What are the common causes of excessive sleepiness?

  1. Chronic lack of sleep
  2. Sleep-wake disorders
  3. Chronic medical conditions
  4. Restless leg syndrome
  5. Pain
  6. Nocturia
  7. Sleep Apnea
  8. Insomnia

You’ve probably asked yourself “Why do I feel tired all the time or sometimes find myself falling asleep during the daytime?”. Although it is normal to feel sleepy every once in a while, you may also exhibit excessive sleepiness when it happens frequently for at least three months. Let’s delve deeper into what this sleep disorder is and find out what are the causes of excessive sleepiness.

By definition, excessive sleepiness refers to the urge to fall asleep when you want or need to be awake. You can end up dozing off during the daytime while driving or attending an important work meeting, which means it can be dangerous and cause major daily living impairments such as the following:

  • Cognitive dysfunction (i.e, decreased alertness, concentration, attention)
  • Impaired work performance
  • Fatigue
  • Overall poor sleep quality.

In general, excessive sleepiness is considered a symptom rather than a primary sleep disorder. Despite its seriousness, most people are not aware of the underlying issues that cause their excessive sleepiness. Pinpointing these causes is the key to treating it. Read on to learn more.

Chronic Lack Of Sleep

Chronic Lack Of Sleep

There are many possible causes of excessive sleepiness. However, one of the most common is a chronic lack of sleep. An irregular work schedule (i.e., night shift), working for long hours, jet lag, or choosing to neglect sleep by watching a movie are some of the examples of how you can experience a chronic lack of sleep.

When these problems accumulate over an extended period of time, they can cause drowsiness the next day. Relief is possible for most people who suffer from excessive sleepiness. Although, the treatment option is tailored to the specific cause of the condition. Given that excessive sleepiness is caused by sleep deprivation, the best treatment is to practice good sleep hygiene.

Sleep-Wake Disorders

Oftentimes, many people fail to recognize that the events leading up to waking up can be the cause of excessive sleepiness. Sleep-wake disorders are conditions that cause fragmented sleep and as a result, excessive sleepiness.

Sleep-wake disorders occur because there is an alteration to the circadian rhythm, also known as the body’s natural clock, or a misalignment between the circadian rhythm and the person’s surroundings. The disconnect between the body’s natural body clock and the time when you need to be awake can lead to excess sleeping.

Other sleep-wake disorders that disturb peaceful sleep at night and interrupt daytime occur due to neurological problems such as:

  • Narcolepsy
  • Dementia
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Meningitis
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorders

Depending on the cause, the treatment methods for sleep-wake disorders can include medications such as benzodiazepine receptor agonists and melatonin. Remember to talk to a medical professional because these drugs can worsen daytime drowsiness as a side effect.

Chronic Medical Conditions

Chronic Medical Conditions

It is well-known that health and sleep have a bidirectional relationship. For this reason, chronic medical conditions can also make a person excessively sleepy during the day.

Conditions like hypothyroidism and diabetes can be risk factors for developing excessive sleepiness. Other medical conditions such as anemia, electrolyte imbalances, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity can also be a culprit. If you suffer from this sleep condition you should consider treating any chronic medical conditions first.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome, also commonly known as Willis Ekbom disease, is a disorder characterized by uncomfortable leg sensations. These sensations can create a strong urge to move one’s legs, or lead to twitching. Symptoms tend to worsen when the person is inactive (i.e., while laying down or relaxing). As a result, restless legs syndrome can make it difficult to fall asleep or lead to fragmented slumber.

The following are non-medical treatments available to manage restless leg syndrome symptoms:

  • Practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Exercising
  • Applying hot & cold compress
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking prescribed medication (i.e, dopamine agonists, benzodiazepines, opioids)
  • Medical devices (i.e., compression foot wrap, vibrating pad)

Pain

Pain

People who suffer from pain know how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep because pain and sleep are closely linked.

Studies found that fragmented sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness cause heightened pain sensitivity. In the same way, virtually any pain — whether from medical conditions such as arthritis, herniated disks, or fibromyalgia — can lower a person’s quality of sleep.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for pain has proven to be a promising treatment for patients with chronic pain and excessive sleepiness.

Nocturia

Nocturia is a condition that makes a person frequently need to pee during the night, which can heavily disrupt sleep patterns.

Several studies have consistently found that nocturia is a common cause of sleep disruption, especially in older adults. This is because frequent trips to the bathroom lead to lower-quality sleep.

Not surprisingly, excessive sleepiness and nocturia are associated with each other, resulting in impaired cognitive and physical function, or potentially serious accidents.

Many patients who are diagnosed with nocturia often receive medical treatment in the form of diuretics.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea patients experience partial or complete blockage of the upper airways during sleep. This disrupts the natural sleep rhythm and causes excessive daytime sleepiness.

Treatment for sleep apnea would include quitting smoking, weight reduction, and practicing good sleep hygiene. If symptoms do not improve, treatment devices like supplemental oxygen and continuous positive airway pressure machines offer relief.

Insomnia

People who suffer from insomnia have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep throughout the night. However, the good news is, insomnia can be treated in a variety of ways. This includes improving your sleep hygiene, avoiding stimulants before bedtime, trying cognitive behavioral therapy, and addressing other potential underlying conditions (i.e., gastroesophageal reflux disease, chronic pain).

Key Takeaway

These are some of the causes of excessive sleepiness you may want to learn more about. The effects of such a condition can be debilitating and even give rise to dangerous accidents if left untreated.

That being said, you must consider consulting a professional to pinpoint the reason for your excessive sleepiness. Depending on the cause, only then can proper treatment methods be prescribed.