Hypersomnia VS Insomnia: Key Differences And Similarities

Around 70 million Americans¹ have sleep problems. While some of them are short-term issues, others are chronic conditions. Insomnia and hypersomnia are debilitating sleep disorders that can reduce the quality of life and cause various complications.

Insomnia makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Meanwhile, hypersomnia causes excessive daytime sleepiness and poor sleep quality. While one seems to be the opposite of another, these two conditions are similar.

Let's take a closer look at the differences and similarities between hypersomnia and insomnia.

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What is the difference between insomnia and hypersomnia?

The key differences between insomnia and hypersomnia are the main symptoms. While both conditions don't allow a person to feel rested, they do it differently.

Insomnia symptoms:

  • Inability to fall asleep

  • Inability to stay asleep

  • Waking up early and being unable to fall back asleep

Insomnia can be acute or chronic. The acute condition is often caused by a traumatic life event (e.g., loss of a loved one) or excessive stress (e.g., serious problems at work). While acute insomnia can go away once you start coping with the problem, chronic insomnia needs additional treatment.

Hypersomnia symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Long periods of nighttime sleep that don't result in restfulness

  • Problems with waking up (in the morning or after daytime sleep)

Hypersomnia can be primary or secondary. Secondary hypersomnia occurs when you have an underlying condition, such as sleep apnea, Parkinson's disease, neurological problems, drug habits, and mood disorders. Primary occurs without apparent reasons.

Causes

Scientists are yet to discover the causes of primary hypersomnia. Some research² suggests that it can be partially genetic.

While insomnia may also have a genetic cause, the key reasons for developing this condition are underlying problems, such as stress, poor sleeping habits, medications, neurological disorders, and pain.

Diagnosis

Currently, there isn't a specific test that can help diagnose insomnia. Your doctor will ask you to keep a sleep journal, describe your symptoms, and review your medical history. To rule out underlying medical conditions causing insomnia (such as sleep apnea), your doctor may order lab tests or arrange a sleep study.

To diagnose primary hypersomnia, a doctor can conduct polysomnography (sleep study), arrange a multiple sleep latency test, and use such questionnaires as Epworth Sleepiness Scale.³

To diagnose secondary hypersomnia, doctors conduct physical exams, review medical history, and run lab tests. This helps them determine which underlying condition could be causing your daytime sleepiness symptoms.

Hypersomnia vs. insomnia: similarities

Both hypersomnia and insomnia are sleep disorders requiring treatment tactics to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Symptoms

While the key symptoms of insomnia and hypersomnia differ, other indications are similar. They include:

  • Fatigue during daytime

  • Irritability and depressed mood

  • Problems with concentration

  • Memory problems

  • Anxiety

Both conditions cause sleep disruptions and insufficient restfulness.

Treatment

To treat acute insomnia and secondary hypersomnia, doctors focus on underlying conditions that could be causing the problem. When it comes to chronic insomnia and primary hypersomnia, some treatment methods are similar.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

For insomnia, CBT-I⁴ is the first line of treatment. It teaches a person how to address inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts about sleep, explains the key aspects of sleep hygiene, teaches relaxation techniques, and more. This therapy helps 70% to 80% of people who live with insomnia achieve improvements.

CBT for hypersomnia (CBT-H) still requires more research. However, a recent study⁵ showed its high efficiency and potential to become integral to hypersomnia treatment.

Medication 

Doctors may prescribe medication for both hypersomnia and insomnia. However, the medications are different. People with insomnia may benefit from benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines, and melatonin agonists.

Meanwhile, hypersomnia patients can take advantage of oxybates, stimulants, and wake-promoting medication.

The lowdown

Hypersomnia and insomnia are sleep disorders that have many differences and similarities. Both of them require a comprehensive approach to treatment. Dealing with either of these conditions without professional medical assistance could lead to complications.

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, contact your primary care physician. Before scheduling an appointment, consider keeping a sleep diary for at least a week.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How are insomnia and hypersomnia treated?

Both sleep disorders may have underlying conditions that could be causing them. In this case, the treatment involves addressing these conditions. In other cases, both hypersomnia and insomnia can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and prescription medication.

Are hypersomnia and insomnia the same thing?

No, hypersomnia causes excessive daytime sleepiness, while insomnia is the inability to fall and stay asleep. Both are sleeping disorders.

What medications help hypersomnia?

To alleviate hypersomnia symptoms, your doctor may prescribe oxybates to increase the amount of deep sleep, stimulants to reduce daytime drowsiness, and wake-promoting medication to stimulate wakefulness.

What are the quick fixes for insomnia?

Chronic insomnia requires comprehensive systematic treatment. If you have acute insomnia, you must focus on normalizing your sleep schedule, learning sleep hygiene, and reducing caffeine intake. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help you fall and stay asleep.

How do you know if you have hypersomnia?

The key symptom of hypersomnia is excessive daytime sleepiness even if you get sufficient sleep at night. A doctor can help diagnose your condition and recommend treatment.

Have you considered clinical trials for Insomnia?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Insomnia, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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