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Insomniac, are you feeling sleepy? Options · View
Posted: Monday, June 4, 2007 11:45:52 PM

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Joined: 12/6/2006
Posts: 29,280

Wouldn't it be nice to curl up and take a nap right now? About twenty million insomniacs pace the halls each night, but it's difficult to assess how many people suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, known as hypersomnia. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that up to 40 percent of Americans have at least some of the condition's symptoms some of the time. Its consequences are worse than decreased productivity: Fatigue causes at least 100,000 car accidents per year, estimates the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Mass drowsiness can't be pinned on any one culprit. "Sleep lives at the nexus of our social life, biology, and behavior," says James Wyatt, director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Wyatt and his colleagues send patients an eight-page questionnaire and meet with them for an hour before arriving at even a preliminary diagnosis. "We're not looking for the smoking gun, we're looking for all the indicators... it could be a biological sleep disorder, it could be a medication you are taking, and it could also be that you live near an airport or sleep with a noisy pet."

In a Trance

Hypersomnia is not merely feeling tired after a late night out. It's a stronger, more consistent sleepiness that compels you to nap, even at inappropriate times. See your primary care physician if you have a particularly hard time waking up, if you are especially anxious and irritable, and/or if you've lost your appetite. Unsurprisingly, excessive daytime sleepiness can cloud your thinking and mar your memory or even spur hallucinations.

Sleepy Sources

You can make yourself sleepy by repeatedly staying up. But narcolepsy, a neurological condition marked by uncontrollable urges to sleep, or sleep apnea, which causes interrupted breathing during sleep, are involuntary potential root causes. Factors that bring on hypersomnia (separately or in combination) also include depression or bipolar disorder, the use of prescription medicines, drug or alcohol abuse, a head injury, and a genetic predisposition toward drowsiness.

Hypersomnia can indeed be treated. Once a doctor determines what is causing your sleepiness, he or she would treat a primary sleep disorder first. Sufferers of sleep apnea, for example, may be advised to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device, a mask attached to a machine that blows air to keep nasal passages open during the night. Antidepressants could be prescribed if your doctor believes depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder is causing your excessive sleepiness. Stimulants are also a common treatment for hypersomnia—and new drugs such as modafinal are thought not to be habit-forming. Exposure to artificial bright light in the morning can help reset your body's internal clock. Your doctor may advise you to cut down on your drug, alcohol and caffeine, or may use cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to help you establish a more consistent sleep routine.

Sweet Dreams

You've heard some of these sleep hygiene tips before, no doubt, but incorporating them requires not just knowledge but self-discipline. Try keeping a sleep diary each day to hold yourself accountable as you develop better habits. Most importantly, go to bed and wake up at set times. Try to exercise for at least 20 minutes, preferably five to six hours before bedtime. Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual such as taking a warm bath or reading—avoid watching TV or surfing the Internet too late as those images will get your mind racing when it should be settling down.

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