Excessive Daytime Somnolence – A Sleeping Disorder

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Do you ever feel so tired during the day that all you can think about is going home and crawling into bed?

Does it seem like no matter how much sleep you get, you’re still exhausted in the morning? Do you wonder if you’ll ever feel rested?

There are a lot of potential factors that could be contributing to your daytime drowsiness. Sometimes it’s due to not getting enough quality shuteye during the night. Other times, there could be something going on inside your body that’s preventing you from feeling like you slept at all, no matter much rest you got.

So, if you are sleepy all the time, let’s explore what could be causing the problem and outline some recommended solutions that could help you wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated instead of low-energy and lethargic.

What is Excessive Daytime Sleepiness? A Definition

That nagging feeling of being tired all the time could be a sign of this disorder. Also called hypersomnia or somnolence, this condition is a sleep disorder can interfere with your career, lifestyle, and you’re your health.

Telltale signs that this issue is something to address include:

  • Feeling extreme sleepiness during the day. While many people experience an energy dip after lunch or in the late afternoon, people with excessive somnolence (also known as drowsiness) are in a state of low energy during most or all of the day.
  • Struggling to wake up in the morning. It takes every ounce of willpower you have not to press the snooze button a couple (or six) times before getting out of bed.
  • Not feeling refreshed after a nap. People in the general population may take a catnap on occasion, and getting the extra rest allows them to have enough energy to power through the day. However, those with excessive sleep disorder wake up from naps without feeling refreshed.

Possible Causes

Sleep Deprivation

There could be a variety of reasons that are causing to be always sleepy. Some are lifestyle-related, while others could be medical.

One of the most common reasons for daytime somnolence is being sleep deprived. If you’re not sleeping enough, then it’s only natural that you’ll feel tired during the day. Even just one all-nighter could affect your energy levels. Fortunately, the cure is easy. All you have to do is get more shuteye at night!

Not every case is quite this simple, however. We’ll discuss the other causes of excessive sleep disorder and share helpful tips to get your energy levels back on track.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Poor sleep hygiene has nothing to do with how clean your bedroom or whether or not you take a shower before bed. Instead, it refers to how your sleeping schedule and habits could affect your sleep quality.

For example, if you have an erratic schedule and fall asleep at different times each night, then that will throw off your body’s internal clock and make it harder to feel energized during daytime hours.

Other factors that contribute to poor sleep hygiene include:

  • Consuming stimulants like coffee, cigarettes or drugs too close to bedtime
  • Exercising at night instead of during the day
  • Taking long naps or taking a nap in the later afternoon or evening
  • Drinking too much alcohol before bed, which affects the sleep cycle
  • Swallowing sleeping pills. They may help you temporarily fall asleep, but they may not lead to restful sleep, and there’s a high chance of dependency.

Working at Night

Our bodies run on a biological clock called a circadian rhythm. It’s a 24-hour cycle that sends us cues about when to feel tired, when to eat, and even when to have sex. It’s responsible for numerous digestive functions, and it actively control’s our body’s hormone levels.

Its most powerful trigger is light. When it’s light outside, it tells us to be awake and alert. When we’re in darkness, then the clock increases hormone levels like melatonin that make us sleepy. The cycle gets thrown off when we stay awake and engaged at night.

We’re essentially fighting our biology and confusing our internal clocks by remaining active during the night. When we do this on a regular basis, sunlight may not have the full effect of keeping the body awake and alert, resulting in daytime and afternoon sleepiness.

woman is working at night

Drugs

Drugs often have either a stimulant or depressant effect. Either way, taking them will affect your body’s ability to regulate its sleep cycle. You’ve probably heard of people on drugs like meth staying up all night to clean out their closets (or more likely something less productive). As you can imagine, when morning comes around, that energy burst is long gone, and the person now needs to get some rest, even it’s the middle of the day.

Any drug that artificially enhances or decreases energy levels could have an adverse effect on sleeping patterns and therefore could be a key contributor to excessive daytime somnolence.

Alcohol

Consuming alcohol often makes people sleepy, regardless of the time of day people drink it. The bottomless mimosa brunch is often followed by a long nap afterward. Drinking alcohol at night can also cause some sleep challenges. Even though it induces drowsiness, sleep is often restless and fitful. It also throws off the sleep cycles, which could interfere with the amount of time spent in restorative slow-wave sleep (SWS).

Smoking

Smoking may contribute to insomnia because of its stimulant effect. People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep at night. As a result, they might be tired the next day.

Lack of Physical Activity

Have you ever found that a walk around the block can help wake you up? Getting fresh air and regularly engaging in physical activity is restorative and could give you the energy boost you need to make it through the day.

It also balances hormone levels. The adrenaline and cortisol spike you experience during a workout contributes to a boost in endorphins, which make you feel happy and exhilarated. This healthy cycle continues as the endorphins are replaced by serotonin and melatonin, which help you fall asleep at night.

Premenstrual Syndrome

As if the bloating, cramps and irritability associated with PMS weren’t bad enough, premenstrual syndrome could also make women feel extra tired during the day. The decrease in melatonin during this female cycle can make it more difficult for women to fall asleep. This temporary insomnia can also result in daytime drowsiness.

Obesity

Being overweight is unhealthy for a variety of reasons. The fact that obesity affects how well you sleep is just the tip of the iceberg. Obesity is a leading cause of sleep apnea, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. It also forces the heart to work harder to circulate blood, which leads to tiredness. Another thing to consider is that lugging extra weight around all day could be exhausting!

Medications

Every medication is different, but nearly every one of them will have a list of side effects. Check your package inserts or ask your doctor about any that could cause somnolence during the day. Also, be on the lookout for any warnings about the medication being a stimulant. If you take something like that too close to bedtime, then it could keep you awake at night.

white and red capsules

Conditions and Illnesses that May Cause Sleepiness

Depression

Sleep disorders and depression are often linked. It’s unclear whether being depressed causes issues with sleep or if not getting proper rest contributes to depression. In all likelihood, it’s probably both. According to WebMD, people with insomnia may be 10 times more likely to have depression.

Common symptoms of depression include not being interested in previously enjoyable activities and feelings of hopelessness. This often leads to fatigue and sleep disorders like insomnia and nightmares. Given the disrupted sleep and general malaise, it’s no wonder that people who are depressed would also feel exhausted during the day.

Restless Legs Syndrome

This painful (though harmless) condition affects more than three million people in the US. It’s when a person has an irresistible urge to move their legs, usually due to pain or tingling. When the sufferer moves their legs, they often get relief.

The condition understandably affects sleep and could contribute to hypersomnia. Fortunately, symptoms lessen with physical activity, discontinuing caffeine use, and quitting smoking.

Sleep Apnea

When you fall asleep, the muscles in your body relax, including those around your mouth and throat. Sleep apnea occurs when those muscles block your airways, making breathing impossible. Fortunately, the body is built to survive, so when breathing ceases, your brain wakes you up to remind you to resume breathing.

This cycle can continue throughout the night, waking up the sufferer up to hundreds of times in a single sleep session. Patients may not remember being awoken because they may not be fully alert during an episode. However, it still affects the restfulness of sleep.

The instances of sleep apnea are on the rise. Obese males are most at risk. Many cases of sleep apnea are resolved with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine or a dental device or mouthpiece for sleep apnea that keeps the throat in a position that prevents blocked airways.

In extreme cases, surgery may be required.

Idiopathic Hypersomnia

This condition is also “long-sleeping disorder.” It’s a form of chronic daytime sleepiness when the sufferer feels tired even after sleeping for 10 hours or more. It’s referred to as idiopathic because there is no known cause. And, as you already know, hypersomnia is just another word for excessive sleepiness.

Because the exact cause of this condition is unknown, treatment recommendations are pretty much impossible. However, by addressing other potential causes of hypersomnia, you may be able to find relief.

Insomnia

People who have trouble falling asleep at night have insomnia. It could be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Depression
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Medications
  • Health challenges

What’s particularly frustrating about having insomnia is when the person feels tired during the day, but when bedtime rolls around, they’re wide awake.

There’s also a type of insomnia called “maintenance insomnia.” This is when the person has no trouble falling asleep, but they wake up in the middle of the night or extra early in the morning, and they can’t seem to get back to sleep.

man with sleeping issue

Fibromyalgia

This illness is hard to pin down because patients often describe it as feeling “soreness and pain all over.” Fibromyalgia is most common in adult females, but it can also affect men and children. In addition to the muscle pain, patients also report fatigue, trouble sleeping, poor memory, and an irritable or depressed mood.

Eliminating stress is often helpful in reducing symptoms, and a doctor may recommend dietary changes if he or she thinks there could be an autoimmune component to the condition.

The most common recommendation is to consult with a rheumatologist to explore lifestyle improvements and medication options.

Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid gland causes hypothyroidism. Symptoms often include fatigue, depression, memory loss, feeling cold and weight gain. Potential causes are iodine deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, and poor diet. Medications are often prescribed to trigger the thyroid to maintain normal levels of activity.

If you have this condition, the fatigue associated with it can be debilitating. Consult with your doctor about treatment options and be sure to ask whether an altered diet can help.

Anemia

Having low hemoglobin levels results in a condition called anemia. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that is responsible for transporting oxygen. It contains iron, so when people are deficient in this mineral, they may end up with anemia.

Because of the oxygen deficiencies, people with anemia may experience symptoms like fatigue, lightheadedness, dizzy spells, an irregular heartbeat, and poor skin tone.

One way to treat anemia is by increasing iron intake by consuming iron-rich foods like eggs, fish, pasture-raised cows and chickens, legumes, and prunes. These types of foods help provide your blood with the oxygen it needs to keep you awake, alert, and going at full speed.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Almost everyone feels tired now and then, but people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome always feel this way. The exact cause isn’t known, although it’s often observed in people who have recently battled potent viruses like Lyme Disease. It’s also been seen in people who have experienced something traumatic, either physical or psychological.

The vast array of causes makes treating this condition a significant challenge. A doctor may be able to recommend medication, dietary changes or cognitive therapies to help.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

If you’re involuntarily moving your legs and arms at night, you might have PLMD. Its effects are similar to Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), but in this case, you’re not in control of the movements. The jerking of your limbs could potentially wake you up, even if you’re not fully conscious. As a result, your sleep quality suffers, which will almost certain lead to fatigue during the day.

Post-traumatic Brain Injury Syndrome

If you’ve had a serious head injury from a fall, car accident or sports-related injury, your brain could potentially be injured. When the brain has sustained trauma, it can have a host of unwanted effects, including a disruption in the sleep cycle.

Any head injuries or concussions should be examined by a doctor to prevent long-term damage. Once the injuries heal, patients often find that their sleep and energy levels return to normal.

sportsman bandaging the elbow

Daytime Sleepiness Treatment Options

Depending on the cause of the condition, recommendations for excessive daytime somnolence treatment will vary. Below, we’ve outlined some top recommendations:

  • Improve your sleep hygiene. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, abstain from caffeine in the afternoon and evening, avoid bright screens in the bedroom, keep your room dark and quiet, and sleep on a mattress that’s supportive and comfortable.
  • Look into getting a CPAP machine or dental device if you have sleep apnea.
  • Engage in physical activity early in the day to fuel your energy levels and promote sleep at night.
  • Actively work to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • If you’re depressed, talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist about lifestyle changes or medication.
  • For conditions like fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome or anemia consult with a doctor for treatment plans and dietary recommendations.
  • If you’ve made positive lifestyle changes and still experience excessive daytime drowsiness, your doctor may prescribe medication.

To sum up, living a healthy lifestyle has the most potential to get rid of this challenge. In some instances, the expertise of a medical professional may be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is excessive sleepiness common in women?

In general, women are more at risk for excessive sleepiness than men. Part of it is due to them being more prone to have conditions like hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia. The joys of PMS symptoms are also exclusive to women, and as you read earlier, that time of the month contributes to being tired.

Another factor is that women are often pulled in more directions than men. Balancing the demands of work, family, maintaining a household and self-care often mean that sleep becomes a second thought.

How can I combat this issue when I work?

The best thing to do is explore our recommended treatment options. Some tactics could yield noticeable improvements right away, though others are more long-term. For immediate relief, you’ll need to do everything possible to stay awake and alert during work.

Talk to your supervisor before doing anything that would ordinarily get you in trouble. Our suggestions to help you get through the day include the following:

  • Use your breaks to get outside and take a walk.
  • If you’re feeling exceptionally drowsy, take a nap at lunch.
  • Talk to your doctor about a safe medication or supplement you can take while you’re at work.
  • If you have a desk job, stand up and stretch at regular intervals to get the blood flowing again.
  • Better yet, see if it’s possible to get a stand-up desk. Having the option to work upright helps you stay awake.
  • If it’s safe to do so, listen to binaural beats that have energy-boosting properties.
  • Try consuming foods and beverages that provide a natural energy boost. Examples include water with lemon, green tea, dark chocolate, quinoa, tuna, oranges, nuts, seeds, apples, bananas, blueberries, and spinach, to name a few.

Why do I get sleepy after eating?

That after-lunch crash is almost unavoidable. The reason is that eating boosts melatonin, which is the hormone that helps us fall asleep. To help lessen this effect, try eating foods that don’t contain as many carbohydrates.

It turns out that high-carb foods trigger the production of serotonin and tryptophan in the brain. This information could be useful if you’re trying to get some rest. For example, eating a slice of toast before bed might help you fall asleep faster.

Conclusion


An occasional day of feeling tired or sluggish probably isn’t cause for concern, especially if you just pulled an all-nighter. However, if you find that you’re consistently struggling to keep your eyes open during a morning staff meeting at the office, then you could be suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness.

Instead of trying to power through it, consider what could be causing it and then address those challenges. Sleep is a requirement for health, and not getting enough (or getting too much and still not feeling rested) could have long-term consequences.

Sources and References:

  1. Effects of Drugs on Sleep – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8923497
  2. Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm

More Reading:

Author: Jill Thompson

I've been self-employed for almost four years and I would not change it for anything! I believe that anyone can achieve their goals with the right attitude and determination.

I'm an avid traveler (25+ countries and counting) that loves to meet new people doing amazing things.

When I'm not researching for the Sleep Advisor, you can find me reading, running, traveling, golfing, or meditating.

I wish you the very best on your journey!

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