Hypersomnia is a sleep condition that causes excessive sleepiness throughout the day, even if you have had a great night’s sleep the evening prior.
Not only is hypersomnia a frustrating condition, but it can also be quite dangerous and have a negative impact on your day-to-day life, such as your social life and work.
The name hypersomnia can cover a wide range of sleep-related problems, but they have that same main symptom, the need to sleep more than usual.
Hypersomnia is categorized into two main brackets, primary and secondary, which I will discuss in more depth later.
Hypersomnia can sometimes be quite tricky to diagnose and requires extensive testing to get to the root cause of the problem, and the most disappointing thing is, if you are diagnosed with a primary condition such as idiopathic hypersomnia, there is no cure or even known cause of the disorder.
Throughout this guide, I will tell you what signs and symptoms you should look for to establish if you may have hypersomnia and what kinds of tests you can expect to partake in to confirm a diagnosis.
Before you go to get tested for hypersomnia, it’s essential to ensure that this is what your symptoms are pointing to.
Hypersomnia is often confused with other sleep conditions such as narcolepsy and insomnia, so firstly, you need to be able to differentiate.
Below are some of the symptoms that are specific to hypersomnia. However, some of these symptoms can also be linked to other health conditions, so you must consult a specialist to get your personal analysis.
- Napping for hours on end and still feeling tired
- Loss of appetite
- Slow reactions
- Cognitive difficulties
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mood swings
- The need to nap in public situations such as social events or work
It is also important to remember that some of these symptoms are linked to many other sleep disorders, so getting the correct diagnosis is vital.
Preparing For Testing
Before you visit your doctor or sleep specialist, there are some helpful things you can do to speed up the diagnosis and give your doctor an idea of what you are going through before testing takes place.
This means that determining the cause and severity of your problem can be narrowed down.
1. Keep a Diary
In the weeks before you visit the doctor, it can be helpful to note your symptoms and record when you are experiencing them and how often. Sleep diaries are an effective way to do this and will help your doctor look back at your symptoms over time.
2. List Your Medications, Foods, and Alcohol Consumption
Certain medications and stimulants, such as drugs and alcohol, can significantly impact your sleep health.
Even something as simple as the foods you’re eating or the times you eat at night can have an effect. Making a list of everything you consume throughout the day and the times you do so will help your doctor spot a possible cause.
3. Ask Your Family
The person with whom you share a room at night may have even more insight into your sleeping habits than you do. It can be beneficial to ask them about your sleep quality and symptoms during the night so that you can inform your doctor at your appointment.
If you are concerned about your appointment and being tested for hypersomnia, then don’t be afraid to raise your concerns before you arrive.
You can ask questions such as how long your appointment will take when you should expect to receive your results, and what the test will entail.
Tests For Hypersomnia
To diagnose whether or not you have hypersomnia, your doctor will first want to ask you about your medical history, symptoms, and general sleep hygiene.
They will ask you whether you have any other sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, limb movement, or whether or not you wake up a lot during the night. These questions will help the practitioner determine whether you may be suffering from any other disorders.
They will also ask you about your daily habits, such as whether you stay up late at night, suffer from depression, consume drugs or alcohol, or have a stressful job or home life, which could be causing sleep disturbances.
Using all of this information, your doctor will then be able to establish whether or not to further test for hypersomnia or whether you may have another underlying condition.
They will also ask you about keeping a sleep diary, which, as I said earlier, can help you to do before you visit so that you can present it at your appointment.
Your journal should include details such as how long it takes to drop off asleep, how often you wake up during the night, how often you feel tired during the day, and how much time you spend sleeping.
Once your doctor has established that your symptoms are pointing to hypersomnia, several forms of testing could take place, and these will depend on your circumstances.
1. Epworth Sleepiness Scale
This is usually the first test you will undergo when you’re suspected of suffering from hypersomnia. The test includes a short questionnaire to help your doctor establish the severity of sleepiness.
The questions will consist of things such as how likely you are to fall asleep while sitting at your laptop or while riding on public transport.
If your result is higher than 10, it points to the fact that you are suffering from a sleep condition that will need further investigation.
2. Sleep Study – Polysomnography
A polysomnography, known as a sleep study, is a test that takes place to gather information about your general sleep habits.
While asleep, it takes place and picks up activities such as snoring, breathing difficulties, heart activity, sleep stages, positions, and body movements.
An actigraphy is a test that will track your sleep once you return home. It’s done via a device that you will wear to bed on your wrist.
The device will record your sleep-wake cycle and see how often you wake up during the night. It will also track your light exposure throughout the day and measure your activity levels.
The actigraphy will be able to determine further whether your symptoms are related to poor sleep quality or daily habits.
The actigraphy will often be compared to your sleep diary to see if the two collaborate. It will also be viewed to see if the patient needs further testing with an MLST.
4. Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MLST)
MLST testing measures how long it takes you to fall asleep. This period is referred to as your sleep latency.
The test will also look at how often you nap throughout the day and how many of those include periods of rapid eye movement sleep (REM). It is common for people suffering from hypersomnia to have a latency time of around eight minutes.
This form of testing will usually take place in a lab after undergoing polysomnography, and during your test, you will be given five opportunities to nap. You will be in a darkened room that is made comfortable for you to sleep in, and you will be hooked up to several monitors and sensors to measure your activity.
The main reason for this test is to establish the difference between hypersomnia and narcolepsy, as the two conditions are often easily confused.
In some circumstances, you may be required to undergo further testing involving taking samples of blood, urine, or spinal fluid. These will be sent to a laboratory to rule out other underlying medical conditions.
Other conditions which these tests will look to rule out include the following:
- Thyroid problems
- Substance abuse
- Iron deficiency
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neurological disorders
- Hormone imbalance
The Diagnosis of Hypersomnia
After you have your diagnosis of hypersomnia, then depending on your type, there may be things you can do to improve your symptoms.
However, if you have primary hypersomnia, there isn’t a lot you can do. The list below is all techniques you can introduce to your daily routine to help you live with the condition and improve your quality of life.
Some medications, such as modafinil, methylphenidate, and amphetamine, may be prescribed to you, which will help keep you more alert during the day. However, changing your habits is the most beneficial thing you can do.
- Have a regular sleep schedule
- Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and protein
- Don’t eat late at night
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
- Get plenty of fresh air
- Practice relaxing techniques such as yoga and medication
- Go to bed at the same time every day
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Minimize caffeine intake in the afternoon
Living With Hypersomnia After Diagnosis – Conclusion
So, if you suspect you might be suffering from a sleep condition such as hypersomnia, then the first thing you should do is to start taking notes and keep diaries of your daily sleep habits.
This will help your doctor establish whether your symptoms point to a sleep condition or another underlying health condition during your first visit.
The severity of your disorder will determine what kind of testing you will undergo, whether or not that’s a simple questionnaire, an overnight sleep study, or blood tests.
Depending on your circumstance, it is possible to continue having a good quality of life while living with hypersomnia. Although there is no way to prevent it entirely, especially when primary, there are lifestyle changes you can make which can drastically improve your condition.