New parents and elderly folks tend to get the most attention regarding sleep problems, as well as people with chronic pain. What about one of the largest, yet least-discussed groups: shift workers? If you’ve struggled to adjust to your work schedule, you aren’t alone. Shift work disorder is a common ailment among those with constantly-changing schedules.
“Your will to do things just kinda dies…you kinda die inside from being tired all the time.” These words come from Sigurjon Jakobsson, an Icelandic teen visiting an American neurologist for help with his unusual condition.
While it may sound like he’s describing the symptoms of major depressive disorder or chronic fatigue syndrome, Jakobsson was seeking treatment for a different condition entirely. Known as hypersomnolence, it led him to sleep more than 16 hours per day. The teen was unable to live the active life he dreamed of, no matter how much he willed himself to work harder.
Does Jakobsson’s struggle sound familiar to you? If so, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn more about hypersomnolence, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.
What Is Hypersomnolence?
Daytime hypersomnolence disorder is also sometimes called “hypersomnia”. While it’s sometimes considered the opposite of insomnia, that definition is a bit too narrow.
People with hypersomnolence indeed tend to sleep for longer periods at night than the average person. However, what makes this condition unique is that the tiredness persists during the day. This is the case whether or not they got a full night of sleep, making it much different than a normal case of tiredness.
People with hypersomnolence often feel the sudden urge to sleep at random points throughout the day. This can be while they’re sitting at their desk at work, driving a car, or even while standing and having an active conversation. The sudden sleepiness can range from annoying (affecting your performance and ability to focus), to dangerous (drifting off in the middle of a risky activity).
Unlike narcolepsy, the sleepy feeling tends to come on gradually and doesn’t force the person into unconsciousness.
Symptoms of Hypersomnolence
The main symptom of hypersomnolence is excessive daytime sleepiness, but there’s more to the condition than that. Other symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- having trouble waking up after sleeping
- never feeling refreshed or rested after sleep
- feelings of confusion or irritability when waking up
- fatigue and chronic low energy
- anxiety and restlessness
- slow, cumbersome speech and thought
- memory difficulties
In some severe cases, the condition can also cause hallucinations and make it impossible for a person to hold a job or live a normal life.
Types of Hypersomnia
Not all cases of hypersomnolence are the same. Medical experts divide the condition into three main categories: acute, subacute, and persistent.
Acute hypersomnia is short-lived, lasting only a few weeks to a month. Sub-acute lingers for 1-3 months, and symptoms that last longer than that are termed persistent.
Unlike narcolepsy, an autoimmune condition, doctors don’t always know what causes hypersomnolence. Most current theories involve an imbalance of brain chemicals that interact with GABA neurotransmitters to cause sleepiness.
In some cases, another physical or medical condition is to blame. These can include:
- head trauma or brain injury
- CNS injury
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
Conditions like obesity, bipolar disorder, and depression can contribute to its development but aren’t often the only cause. Other risk factors include a family history of hypersomnia, substance abuse, viral infections, and extreme stress. Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease may also be related.
When doctors can’t identify a direct cause, they call the condition Ideopathic Hypersomnia (IH).
Many of the long-term effects of hypersomnolence are mental and social.
Most people develop hypersomnolence in their late teens, a critical time for social and emotional development. Excessive sleepiness can cause them to miss out on extracurriculars, fun time with friends, internships, and job opportunities. They may even have trouble making it through high school and college.
For adults, hypersomnia often contributes to damaged family relationships and poor performance at work. The condition also makes it difficult to run a household. Over time, it can lead to low mood, insecurity, and poor confidence.
Based on current research, the effects of excess sleep could include harm to your physical health as well. According to the results of a 2018 study, consistently getting more than the recommended amount of sleep as an adult can increase your risk of heart failure and strokes.
The study evaluated over 100,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70. Participants were spread out through 21 countries. When they looked at the relationship between daytime napping and nighttime sleep duration, researchers found that people who got the recommended amount of sleep and napped on top of it were more likely to suffer from heart disease.
While this correlation doesn’t prove causation, it still isn’t great news for hypersomniacs. In light of all the negative ways this condition affects your life, let’s dive into how doctors diagnose and treat it.
Getting a Hypersomnolence Diagnosis
Doctors will perform a series of tests to properly diagnose someone with hypersomnolence. These may include brain imaging, sleep studies, and question-based screenings.
To qualify, a person’s symptoms have to persist for at least a month at a time. Episodes of excess sleep, either during the day, at night, or both, must happen at least three times each week. It can’t be due to insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder.
As you might assume, true hypersomnia can’t be traced back to a lack of sleep at night. It also can’t be the result of a drug—prescription or illicit—that causes drowsiness as a side effect. Finally, the condition has to affect your life and ability to function in a significant way.
Treatment for Excessive Drowsiness
Once a doctor diagnoses someone with hypersomnolence, it’s time to determine a route for treatment.
The method a physician uses to treat this condition will depend on its unique cause. Medication is often helpful, though it may take a process of trial and error to find the right one.
Many doctors prescribe stimulants to help patients function well during waking hours. These drugs, including Ritalin, Concerta, and d-amphetamine, are typical medications for ADHD. Other common hypersomnolence medications include:
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors
In some cases, especially when a mental health disorder is involved, activating antidepressants are the medication of choice. When combined with behavioral modifications and therapy, many people find that they can live a normal life once again.
How Changing Your Sleep Environment Can Help
Medications are helpful, but be careful not to underestimate the value of behavioral changes in favor of a “quick fix”. Creating a healthy bedtime environment is one of the most important steps to take when fighting any type of sleep disorder.
First and foremost, make sure that your bed and bedroom are set up for slumber. If possible, make your bedroom a place for relaxation, sleep, and nothing else. Moving your desk and television into a different space trains your brain to only associate sleep with your bedroom.
Next, make sure that you have the option for dim lighting around your bed. Keep electronics that emit blue light somewhere else, as they can keep you awake for longer. (An aside: blue light may help hypersomniacs stay awake during the daytime.)
Finally, make your bed a cozy haven.
Invest in a mattress, pillows, and blankets that encourage slumber when you hit the hay. Non-standard bed frames and the pre-installed beds in college dorms can make it hard to find a good mattress that fits, though. In those cases, custom mattresses, mattress protectors, and college mattress toppers can help you rest in comfort.
Adjusting your habits around sleep and wake time can also help regulate your sleep schedule. Try not to work or socialize late at night, as these can keep you from sleeping on time. Also, don’t drink coffee or alcohol within 3-4 hours before bed.
When you wake up, try setting a series of alarms to get out of bed gradually. Make a habit of doing something you enjoy and look forward to as soon as your feet hit the floor. That might be drinking a cup of tea, meditating, or listening to your favorite music.
The Right Mattress Makes a Difference for Those With Hypersomnolence
Hypersomnolence is a complicated condition. Doctors often can’t identify a direct cause and many of the treatments are based on trial and error. It can leave patients feeling out of control as they try to find a solution that works for them.
One thing you do have control over, though, is your sleeping environment. Having the right mattress and pillows can make a world of difference for anyone suffering from a sleep disorder, be it hypersomnolence, insomnia, or something else. To find your perfect mattress, head over to The Beloit’s mattress match tool today.
If you have been suffering from a lack of sleep lately, you are not alone. According to research, over 60 million Americans currently suffer from insomnia. Having a good night’s sleep is not only essential for your mental well being, but it is also crucial for your overall health.
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