By Luke Andrews Health Reporter for Dailymail.Com
9:00 p.m. on December 13, 2023, updated at 10:26 p.m. on December 13, 2023
More and more people are suffering from a condition that makes them so sleepy that they are unable to work, even after a full night’s rest, than previously thought.
American researchers have estimated that as many as one in 70 people, or nearly 5 million Americans, suffer from “idiopathic hypersomnia.”
This is far more than previous estimates, which called the so-called disease “rare” and indicated that fewer than 200,000 people were affected.
There is controversy over idiopathic hypersomnia, which literally translates to unexplained sleepiness, with some doctors saying it does not exist.
Of the 792 people surveyed – whose sleep quality was measured by a machine – the scientists said a total of 12, or 1.5 percent, met the criteria to be diagnosed with the condition.
They also looked at data on daytime sleepiness in participants over a decade and found that 10 participants suffered from chronic daytime sleepiness.
The researchers said the figures were evidence that the disease was “relatively common” and “more widespread than is generally believed”.
Most of the study participants were obese, according to the data, and averaged about 59 years old. About half were women.
Dr. David Plante, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “Our results demonstrate that idiopathic hypersomnia is relatively common (and) more widespread than is generally thought.
“So there is probably a considerable difference between the number of people who have this disorder and those who seek treatment.”
He added: “More efforts are needed to identify, diagnose and treat people with idiopathic hypersomnia.
“Further research could also clarify the causes of idiopathic hypersomnia and lead to new treatments.”
Patients with idiopathic hypersomnia are very sleepy during the day, even after sleeping for long periods at night and taking naps.
They also have difficulty waking up, and when they wake up, they immediately feel disoriented. Naps don’t help cool them down.
Scientists say the disease makes everyday activities like working or picking up children from school a challenge.
There is, however, no single test to diagnose the disease, with the disease instead being an “exclusion” diagnosis – when other conditions are ruled out.
Scientists say it could be caused by a hormonal imbalance acting as a “sleeping pill for life” or by problems with the circadian rhythm – or the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Treatment aims to relieve symptoms and may include giving patients stimulant medications like modafinil – brand name Provigil or Alertec – to help them stay awake during the day.
This condition differs from narcolepsy because sufferers, although they also feel tired, do not sleep excessively and feel refreshed after a nap.
For the study, published in the journal Neurology, scientists attached the nearly 800 participants to a device that measured their brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing rate while they slept.
They also did a daytime napping study, in which they were strapped to the same machine as they fell asleep four to five times.
And participants were surveyed about whether they ever felt tired during the day, how often they took naps, and how many hours they slept during a work and non-work night.
The results also showed that participants with the condition took an average of four minutes to fall asleep at night and six minutes during naps.
For comparison, the overall figure took 13 minutes to fall asleep at night and 12 minutes during naps.
People with this disorder had more severe sleepiness, despite having similar or longer sleep durations, they said.
In a sleepiness survey asking how likely it is that a person will fall asleep while sitting, talking, or stopping in a car, people with the condition had an average score of 14 out of 24, well above the worrying figure of 10. .
For comparison, those who did not have the condition had an average score of nine.
“It has been difficult to determine the prevalence of idiopathic hypersomnia because expensive and time-consuming sleep tests are required to make a diagnosis,” added Dr. Plante.
“We looked at data from a large sleep study and found that this condition is much more common than previous estimates.”
“(It’s) as common as other common neurological and psychiatric disorders such as epilepsy, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”
An estimated 2.8 million Americans have schizophrenia and 3.5 million have epilepsy.