Have you ever experienced excessive daytime sleepiness, so much so that you almost fell asleep at the wheel of your car? Or maybe you dozed off at your desk, only to be seen by your boss. Yeah, that was bad.
According to National Sleep Foundation, everyone suffers from daytime sleepiness at some point. When the condition persists and becomes chronic, it is called hypersomnia (or hypersomnolence).
Not all cases of daytime sleepiness can be called hypersomnia. For instance, if you do not get enough sleep at night for a long stretch it may result in daytime sleepiness, but getting enough sleep again is going to make it all right. When sleep alone does not cure the sleepiness and fatigue it usually is a symptom of hypersomnia.
This condition is often accompanied by other symptoms like poor concentration and lack of energy. Hypersomnia can disrupt day to day life, and severely affect productivity. In some cases, it may even cause accidents if the person falls asleep while driving. Hypersomnia can be properly diagnosed and treated by a medical professional.
Causes of Hypersomnia
There are several causes of hypersomnia:
Sleep Disorders: More often than not, sleep disorders cause excessive daytime sleepiness. When a person does not get enough sleep at night, it results in fatigue and sleepiness during the day.
Two major sleep disorders that cause hypersomnia are narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disorder that causes daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, muscle weakness, and disturbed sleep at night, whereas sleep apnea is a breathing disorder in which the air passage is blocked by the tissues of the throat and the roof of the mouth (soft palate), resulting in snoring and disturbed sleep.
Sleep Deprivation: This is often the most common cause of EDS, and can be cured with enough night-time sleep and short naps in the day. Lack of sleep is mostly caused by stress, little or no exercise, shortage of vitamin D, or a pair diet. Managing these helps in dealing with hypersomnia.
Obesity: Being overweight can give rise to a number of health problems, including EDS. When a person is obese or overweight, they are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, because fatty tissue in the throat and the soft palate obstruct the air passage in the supine position. The difficulty in breathing results in unsound sleep, several episodes of gasping awake, and also snoring. This leads to sleep deprivation and hypersomnia.
Neurological Disorders: Quite often, neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis or even a head injury can have symptoms resembling hypersomnia. When EDS develops after a head injury, it is called post-traumatic hypersomnia. This is not exactly hypersomnolence but has some of the same symptoms. Excessive sleepiness is also one of the earliest signs of brain tumor even when other symptoms are not present.
Substance Abuse: Addiction problems like substance abuse are often the reason behind a number of sleep disorders. Withdrawal can also give rise Insomnia sleep apnea and other disorders. Prolonged use of prescription drugs can also lead sleep disorders by affecting normal body functions. All these result in disrupted sleep at night and excessive sleepiness during the day. Smoking, caffeine, and other lifestyle problems also result in sleep disorders and hypersomnia.
Genetics: Research has found that sleep disorders run in the family. So if any member of your family suffers (or suffered in the past) from sleep disorders or hypersomnia, you may be at a greater risk of EDS.
Diagnosis of Hypersomnia
Not all daytime drowsiness is hypersomnia, and only a qualified medical professional can diagnose if you are suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness.
If you feel excessively drowsy during the day, try making some lifestyle changes first. Cut down on the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, and get enough exercise and sunlight during the day. Even after making these changes, your symptoms persist, talk to your GP.
The doctor is going to talk to you about your medical history and your lifestyle to try and find out if you have any sleep or neurological disorder. Hypersomnia is usually caused by an underlying condition, and the doctor will attempt to treat that condition to eliminate EDS.
Treatment of Hypersomnia
There are various treatments for excessive daytime sleepiness, but it will depend on your symptoms and the underlying cause.
The first thing your doctor will try to find out is if you suffer from a sleep disorder. To diagnose this, you have to undergo certain tests, including a polysomnography, in which you have to stay overnight at a sleep center to analyze abnormalities in your sleep pattern. If you are found to have sleep apnea, then a proper course of treatment is going to be prescribed. Two of the most common treatments for sleep apnea are Oral mouthpieces, where dental appliances are fitted to your mouth to correct the jaw, tongue and soft palate position for unblocking the airway, and Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) that involves wearing a pressurized mask over your mouth and nose during sleep, to keep the air passage open by forcing air through it.
If your hypersomnia is being caused certain prescriptions drugs that make you drowsy during the day, then the doctor may change the medication or stop it altogether for some time to check for any improvement in your condition.
Excess weight should be reduced if the sleep disorder is being caused by obesity. Your doctor may suggest a diet, exercise, and medications to bring down your weight and unblock the air passage while sleeping. In extreme cases, surgical options may also opt for quick weight loss.
Iron and Vitamin D deficiency can also cause daytime sleepiness. In such cases, you will be given supplements, and also advised to be on a healthy diet.
Making lifestyle changes is the most recommended treatment for excessive daytime sleepiness. Setting a proper bedtime every day, getting more sleep, quitting caffeine and smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption are some of the ways hypersomnia can be treated effectively. If a sedentary lifestyle is the problem, thirty minutes of physical activity daily could be beneficial in treating hypersomnia.
In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to treat the condition. These include stimulants like Provigil or Ritalin, sodium oxybate to treat narcolepsy, and antidepressants. However, in most cases, making lifestyle changes and treating sleep disorders are enough to cure excessive daytime sleepiness. A thorough diagnosis by a doctor is necessary before jumping to any conclusion.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can be a nuisance that affects normal life and even gives rise to risks like road accidents. Whether you are driving, crossing the street, climbing the stairs, being drowsy can result in freak accidents and injury. Hypersomnia may not always be serious. Taking iron and Vitamin D supplements and proper diet and exercise can often help when the symptoms are mild. In more severe cases, a doctor’s opinion must be sought, and the appropriate course of treatment taken to cure the condition.
Hypersomnia is a curable condition that affects several people throughout the world. If you suffer from excessive drowsiness during the day, make an appointment with your doctor to get to the root cause and start the journey to a more productive life.