In mental health, hypersomnia is a symptom linked to various depressive and mood disorders, but in other settings, hypersomnia means something more. With signs like excessive daytime sleepiness paired with long periods of sleeping at night, hypersomnolence disorder, sometimes called idiopathic hypersomnia, is a legitimate medical condition.
Many misunderstandings have emerged about hypersomnia and the impact it creates. People interested in understanding hypersomnia can get the hypersomnia facts they need to dispel some of the most common hypersomnia myths below.
Myth #1: Idiopathic hypersomnia resolves after sleep debt is paid.
Fact: Hypersomnia continues despite long periods of sleep.
This myth is based on the idea that each person requires a certain amount of sleep each night and if they get less than that amount, they are accumulating a sleep debt. To balance and pay off the sleep debt, that person would need to sleep additional hours the following day. For believers in this myth, once the sleep debt is at zero, the person will wake feeling rested and have plenty of energy.
People with hypersomnia have a significant condition causing them to feel tired no matter how much sleep they get. With hypersomnolence disorder, no amount of sleep can trigger the sense of being refreshed or rejuvenated. On an average day, someone will hypersomnia will:
- Sleep for at least nine hours straight
- Wake up feeling tired
- Experience difficulty waking up quickly
- Act disoriented or intoxicated when waking
For people with hypersomnolence disorder, more sleep is not the cure to their condition.
Myth #2: Hypersomnia is a rare condition.
Fact: Hypersomnolence disorder is more common than people realize.
People who believe this myth may think that since they have never had a friend, relative or neighbor with hypersomnia, it must be very rare. Or worse, they may think that the disorder is not a rare condition and instead believe it is a “fake” or “made up” disease. Just because someone has never heard of a condition does not make it rare. Millions of people have hypersomnolence disorder in the U.S. and throughout the world.
As a chronic, neurological disorder, hypersomnia is a condition similar to narcolepsy. Many people have heard of narcolepsy, and they may even have an idea of the signs and symptoms linked to the diagnosis.
In reality, hypersomnolence disorder is much more common than narcolepsy. According to the statistics from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), narcolepsy affects about 0.2% of the population while hypersomnolence affects about 1% of people.
Myth #3: It’s not possible to get too much sleep.
Fact: Too much sleep has negative health effects.
Some people may think that if some sleep is good, a lot of sleep must be even better or that it is impossible to get too much sleep. But someone with hypersomnia is not sleeping a few extra minutes each day; they are sleeping for 14 hours or more each day.
Not only are these people sleeping excessively, but when awake, they find themselves unable to function. For a person with hypersomnia, transitioning from asleep to awake is challenging because they feel:
With these symptoms in place, people struggle in multiple facets of life. Hypersomnolence disorder effects make it difficult for a person to:
- Go to school
- Complete household chores
- Maintain healthy relationships
Additionally, too much sleep creates health effects from poor self-care. When someone is sleeping most of the day, they will not have the time or energy needed to eat well, exercise and practice appropriate hygiene skills, which puts their physical health in jeopardy.
Myth #4: Stimulants are the only treatment for hypersomnolence.
Fact: A combination of medications and therapy can help treat hypersomnia.
Known for the ability to increase energy and focus, stimulants can be a useful tool in treating hypersomnia. For this reason, many may assume stimulants are the only treatment option for hypersomnia but other options exist.
Some medications doctors use to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy is used off-label for hypersomnia symptoms as well. Stimulant medications used for hypersomnolence disorder include:
A non-stimulant option, sodium oxybate is a medication used off-label to address hypersomnia symptoms. This medication can reduce daytime sleepiness and sudden weakness triggered by strong emotions. Another medication receiving increased interest from the medical community is modafinil. When people use this medication, they report feeling less tired and more energetic.
Other people find success in treating hypersomnia with therapy alone or a combination of therapy and medication. One therapeutic approach called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help people with idiopathic hypersomnia address the impact of the condition on the mood, relationships, and health. CBT can also help the person find ways to be more efficient during waking hours and explore new options to manage their sleep habits.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013. Hypersomnia Foundation. “Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH) Characteristics.” March 2019. Accessed June 3, 2019. Trotti, Lynn M. “About Idiopathic Hypersomnia.” Hypersomnia Foundation, September 2017. Accessed June 3, 2019. Trotti, Lynn M. “Treatment.” Hypersomnia Foundation, May 2019. Accessed June 3, 2019
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013.
Hypersomnia Foundation. “Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH) Characteristics.” March 2019. Accessed June 3, 2019.
Trotti, Lynn M. “About Idiopathic Hypersomnia.” Hypersomnia Foundation, September 2017. Accessed June 3, 2019.
Trotti, Lynn M. “Treatment.” Hypersomnia Foundation, May 2019. Accessed June 3, 2019