Idiopathic hypersomnolence

Like narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnolence is a condition characterised by excessive sleepiness. Patients also experience difficulty in waking (either in the morning or at the end of nap periods during the day). The term idiopathic means 'of unknown cause'.

As with narcolepsy, patients with this condition often sleep for long periods but, unlike patients with narcolepsy, in whom sleep attacks can occur anytime without warning, patience with idiopathic hypersomnolence have a greater degree of control over their sleep, and do not suffer from cataplexy or the other features of the full narcolepsy syndrome, such as sleep paralysis, hallucinations and automatisms.

Although about 25% of patients experience spontaneous improvement in their condition, it can be life-long and can require treatment with similar stimulant medications to those which are used for treating narcolepsy.

The protocol for diagnosing idiopathic hypersomnolence is identical to that which is used to diagnose narcolepsy.

Treatments for hypersomnolence

Because idiopathic hypersomnolence refers to excessive sleepiness without an identifiable cause, the treatment involves treating the symptoms, not the underlying cause. Treatment usually involves the use of medication to counter daytime sleepiness and lifestyle changes.

Medications for idiopathic hypersomnolence

Excessive daytime tiredness is usually treated by medicines that stimulate the central nervous system, including amphetamine, methamphetamine, methylphenidate and modafinil.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a variety of lifestyle modifications that usually improve treatment efficacy and quality of life. These changes are individualised, and need to be discussed with your treating doctor, however may include:

  • Notify your family, friends and employer about your condition
  • Ensure a regular sleep schedule of bed times and rising times
  • Avoid periods of sleep-deprivation (such as staying 'out all night')
  • Schedule several short naps each day (10-15 minute naps, 2-3 times per day) to improve alertness and reduce the likelihood of sleep-attacks during activities
  • Have a short nap before driving or performing activities that require concentration; never drive when feeling sleepy or tired
  • Avoid occupations that involve excessive driving and operating heavy machinery
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Keep physically active and eat a balanced diet
  • Join a patient support group (click here for information on this issue).