Hypersomnia is a rare and serious disorder that is a part of the family of sleep deprivation conditions.
It is one of the most disruptive to a person’s life and when someone has it, they are typically unable to work or maintain relationships.
With hypersomnia a person may wind up sleeping almost 14 to 20 hours a day on a regular basis.
This can cause many of the consequences associated with sleep deprivation, as well as problems associated only with the condition of hypersomnia.
What is hypersomnia?
Hypersomnia is a state in which no matter how much good sleep a person gets on a regular basis at night, they are compelled by exhaustion or fatigue to take a long nap during the day.
During this hours long period of sleep they may experience lucid dreams, sleep paralysis and have episodes of hypnagogic imagery.
Often the person wakes and is even more tired than before. It isn’t as easy as saying “keep yourself awake” to avoid sleeping during the day, hypersomnia comes with a release of hormones and neural communications that make it as difficult for someone with the disorder to stay awake as it would be for a narcoleptic.
People with hypersomnia also sleep so deeply during the daytime that they will rarely move, have noticeable eye or REM activity, and can be almost impossible to wake.
What causes it and who is at risk?
Unfortunately, researchers haven’t been able to determine the cause or risk group for this condition.
It does not appear to be associated with any other chronic conditions and can affect people from all races, age groups and genders.
Hypersomnia is considered to be a long term condition, but not a lifelong condition.
When someone develops the issue, it can last for years as a daily pattern of interruption. Then just as it came on, they can stop experiencing it as well.
Research has suggested that a part of the drive for this particular type of uncontrolled sleep may have to do with how the brain responds to GABA, but there is not enough evidence to support this completely.
It is not a form of narcolepsy and is also not related to weight management, as so many of the sleep deprivation conditions are.
Why isn’t there a standard treatment?
There isn’t a standard hypersomnia treatment that is prescribed for those with the condition. What does exist is a protocol of suggestions that work with the known elements of the condition.
The lack of a standard treatment comes from the lack of understanding of why the condition develops in people in the first place.
Also, without being able to identify specific risks and causes, researchers aren’t sure what will help, and what will aggravate the condition.
There are several hypersomnia treatment types that have proven to help, but none that control the condition completely.
What are the forms of hypersomnia treatment?
There are two main forms of hypersomnia treatment – medication and behavioral. The medications used are often the same as what is prescribed for ADD/ADHD, such as Ritalin and Selegiline, which is often prescribed to those with narcolepsy.
These are forms of amphetamines, or amphetamine precursors that promote the body’s own adrenal production of a similar substance that help to keep the person awake.
Another type of medication that promotes the waking hormones in the brain to try and make it easier for the person to wake from sleep, making behavioral treatments more effective.
The behavioral treatments focus on changing sleep hygiene to create a healthy sleep pattern at night.
They also will work to incorporate different routines and rituals for daytime napping to help the person gain more control of the amount of time sleeping.
Counseling is usually also recommended as it is not uncommon for a person to also develop a form of depression from having to deal with the consequences of this disorder.
There may also be suggestions to increase exercise and to change diet routines as this can help to modify the brains chemistry, the hope is it will promote a similar spontaneous event in the brain that will then end the hypersomnia.
What can you do on your own?
On your own you can work to improve your waking life around your episodes of hypersomnia to make them less devastating.
If you can move towards a sleep hygiene schedule that maximizes the night sleep you may well be able to plan for the hours you sleep during the day.
Rather than struggle against the hypersomnia you can learn to accommodate it as a need in your life.
The process of acceptance is a huge part of any of the recommended hypersomnia treatment types.
The more you can empower your life when awake, the more competent and healthy you will feel.
That you have these sleeping episodes will become something that will be more manageable.
The important thing is to manage your expectations. If you know that the condition is long term, but that it will go away, it can make adjusting your current expectations easier.
Why is this considered to be a form of sleep deprivation?
Many people are surprised that when they go for hypersomnia treatment that they are given much of the same recommendations as someone suffering from sleep deprivation conditions such as obstructive or complex sleep apnea. Hypersomnia is considered to be a form of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation isn’t about the amount and regularity that you sleep, but the quality and regularity of the sleep. With hypersomnia, the quality is compromised and so is the regularity.
The focus of hypersomnia treatment is on getting as much of your sleep back into a pattern that promotes healthy brain stages and regular sleep times.
This is why the common treatment for hypersomnia includes an emphasis on lifestyle changes and sleep hygiene.
It is at the core of all treatments targeting sleep deprivation conditions, and it has proven to help people manage the experience of hypersomnia in their lives.