Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Hypersomnia (also known as Excessive Daytime Sleep – EDS) is a condition that causes prolonged nighttime sleep or persistent episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness.
Hypersomnia must not be confused with symptoms associated with jet lag, acute insomnia, or intense physical exertion leading to fatigue and sleepiness. People with hypersomnia can have sufficient sleep but still experience the symptoms of hypersomnia or extreme daytime sleepiness.
Hypersomniacs often have trouble getting out of bed (even after multiple alarms), feel chronically and persistently tired, and have a hard time concentrating and focusing on tasks throughout the day.
Hypersomnia is divided into two main groups: primary and secondary.
When the condition manifests in a person without any symptoms, other than fatigue or inexplainable lethargy, they have primary hypersomnia.
Secondary hypersomnia occurs when the condition is associated with other medical conditions, like Parkinson’s, sleep apnea, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Narcolepsy is a different neurological condition that must not be confused with hypersomnia. The difference between the two conditions is that a hypersomniac can force themselves to stay awake, whereas a narcoleptic (type 1) will spontaneously fall asleep, no matter how hard they try to stay awake.
Primary hypersomnia occurs when brain functions that control the sleep-wake cycle are disrupted.
Secondary hypersomnia can be a side effect of conditions or diseases that cause fatigue. One such condition is obstructive sleep apnea; a sleep disorder that prevents restorative sleep due to pauses in breathing while sleeping.
Prescribed medications or the use of drugs and alcohol can cause hypersomnia, as well as, brain surgeries or injuries, and low thyroid function. These factors may cause an imbalance in normal brain function and lead to hypersomnia.
The most apparent symptom of hypersomnia is chronic and persistent fatigue. A person with hypersomnia may have difficulty waking up from long periods of sleep or may require naps every few hours to function throughout the day. Additional symptoms may include:
- Lack of Energy for Routine Tasks
- A General Decrease in Physical Activity
- Memory Loss
- Weight Loss
If a person suspects that they have hypersomnia, it’s useful to keep a sleep diary for about a month before visiting the doctor. This way the doctor can accurately track sleep patterns, time of sleep, and sleep duration for analysis.
Your Doctor will likely obtain a comprehensive history of your symptoms, including sleep-related habits, your current medications, and drug use. You may be asked to track your sleep using a sleep diary. Additional testing may be needed, such as:
- Sleep Study/Polysomnography to rule out other sleep-related conditions, like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb movement disorders
- MSLT: Multiple Sleep Latency Test, which is conducted multiple times during the day to measure how long it takes you to fall asleep to rule out narcolepsy
Treatments for hypersomnia directly depend upon its cause. If it is primary hypersomnia, the doctor may treat it with drugs used for narcolepsy. These might include amphetamine, methylphenidate, and modafinil. The doctor might also use anti-depressants and supportive therapy to treat hypersomnia, depending on their condition.
If it’s secondary hypersomnia, the doctor will first treat the underlying problem that led to symptoms. Along with it, some therapeutic therapy could be prescribed, like exercise, diet, or lifestyle changes, which could help resolve the hypersomnia.
Be it primary or secondary, supportive, and therapeutic therapies play a significant role in correcting hypersomnia. One might be asked to follow a healthy sleep hygiene regimen, which includes:
- A Regimented Sleep and Wake Schedule
- A Cool, Dark Bedroom with Ambient Sound, like a Fan or White Noise Machine or App
- Avoidance of Beverages, like Caffeine and Alcohol
Please note that hypersomnia is usually chronic. It may be treated once and then show up again. In primary hypersomnia, patients might feel relieved as long as they willingly stick to their treatment program. People with secondary hypersomnia, who have other conditions like obstructive sleep apnea or Parkinson’s, may have difficulty establishing a permanent and satisfactory cure.
1. Chen, J. C., Tsai, T. Y., Li, C. Y., & Hwang, J. H. (2015). Obstructive sleep apnea and risk of Parkinson’s disease: a population‐based cohort study. Journal of sleep research, 24(4), 432-437. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsr.12289