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If You Think You Have Hypersomnia, Read This

If you think you’re oversleeping, you may worry you have the sleep disorder hypersomnia. But it’s more likely that you’re suffering from undersleeping.
21 MINS

Struggling to wake up after a seemingly early bedtime may make you wonder, "Why am I sleeping so much?" To reassure yourself that it's nothing to worry about, you enter the question into Google's search engine.

The results bounce back phrases like "excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)," "difficulty waking after a long sleep time," and "frequent daytime naps." This makes you think you may be experiencing the sleep disorder hypersomnia, or what's commonly referred to as oversleeping.

But here's what you need to know: You’re more likely sleep-deprived than a hypersomniac.

The reason being, many people aren't aware of their individual sleep need (which is the genetically determined amount of sleep your body needs). They also often overestimate the amount of nighttime sleep they had. Naturally, there’s a good chance these two factors give birth to sleep debt (the amount of nighttime sleep you've forgone in the past 14 days, relative to your sleep need). This, in turn, thickens the fog of daytime drowsiness as your body wants to recoup from sleep debt, perpetuating the notion that you're suffering from hypersomnia.

Ahead, you'll discover why undersleeping is a much more likely reality than the complications of hypersomnia.

Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from a healthcare professional. While the RISE app is designed to support natural sleep and boost sleep hygiene to address symptoms of sleep deprivation, it does not treat medical conditions such as sleep disorders or mental health issues.

The Odds Are in Favor of Undersleeping Rather Than Hypersomnia

It's common to mistake daytime drowsiness after short sleeping for hypersomnolence (excessive sleepiness despite getting enough sleep). Before jumping to conclusions, you should know that the prevalence of sleep insufficiency is so widespread, it's now labeled as a public health epidemic. As early as 2018, statistics reported that roughly three out of 10 Americans sleep six hours or less per night.

If you think that’s not too bad, research shows the average person needs 8 hours and 10 minutes per night (plus or minus 44 minutes or so). A larger percentage of the population than you might imagine (13.5%) actually does best on a longer sleep schedule of nine hours or more. This certainly puts things into perspective on how much we’re shortchanging ourselves on sleep.

Yet, how did we get to this point where sleep — something as vital as air and water — has taken a backseat? The answer: lack of awareness and misperception make the perfect breeding ground for sleep debt.

You Don’t Know Your Biological Sleep Need

You don't have to take AP Biology to know that no one else in the world has the same fingerprints as you. Similarly, you don't have to become a professor well-versed in sleep medicine to learn that your biological sleep need is unique to you.

Just like how the genetic dice determine your height and eye color, they also dictate your individual sleep need and chronotype (whether you identify as an early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between). And herein lies the problem — many of us don't actually know our individual sleep need.

Sure, health boards like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggest getting at least seven hours of sleep every night. But these generalized recommendations do not account for the specific nuances of sleep need that vary from person to person.

To illustrate, you average eight hours of nighttime sleep, thinking it will immunize you against sleep deficiency. Plot twist: Your sleep need could be higher than that, say, 8.5 hours or even nine. Within just three nights of falling short of your sleep need, you've accumulated at least 1.5 hours of sleep debt.

To complicate matters, we often compare ourselves to others, which may make us think that we sleep way more than our partner, boss, and friend, and are therefore getting enough sleep or possibly sleeping too much. When in reality, we don't even know what their sleep need is, making the basis for comparison faulty in the first place.

What's more, there's a high chance that said partner or colleague is also under-meeting their sleep need. Recall that the average person needs around 8 hours and 10 minutes of sleep per night, with roughly 13.5% of the general population needing nine hours or more.

You’re Overestimating Your Sleep Efficiency

Hypersomnia: tired man in bed looking at his alarm clock

Unbeknownst to many, we tend to overestimate our sleep efficiency. If it’s your first time hearing it, sleep efficiency calculates how much time spent in bed is dedicated to actual slumber. Unfortunately, excessive sleep latency (you take longer than the average person to fall asleep) and sleep fragmentation (you don't sleep through the night) dilute your sleep efficiency.

So, if you've gone to bed at 10 p.m. tonight with a 7 a.m. wake-up call, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve had nine full hours of sleep. Perhaps you’ve spent 30 minutes in bed scrolling on Instagram. You also need to account for the time it then took to fall asleep after you put your phone aside, and the time you spent going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and then falling back asleep, not to mention the possibly many smaller awakenings during the course of the night that happen naturally or as a result of suboptimal habits (like late-night alcohol or food). All these likely mean your sleep efficiency isn't at 100%. And if your biological sleep need is indeed nine hours, you’re inevitably racking up sleep debt.

You’re Taken in by Daytime Naps

The urge to snooze after a large meal has popularized the term, "food coma." Yet, scientists explain that it's all in your head — your lunch has little to do with your mid-day siesta (although a carb-rich meal can intensify the chances of snoozing). Instead, what you're experiencing is called the postprandial dip, or post-lunch dip. 

Don’t be taken in by the term, though. In this case, the typical lunchtime is used as a timestamp to indicate the energy dip that follows afterward, not necessarily meaning that a meal has taken place before the dip. To avoid any confusion, the RISE app simply calls it your afternoon dip.

During this period, your body is biologically inclined to slow down and recharge itself. In other words, you're primed to doze off during your afternoon dip. You don't have to be alarmed and mistake it as a warning sign of hypersomnia. After all, this energy dip is a natural part of your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock). It will happen even if you've consistently met your sleep need, although sleep debt will certainly intensify your desire to nod off.

If you're interested in how your circadian rhythm changes from day to day, the RISE app tells you the exact times of your energy peaks and dips on your Energy Schedule.

Undersleeping Begets Sleep Debt

Not meeting your sleep need inevitably leads to sleep debt. When sleep debt persists over months, years, and even decades, it becomes chronic sleep deprivation.

But how does burgeoning sleep debt mislead you into thinking you're doomed with hypersomnia?

For starters, the human body is biologically inclined to repay sleep debt. This happens by outsleeping your sleep need, which usually takes the form of:

  • An earlier bedtime for a few successive nights,
  • A daytime nap (preferably during your afternoon dip)
  • A later wake-up time, aka sleeping in

All three mechanisms mean you have a propensity to sleep longer than usual, at least for the foreseeable future, depending on how much sleep debt you've accumulated. 

Keep in mind that sleep debt can also worsen your energy dips and wake-up grogginess (scientifically known as sleep inertia). If you're relying on sleeping in rather than an earlier bedtime and afternoon naps to pay down sleep debt, you're also most likely struggling with more intense sleep inertia.

Between needing to catch up on sleep and more intense energy dips and sleep inertia, you’ll be in an energy slump when you're carrying — and repaying — sleep debt. Even though it's a completely normal phenomenon as your body tries to catch up on prior sleep loss, it can give you the illusion that you're suffering from hypersomnia. When in reality, it's actually undersleeping you have to worry about.

The Brunt of Undersleeping Outweighs That of Oversleeping

Hypersomnia: tired person in his car

Thanks to misreporting by the media, we're often told that the repercussions of oversleeping outweigh that of undersleeping, when in fact, it's the other way around.

Going without sleep for 18 hours — just two hours past the human limit for wakefulness — means you're as cognitively impaired as someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, even if you meet your sleep need thereafter. A full 24 hours of wakefulness is synonymous with a BAC of 0.10%, higher than the legal limit in every state.

But sleep loss doesn't have to happen overnight; it can also gradually build up in small increments. In fact, just missing out on one hour of your sleep need for 10 consecutive nights can make you as cognitively impaired as someone who pulled an all-nighter.

Given that your cognitive skills rule every part of your life — from closing an important deal at work to driving along the freeway — you can quickly see how undersleeping not only downgrades your quality of life but also puts you and others at great personal risk.

What's more, insufficient sleep hikes up emotional reactivity by as much as 60%. At the same time, it dials down your empathy radar. Safe to say, your social and professional relationships just took a turn for the worst.

On a physiological level, sleep loss translates to myriad health issues, many times more than the presumed health risks caused by long sleeping. Ample research emphasizes a causal relationship between chronic sleep deprivation and a host of health problems, such as heart disease, obesity, certain kinds of cancer, psychiatric disorders — and the list goes on. In fact, acute sleep debt alone amplifies your vulnerability to the common cold by almost three-fold.

Meanwhile, there are few to no health issues directly caused by oversleeping. For instance, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the most noteworthy health issue closely associated with oversleeping. In fact, a study published in the American Family Physician journal clearly states hypersomnia is a symptom (not a cause) of SAD. 

This seasonal form of depression usually occurs when the days are short and the nights are long. Scientific evidence found that as many as 80% of SAD-affected individuals suffer from hypersomnia. Almost half of the surveyed population slept up to an additional two hours every day during winter. Fortunately, the long-sleeping trend usually self-resolves with the arrival of summer or bright light therapy.

Unlike what the media portrays, oversleeping and poor health is a case of correlation rather than causation. In human-speak, that means long sleep duration is not the primary cause of a high mortality rate. More often than not, it's a symptom of an underlying health issue that directly led to a person’s death. Yet, many of us tend to assume oversleeping is a warning sign of a health decline. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — this is usually due to bad medical reporting and complex technical jargon that confuses the average reader (and points to something else medically other than your sleep that will require investigation).

RISE Can Help You Separate the Illusion From Reality

Ready to stop living under the shadow of perceived hypersomnia and start meeting sleep insufficiency head-on? Then, you need the RISE app to help you separate the illusion from reality to live your best life.

It Calculates Your Sleep Need for You

RISE intuitively calculates your sleep need for you. No, it doesn't pull a random number from thin air like how a magician whisks a rabbit out from their top hat. Instead, it relies on real-life data — namely, a year's worth of sleep data stored in your phone — to calculate your unique sleep need, right down to the exact hour and minute.

It Keeps Track of Your Sleep Debt

Thanks to your phone’s motion-based sleep detection, RISE automatically measures how much sleep you’ve had based on your sleep and wake times. In doing so, it accurately calculates your running sleep debt based on the past 14 days of your sleep patterns. You never have to worry about misjudging your sleep duration ever again.

It Tells You the Best Times to Repay Sleep Debt

RiseApp Melatonin Window
The RISE app shows your daily Melatonin Window to help you plan ahead for an earlier bedtime.

Knowing how much sleep debt you have is only one piece of the puzzle in solving sleep insufficiency. You also need to know the best times to pay down sleep debt based on your unique chronobiology, which is where your circadian rhythm comes into play. Here's how RISE can help:

  • It reveals your Melatonin Window. This is the window of time in which your body produces peak levels of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone, to help you fall asleep easily and sleep through the night. An earlier bedtime within your Melatonin Window over the next few nights is the easiest way to bring down sleep debt fast.
  • It shows your Afternoon Dip. Remember, this is the period that your energy levels naturally fall during daylight. So, making time for a siesta during your dip is a productive way to recoup sleep debt when you aren't in top form.
  • It highlights your Grogginess Zone. This is the duration that you instinctively feel groggy when you wake up in the morning. Sleeping in to prune your sleep debt will inadvertently delay your Grogginess Zone. Also, to avoid throwing your circadian rhythm off course, keep your sleep-in to no more than an hour of your usual wake time.

With the RISE app, you can easily plan ahead for extra snooze time to pay down sleep debt for better energy during the day.

On the Rare Chance Hypersomnia Is at Work

Even though the odds are slim, roughly 4-5% of the general public is diagnosed with hypersomnia. Based on the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD), the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's manual on sleep disorders, the different types of hypersomnia are collectively known as the central disorders of hypersomnolence.

Because the condition exists in various forms, the symptoms and causes of hypersomnia are wide-ranging. For example, even though EDS is the primary hallmark across all hypersomnias, specific types, say, idiopathic hypersomnia, exhibit other symptoms like sleep drunkenness (a more intense form of sleep inertia).

In general, hypersomnia is classified into primary and secondary types. Primary hypersomnias are not linked to any underlying medical condition. They include:

  • Idiopathic hypersomnia
  • Kleine-Levin syndrome
  • Narcolepsy type 1 (or narcolepsy with cataplexy)
  • Narcolepsy type 2 (or narcolepsy without cataplexy)

Meanwhile, secondary hypersomnias typically exist with another health issue:

  • Hypersomnia may be due to a medical disorder. Possible causes include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), Parkinson's disease, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and multiple sclerosis.
  • Hypersomnia may be due to a medication or substance. Common examples include antihistamines and alcohol.
  • Hypersomnia may be associated with a psychiatric disorder, like depression.

To determine which class of hypersomnia you belong to, healthcare professionals usually employ a mix of the following:

  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): It measures how quickly you fall asleep to determine EDS.
  • Polysomnography: This sleep study tracks various parameters like brain waves and heart rate, as well as the shifts between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.
  • Sleep diary: You record your sleep patterns over some time period (usually two weeks). Rating scales like the Stanford Sleepiness Scale and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale may be used to gauge how sleepy you are during the day.

Once you're diagnosed with hypersomnia, your doctor may prescribe you medications such as:

  • Central nervous system depressants, like sodium oxybate
  • Stimulants, such as amphetamine, modafinil, and methylphenidate
  • Antidepressants, like fluoxetine and bupropion

Keep in mind that these pharmacological interventions are only one part of the treatment plan for hypersomnia. They may also come with unintended side effects. In a 2016 study, patients with idiopathic hypersomnia were more likely to experience nausea and dizziness than those with narcolepsy type 1 after taking sodium oxybate.

To sustainably manage the symptoms of hypersomnia, it’s best to prioritize good sleep hygiene. Check out our step-by-step Sleep Guide for sleep-promoting tips you can easily master from dawn till dusk.

Don’t Mistake “Oversleeping” for What It Really Is — Undersleeping

RiseApp My Sleep
The RISE app is the only tool you need to minimize sleep debt for better energy during the day.

For far too long, you've been hoodwinked by the narrative that you're "oversleeping," when the truth is, you're most likely undersleeping. But it's not just you; countless others also don't know their unique sleep need and are likely overestimating their sleep duration. As a result, many of us are racking up sleep debt and constantly feel a biological propensity to pay it back.

Now that you're made aware of where things truly stand, you can easily make a dent in your running sleep debt with the RISE app. Even if you do have hypersomnia, RISE is the perfect companion to bolster your sleep hygiene defenses. It's time to feel and function at your best today — and every day.

Sleep better. Sell more.

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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

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