Hypersomnia is the medical term used to refer to excessive sleepiness. People with this condition have difficulty staying awake during the day and suffer from the risk of falling asleep in a meeting, at meals, or while driving.
Many hypersomnia sufferers also have other problems related to poor sleep, including cloudy thinking and reduced energy. As much as 40 percent of people may suffer from this problem at some point in their lives.
Hypersomnia is relatively easy to recognize in its most serious forms, but people with milder cases may not realize that they have a problem.
Common symptoms of hypersomnia include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- A tendency to drift off during conversations or at other inappropriate times
- Feeling tired after waking up in the morning
People suffering from this sleep disorder often find that they spend a significant amount of time sleeping, but never feel truly rested. After a long period of sleep, they may feel disoriented and have trouble waking up, a condition called “sleep drunkenness.”
Hypersomniacs may also have trouble remembering things, suffer from hallucinations, have a reduced appetite, or feel restless, anxious and irritated.
There are several reasons a person might develop hypersomnia. These include:
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep deprivation
- Head injuries
- Neurological disorders
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Family history of the disorder
- Use of tranquilizers or other prescription drugs
Hypersomnia tends to occur more frequently in those who are overweight, though the weight gain may be a symptom of the sleep disorder, rather than a cause.
Some illnesses, including mononucleosis, cause fatigue and hypersomnia. Influenza may also have this effect in children. In some people with lower than normal levels of thyroid hormone, treatment can reduce daytime sleepiness and related symptoms.
Treating hypersomnia requires different approaches depending on the underlying cause of the sleepiness. People who suffer from neurological problems like Kleine-Levin syndrome, for instance, require a different treatment plan than those who are hypersomniac due to tranquilizer use.
Doctors must first determine the reason for the hypersomnia in order to provide relief. Treatment may involve changing medications, adjusting sleep habits, reducing drug dependence or treating related disorders such as sleep apnea.
In cases where the doctor can’t determine why the patient is feels sleepy, the hypersomnia is diagnosed as being idiopathic. In these cases, as well as in some other types of hypersomnia, symptomatic treatment is appropriate.
These treatments may involve:
- Prescribing stimulants to help regulate the sleep schedule
- Improving the diet
- Avoiding certain types of drugs including alcohol and caffeine
- Prescribing antidepressants
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