Hypersomnia, its causes and symptoms

Not a term most people are familiar with, it’s the reverse of insomnia, and sometimes it is confused with narcolepsy. In the case of the latter, people get an overwhelming feeling of fatigue and can even fall asleep suddenly. With Hypersomnia, the level of sleep gradually increases over the course of the day. It’s marked by bouts of severe sleepiness and fatigue, to list only two symptoms.

Hypersomnia Causes

In general, people with Hypersomnia do not get a lot of sleep at night, but by the same token, they also don’t suffer from insomnia. In fact, they often have trouble getting up in the morning, and staying awake over the course of the day. There are two forms of the disease, primary – also known as idiopathic, and recurrent hypersomnia; it’s also called recurrent primary hypersomnia. Both have the same symptoms; their only difference is how often and regularly those symptoms manifest themselves.

Hypersomnia Symptoms

With primary hypersomnia, sufferers find themselves getting more and more sleepy over an extended period of time during the course of the day. In the case of recurring, you get excessively tired, and the feeling persists for as long as several days. After easing off, it can occur again and again for a year or more. The primary difference between the two forms is that primary hypersomnia generally does not let up – it’s continuous. With recurring, you can suffer days of feeling sleepy, and then it goes away for a time, and then comes back – or “reoccurs”, hence the name. There’s even a particular form of recurring hypersomnia; it is called Kleine-Levin Syndrome.

Another symptom is frequent napping, and despite those naps, you do not feel wide awake and refreshed. In the case of Kleine-Levin Syndrome, sufferers will sleep as much as 18 hours a day, sometimes even more! They often feel very irritable; they gain weight quickly and without reason, and may commit acts of sexual harassment. The cause of this form of hypersomnia – and others – is still unclear. Some researchers believe it is a genetic disorder exacerbated by environmental factors, but recent studies seem to link it to a disorder of the hypothalamus. Yet, this still remains unclear.

Fortunately, the different forms of hypersomnia are quite rare; it has been determined that only about five percent of adults suffer from it. As there are a variety of causes for daytime sleepiness and fatigue, a detailed sleep study and tests are needed in order to diagnosis hypersomnia. In general, doctors use the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” to properly diagnosis the problem. First off, the feelings of fatigue have to persist for at least a month, and they have to cause trouble with your day to day activities. Next, there can’t be any other diseases or disorders present. So, if you have insomnia, narcolepsy or a severe mental disorder, hypersomnia may not be the problem.

Hypersomnia diagnosis

In the case of the recurring hypersomnia, diagnosis is very difficult. The periods of sleeplessness have to persist for periods of about three days or so, and continue for two years or more! For the most part, the symptoms will continue for the rest of the patient’s life; only Kleine-Levin Syndrome seems to be curable, it often clears up on its own by the time the patient reaches middle age. Using stimulants does relieve the symptoms, but does not treat the underlying cause.

As with diseases like MS, lupus and diabetes, there is no cure, only treatment. Some doctors – those who attribute the disease to a malfunction of the hypothalamus feel that some form of brain surgery or treatment using stem cells might eventually lead to a cure.

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