Sleep disorders cover a broad spectrum of symptoms from sleeping poorly to sleeping excessively. The latter condition is called hypersomnia or heavy sleep. A 2010 review published in the "Journal of Sleep Research" describes some symptoms for this disorder 2. People with hypersomnia have a difficult time arising and rarely feel rested. They also have a hard time focusing and don't remember things well. Fortunately, several safe and effective treatments are readily available for this condition.
The cause of hypersomnia is often unknown 5. A 2007 report offered in the journal "Sleep" followed heavy sleep patients for several years. During that time, the symptoms of unrefreshing naps and excessive deep sleep remained stable in most patients. However, the disorder suddenly improved in many of these people. That result suggests that hypersomnia is often a transient phenomena, which will improve with the passage of time.**
The most common treatment for hypersomnia are alerting medications. Methylphenidate, a stimulant drug, is typically used to combat heavy sleep. Modafinil, a wakefulness promoter, is a newer medication which is often prescribed as well. According to a 2009 report in the "Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine," about 65 percent of people respond favorably to these drugs 3. Methylphenidate is prescribed more often than modafinil, but both drugs work well and are safe to use.
In 2007, the FDA approved another drug for the treatment of hypersomnia. This medication is called armodafinil, and it's chemically similar to modafinil. Armodafinil has advantages over modafinil in that smaller doses work longer. A 2008 study in "Drugs Today" reveals that these lower amounts make armodafinil more tolerable than other alerting medications.
Hypersomnia may be caused by a disturbance in body rhythms. These rhythms are controlled by daily exposure to light and dark. Phototherapy, therefore, may be useful in alleviating heavy sleep. A 2002 investigation presented in the "Journal of Affective Disorders" used light therapy to treat patients with seasonal affective disorder 5. Such patients typically experience winter depression and excessive sleepiness. Gradual exposure to increasingly bright light during sleep improved hypersomnia. Simulating dawn in this manner made it easier for the patients to wake up, and they felt more alert during the morning hours.
Hypersomnia is a diagnosis and a symptom. It can be present in isolation or appear as part of another disorder. For example, a 2008 summary in "Revue Neurologique" describes the heavy sleep present in Kleine-Levin syndrome. That's a rare neurological disorder which most often affects adolescent males. It is usually triggered by an infection, although a genetic component has been identified as well. Unfortunately, drugs are marginally effective and phototherapy has not been consistently used in Kleine-Levin syndrome.
Sleep disorders cover a broad spectrum of symptoms from sleeping poorly to sleeping excessively. Fortunately, several safe and effective treatments are readily available for this condition. That result suggests that hypersomnia is often a transient phenomena, which will improve with the passage of time. The most common treatment for hypersomnia are alerting medications. Methylphenidate is prescribed more often than modafinil, but both drugs work well and are safe to use. A 2002 investigation presented in the "Journal of Affective Disorders" used light therapy to treat patients with seasonal affective disorder.
- "Sleep"; Idiopathic Hypersomnia: A Study of 77 Cases; K. N. Anderson et al.; Oct. 1, 2010
- "Journal of Sleep Research"; Subjective Symptoms in Idiopathic Hypersomnia: Beyond Excessive Sleepiness; C. Vernet et al.; April 2, 2010
- "Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine"; Idiopathic Hypersomnia: Clinical Features and Response to Treatment. M. Ali et al.; Dec. 15, 2009
- "Drugs Today"; Armodafinil for Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. S. Nishino et al.; June 2008
- "Journal of Affective Disorders"; Is Dawn Simulation Effective in Ameliorating the Difficulty Awakening in Seasonal Affective Disorder Associated with Hypersomnia?; D. H. Avery et al.; May 2002
- Zoonar RF/Zoonar/Getty Images