Hypersomnia

woman-with-hypersomniaHypersomnia is excessive sleeping or sleepiness, in contrast to insomnia.

What is Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is characterized by excessive and chronic sleep or sleepiness. The definition of excessive sleep varies depending upon health, age, and other factors; 15 hours of sleep each day would not be unusual for a baby, but could be problematic for an adult.

Hypersomnia is usually the result of another health condition, but can also be diagnosed as a disorder in its own right. The new DSM-5 changes the name of hypersomnia to major somnolence disorder, a sleep-wake disorder.

What Causes Hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia is common during times of illness or stress, and a few days of hypersomnia are not generally cause for concern. However, chronic hypersomnia can interfere with a person’s ability to work, to take care of his/her children, to complete daily tasks, or to maintain social relationships. A number of disorders can contribute to hypersomnia. These include depression, Kleine Levine syndrome, narcolepsy, brain damage, celiac disease, anemia, hypothyroidism, and sleep apnea.

Certain medications, particularly antihistamines, and benzodiazepenes, as well as illegal drugs and alcohol, can contribute to hypersomnia. People experiencing drug, alcohol, or nicotine withdrawal may also become hypersomniac.

Depression and Hypersomnia

Sleep disturbances are common among people experiencing depression. Some people with depression bounce back and forth between extremes of insomnia and hypersomnia, while other people with depression are plagued by chronic sleepiness. Hypersomnia may be an attempt to avoid a seemingly daunting world. Other times, depression can make people feel physically ill or weak, resulting in excessive sleep. The exhaustion of chronic sadness and feelings of emptiness can also contribute to hypersomnia. Some people with depression sleep all day most days, take many naps, go to bed early, or chronically oversleep in the morning.

In some people, hypersomnia can exacerbate symptoms of depression. Chronic sleeping can make it difficult to make appointments, to complete basic daily tasks, or to spend time with loved ones. Over time, this isolation can make depression much harder to escape, and the desire to continue sleeping may increase.

How is Hypersomnia Treated?

Because there are so many causes of hypersomnia, treatment can vary greatly and often requires treatment of an underlying condition. When no cause can be found, or when hypersomnia is a result of a medication a person must remain on, wakefulness-promoting drugs such as Modafinil may be prescribed. Because these drugs can cause dependency, physicians often recommend lifestyle changes and therapy in conjunction with the use of wakefulness-promoting drugs.

References:

  1. Dauvilliers, Y. (2006). Chronic Hypersomnia. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 1(1), 79-88. doi: 10.1016/j.jsmc.2005.11.007
  2. Drugs & sleep. (n.d.). Drugs & Sleep. Retrieved from http://www.sleepmedicineeducation.com/page2/page10/page18/page48/page48.html
  3. NINDS hypersomnia information page. (n.d.). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/hypersomnia/hypersomnia.htm

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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