Hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness, is a condition in which a person has trouble staying awake during the day. People who have hypersomnia can fall asleep at any time; for instance, at work or while they are driving. They may also have other sleep-related problems, including a lack of energy and trouble thinking clearly.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 40% of people have some symptoms of hypersomnia from time to time.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
There are several potential causes of narcolepsy, including:
- The sleep disorders narcolepsy (daytime sleepiness) and sleep apnea (interruptions of breathing during sleep)
- Not getting enough sleep at night (sleep deprivation)
- Being overweight
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- A head injury or a neurological disease, such as multiple sclerosis
- Prescription drugs, such as tranquilizers
- Genetics (having a relative with narcolepsy)
How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
If you consistently feel drowsy during the day, talk to your doctor. In making a diagnosis of hypersomnia, your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits, how much sleep you get at night, if you wake up at night, and whether you fall asleep during the day. Your doctor will also want to know if you are having any emotional problems or are taking any medications that may be interfering with your sleep.
Your doctor may also order some tests, including blood tests, computed tomography (CT) scans, and a sleep test called polysomnography. In some cases, an additional electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the electrical activity of the brain, is needed.
Learn more about sleep studies.
How Is Narcolepsy Treated?
If you are diagnosed with narcolepsy, your doctor can prescribe various drugs to treat it, including stimulants, antidepressants, as well as several newer medications (for example, Provigil and Xyrem).
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe a treatment known as continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. With CPAP, you wear a mask over your nose while you are sleeping. A machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nostrils is hooked up to the mask. The pressure from air flowing into the nostrils helps keep the airways open.
If you are taking a medication that causes drowsiness, ask your doctor about changing the medication to one that is less likely to make you sleepy. You may also want to go to bed earlier to try to get more sleep at night, and eliminate alcohol and caffeine.