Idiopathic hypersomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person is excessively sleepy (hypersomnia) during the day and has great difficulty being awakened from sleep. Idiopathic means there is not a clear cause.

Hypersomnia Symptoms

The symptoms often develop slowly during the teens or young adulthood. Hypersomnia is usually indicated by long sleep periods and excessive sleepiness or excessively deep sleep. It may be associated with difficulty in awakening – the person may feel confused or disoriented (sleep drunkenness). People with hypersomnia often feel an increased need for sleep during the day however daytime naps do not relieve drowsiness.

This condition is similar to narcolepsy in that you are extremely sleepy. It is different from narcolepsy because idiopathic hypersomnia does not usually involve suddenly falling asleep (sleep attacks) or losing muscle control due to strong emotions (cataplexy). Also, unlike narcolepsy, naps in idiopathic hypersomnia are usually not refreshing.

Hypersomnia is believed to be caused by the central nervous system.

Hypersomnia Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider will ask about your sleep history. The usual approach is to consider other potential causes of excessive daytime sleepiness such as:

  • Depression
  • Certain medicines
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Low thyroid function
  • Previous head injury

If other causes have been ruled out and symptoms have been present for at least 6 months, you should be referred to a sleep specialist. The specialist may send you to a sleep lab for tests that may include:

Hypersomnia Treatment

Since the cause of hypersomnia is still unknown, treatment consists of lifestyle changes and taking stimulants to help you be more alert.

Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Limit your naps to one (preferably in the afternoon) lasting no longer than 45 minutes.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep.
  • Avoid shift work, alcohol and caffeine.

Your doctor will determine the amount and type of stimulant you should take.

Wake Forest Baptist Sleep Disorders Center

The Wake Forest Baptist Sleep Disorders Center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Our multidisciplinary team is made up of board-certified sleep specialists from neurology, pulmonary disease and pediatrics. Our team of sleep experts performs sleep studies and multiple sleep latency tests (MSLT), and provides education, advice and assistance to patients and referring physicians regarding the latest testing and treatments available for all types of sleep disorders.