleep cycle. They may be asked to avoid night work or to reduce their alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy balanced diet, meditating and practicing yoga are other ways to deal with excessive daytime sleepiness, Raja said.