The Problem of Excessive Sleepiness

The Problem of Excessive Sleepiness

Nighttime sleep disturbances can cause daytime sleepiness, which can lead to problems at work, school or on the road. Learn why you’re so tired – and what to do about it.

Ever had one of those nights when the neighbor’s dog just wouldn’t stop barking or the smoke alarm beeped at intervals? Remember how you felt the next day?

Some people feel that groggy all the time. Doctors call this excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnia. People with this problem may have trouble concentrating or nod off if they sit still. This can lead to problems at work or school. It can be deadly for those who fall asleep while driving.

Sometimes people are not aware that they have a problem with sleepiness. You may have a problem if you often doze while watching TV or reading, feel like you need a nap most days or find yourself nodding off while driving.

What causes excessive sleepiness?

Some people have sleep disorders, which can lead to excessive sleepiness. Sleep disorders include:

  • Sleep apnea. A person with sleep apnea stops breathing while asleep and wakes up briefly as a result. This happens many times during the night and prevents quality sleep.
  • Restless legs syndrome. People with restless legs have discomfort in their legs when they lie down at night, which makes it hard to sleep.
  • Narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy fall asleep suddenly, often at inappropriate times. They get the urge to fall asleep in the daytime even if they get enough sleep at night.

Many other things can disrupt sleep and cause daytime sleepiness, including:

  • Obesity, which can lead to poor-quality sleep and can also be a factor in sleep apnea
  • Chronic diseases, such as asthma, heart failure, arthritis and pain syndromes
  • Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety
  • Certain medicines, such as ones used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems and asthma
  • Alcohol and stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Shift work, especially working night shifts

Excessive sleepiness may simply mean you’re not getting enough hours of sleep. Teens need from nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, but few get this much. Doctors in training often are expected to work long hours without adequate sleep.

How is it treated?

The best treatment will depend on what’s causing your sleepiness. Talk to your doctor. If your doctor thinks you have a sleep disorder, you may need to have sleep testing done to diagnose your problem.

Sleep apnea is the most common cause of excessive sleepiness. There are good treatments for sleep apnea, including a machine that keeps you breathing during the night so you can sleep. A medicine that improves wakefulness may help people who have narcolepsy or sleepiness due to shift work.

If a medication is causing sleep problems, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medicine. Treating a mood disorder may help you get more sleep.

What can I do about excessive sleepiness?

ry to practice good sleep habits.

  • Use your bed for sleeping. Don’t read, watch TV or eat in bed.
  • Go to bed and get up about the same time every day.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Use earplugs and a sleep mask if needed.
  • Sleep alone if partners or pets are disturbing your sleep.
  • Don’t take naps, or at least limit them to 15 minutes.
  • Don’t have a large meal or exercise in the evening.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, and don’t use tobacco.

Make time for sleep. Most adults need eight hours of sleep a night and teens need nine or more. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you are getting the right amount of sleep to feel rested the next day.

Scroll to Top