What is idiopathic hypersomnia and what are the symptoms?
Imagine feeling excessively tired every day, even though you got enough sleep the night before… this is known as idiopathic hypersomnia.
Derived from the words ‘hyper’, meaning ‘too much’, and ‘somnia’, meaning ‘sleep’, hypersomnia is characterized by excessive fatigue.
But what exactly is idiopathic hypersomnia and how can you treat it?
What is idiopathic hypersomnia?
Idiopathic hypersomnia is a rare neurological sleep disorder characterised by a constant need to sleep that does not go away even after sleeping for prolonged periods during the night (more than 10 hours). If you have this condition, you do not get quality sleep and do not wake up feeling refreshed.
It is a chronic condition that can greatly affect your quality of life. Idiopathic hypersomnia can make it hard to work regular hours, attend school, maintain healthy relationships, enjoy activities and events or exercise. You also have a higher risk of getting into an accident due to excessive fatigue.
What causes idiopathic hypersomnia?
While not much research has been done and the exact causes are unknown, findings have shown the sleep-wake transition period is prolonged in people who have idiopathic hypersomnia. Some people who have this sleep disorder have low histamine levels. Brain damage is another suspected cause.
Symptoms of idiopathic hypersomnia
To diagnose idiopathic hypersomnia, doctors may examine your symptoms using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and you will need to undergo a sleep test. Doctors need to observe at least 11 hours of sleep to get enough data.
Some of the symptoms of this sleep disorder include the following:
- Sleeping for longer than ten hours in 24 hours but still feeling a strong urge to sleep
- Taking long naps (longer than an hour) and waking up fatigued
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, despite getting enough hours of sleep, that lasts for longer than three months
- Sleep inertia. You can have difficulty waking up followed by disorientation and feelings of grogginess
- Mental fogginess, as well as poor memory, concentration and attention during the day
- Waking up with a headache or migraine
Can you treat idiopathic hypersomnia?
While idiopathic hypersomnia is usually a lifelong condition once you have it, there are steps you can take to help manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. They include:
- Try to get into a regular sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Schedule in naps during the day if possible.
- Avoid other things that can cause drowsiness, such as eating too much, drinking alcohol and taking medications like antihistamines, antidepressants and cold medication.
- Consider taking medication like Modafinil (Provigil) that will help you stay awake.
- Get enough sunlight exposure to help regulate your circadian rhythm and to boost energy during the day.
The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to be healthy. For those who don’t have a sleep disorder like idiopathic hypersomnia, the idea of getting more than ten hours of sleep every night and still feeling fatigued is almost unimaginable. But there are those for who this is a reality.
Dealing with a chronic illness like idiopathic hypersomnia can be difficult. And even though there is no known cure, you can still take action and do what you can to improve your symptoms. Get enough sunlight, get into a regular sleep schedule and speak to your doctor about medications that can help you stay awake during the day.