Sleep Disorders: Hypersomnia

Often confused with narcolepsy, hypersomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. This often manifests itself as a deep or prolonged sleep from which it is difficult to awaken. Hypersomnia's onset can be very gradual and often goes unnoticed at first. The symptoms of hypersomnia are similar to narcolepsy, depression, and sleep apnea.

Sleeping Disorders

Often confused with narcolepsy, hypersomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. This often manifests itself as a deep or prolonged sleep from which it is difficult to awaken.

Typically appearing early in life- often before age 25 - hypersomnia's onset can be very gradual and often goes unnoticed at first. People with hypersomnia will often sleep more than twelve hours in the evening and still nap frequently during the day.

The symptoms of hypersomnia are similar to narcolepsy except that the sufferer does not present the cataplexy or sleep paralysis common to narcoleptics. Nor does the victim of hypersomnia experience immediate REM (rapid eye movement) upon first falling asleep as narcoleptics do. Hypersomnia is also often be misdiagnosed as depression or sleep apnea.

There are two major categories of hypersomnia. Primary hypersomnia (also called idiopathic hypersomnia) and recurrent hypersomnia. Both are characterized by the same symptoms differing only in their frequency and regularity. The sleepiness associated with primary hypersomnia happens over long periods of time. Recurring hypersomnia's symptoms can last for days and recur many times over the course of a year. The major difference between the two types is that recurring hypersomniacs go through symptom-free periods in between bouts. Sufferers of primary hypersomnia experience symptoms nearly all the time.

A third variety of hypersomnia called Klein-Levin syndrome differs in that victims will often sleep in excess of 18 hours per day. This is often accompanied by irritable, uninhibited behavior, including indiscriminate sexual advances and the urge to eat uncontrollably. Klein-Levin syndrome is very rare.

Up to 40% of people are suspected to present symptoms of hypersomnia at one time or another. Causes of hypersomnia may include:

  • Sleep disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnea
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Head trauma or neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis
  • Prescription drugs such as tranquilizers
  • Genetic predisposition

For a diagnosis of hypersomnia sufferers must meet certain conditions according to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

  • They must present symptoms for over a month
  • Symptoms cannot be attributed to lack of sleep - that is the person must technically be well rested even though they feel excessively tired
  • The symptoms cannot be caused by another psychological disorder or be attributable to he effects of medicinal or illicit drugs
  • For recurring hypersomnia symptoms must occur at least three days at a time and be present for at least two years.

To make a diagnosis doctors will often begin with questions and may then move to a series of tests designed to screen out other possibilities. These tests may include blood work, computer tomography scans, poylsomnography, and an electroencephalogram or EEG.

To date there is no cure for hypersomnia. Victims of this condition can manage symptoms through prescription medications including stimulants, antidepressants and similar drugs. In some instances physicians may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure treatment or CPAP that involves wearing a mask while you sleep which delivers a continuous flow of air into the nostrils. The pressure from inbound air keeps your breathing passages open allowing you to achieve a more restful sleep.

Methods for managing symptoms and maximizing the restorative benefits of sleep include practicing good sleep hygiene, limiting napping to one period, no more than 45 minutes, preferably in the afternoon and avoiding common sleep disrupting factors like shift work, alcohol ad caffeine.

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