Excessive sleep: are you a hypersomniac?

Sleep hygiene

While everyone knows about sleep deprivation or insomnia, it’s much rare to hear about its perfect opposite: hypersomnia. This excessive need for sleep is a little-known and rare sleep disorder that often appears before the age of 30.

Hypersomnia: a rare and little-known disorder

The prevalence of the disease, although difficult to estimate due to its rarity, is thought to affect 1 in 10,000 to 50,000 people. The condition appears in both men and women, and often starts before the age of thirty. People suffering from hypersomnia have an excessive need for sleep, with phases of sleepiness during the day. Despite a good quality night’s sleep, hypersomnia causes difficulty waking up in the morning, known as “sleep drunkenness”, because the person wakes up confused and disorientated.

Hypersomnia is recognised as a sleep disorder and comes in two types:

  • Idiopathic hypersomnia with prolonged sleep (more than 10 h/day).
  • Idiopathic hypersomnia without prolonged sleep (less than 10 h/day).

How can I tell if I have hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia can only be diagnosed by exclusion (exclusion of any other type of sleep disorder). Once the diagnosis has been considered, a sleep recording should be carried out in a sleep centre with expertise in this condition. This is essential to make an accurate diagnosis and rule out other causes of sleepiness. Two examinations are carried out: the polysomnographic examination (add link), which records nocturnal and diurnal sleep, and the iterative sleep latency test (analysis of brain activity).
The polysomnographic sleep test continuously records brain waves as well as eye and muscle activity during sleep. In the case of hypersomnia, polysomnography generally reveals rapid to very rapid falling asleep and excessive sleep production. Many hypersomniacs sleep between 11 and 17 hours in a 24-hour period.

How to support someone who is suffering from Hypersomnia ?

Today, there is a very limited amount of research into understanding and helping hypersomnia sufferers. In the case of excessive sleepiness, the only possible therapy is pharmacological support. This does not cure the disease, but helps reduce hypersomnia and bouts of narcolepsy so that patients can lead a decent social life.

Psychological support is strongly recommended for those suffering from this disease. It can have harmful consequences for the patient’s social and professional life. This can sometimes prove dangerous, as some patients fall asleep at the wheel, for example. Hence the importance of consulting a doctor quickly if there is any doubt. Don’t hesitate to talk about it with those around you and tell them about it.