Some of the more common causes of excessive sleepiness include not sleeping long enough and having poor quality sleep.
In some cases, excessive sleepiness may be due to a sleep disorder or another underlying health condition.
Read on to learn about the various causes of excessive sleepiness, along with their symptoms and treatment options.
Excessive sleepiness can disrupt a person’s daily activities.
Excessive sleepiness can be difficult to quantify, as it may mean different things to different people.
In general, it is a feeling of fatigue or sleepiness that lasts throughout the day or for many days.
Excessive sleepiness is a relatively common issue. A 2019 study in Nature Communications notes that 10–20% of people deal with excessive sleepiness to some degree.
There are several possible causes of excessive sleepiness, each of which has different treatments.
Sleep deprivation occurs when a person does not get enough sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) note that adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well-rested the following day.
However, according to the AASM, about 20% of adults fail to get enough sleep.
A person who does not get enough sleep during the night is likely to experience excessive sleepiness the next day. People who regularly fail to get enough sleep may feel constantly tired.
Some common causes of sleep deprivation include:
- excessive or inconsistent work hours
- personal obligations
- an underlying medical condition
Underlying medical causes require their own specific treatments. In most other cases, simple lifestyle changes can usually improve the duration and quality of a person’s sleep.
Insomnia is a sleep condition in which people have difficulty sleeping. People who have insomnia tend to feel excessively sleepy but are unable to fall or stay asleep.
People may experience insomnia in different ways. Some common symptoms include:
- being unable to get to sleep
- waking continually throughout the night
- waking very early in the morning and being unable to fall back to sleep
Insomnia can be difficult to diagnose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that doctors generally only diagnose insomnia by ruling out other potential sleep disorders.
Treatment for insomnia may involve a combination of therapies. Examples include:
- sedative-hypnotic medications
- behavioral techniques to promote regular sleep
Obstructive sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person temporarily stops breathing during sleep. It is a relatively common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat collapse, blocking the airflow.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): CSA occurs when the brain fails to signal to the respiratory muscles to breathe.
Some people experience mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of OSA and CSA.
Episodes of sleep apnea may occur dozens or even hundreds of times in a single night. As a result, they can greatly disturb a person’s sleep cycle.
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include very loud snoring and gasping for air throughout the night.
During an episode of sleep apnea, a person’s body becomes temporarily starved of oxygen. This lack of oxygen may lead to other issues, such as an irregular heartbeat. Over time, this can lead to serious chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Sleep apnea commonly occurs when a person is overweight. When this is the case, weight loss will be the first recommended treatment.
Two common treatments for sleep apnea include:
- Positive airway pressure devices: These devices consist of a machine that attaches to a mask, which the person wears over their face. The machine supplies pressurized air into a person’s throat while they sleep. The air prevents the throat from collapsing.
- Oral appliances: These are similar to a mouthguard or orthodontic appliance. The devices hold the lower jaw forward slightly during sleep. This positioning prevents the soft tissues in the back of the throat from collapsing and blocking the airways.
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) refers to an uncontrollable urge to move the legs when they are at rest. The condition usually also causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs.
RLS may occur during both wakefulness and sleep. People who experience RLS when awake may have difficulty getting to sleep.
If RLS happens during sleep, it may cause a person’s legs to spasm or jerk repeatedly throughout the night. While this may not be enough to wake the person, it can prevent them from reaching the stages of deep, restful sleep. As a result, the person may feel sluggish and tired the following day.
Some scientists believe that RLS is due to abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in controlling muscle movements.
Certain lifestyle changes may be beneficial for people with milder cases of RLS. These include:
- adopting good sleeping habits
- exercising regularly
- quitting smoking
People with more severe cases of RLS may need medication to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in the body.
Narcolepsy is a neurological condition that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly and at inappropriate times.
People with narcolepsy usually experience extreme and persistent sleepiness throughout the day. Most people with this condition will also have one or more of the following symptoms:
- sleep disturbances
- sleep paralysis
Treatment usually involves stimulant medications, which help the person stay awake. Antidepressant medications may help control hallucinations and episodes of sleep paralysis.
Doctors may also recommend that people take a few good naps throughout the day, as this can improve narcolepsy symptoms.
Depression may contribute to sleep issues, including excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as oversleeping, or sleep that is not restful. Likewise, sleep issues may contribute to symptoms of depression.
General fatigue and daytime tiredness are common among people with depression. Other symptoms of depression include:
- feelings of sadness
- feelings of hopelessness or despair
- feelings of anxiety
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty remembering details
Psychotherapy may help treat depression.
Treatment for depression may involve drug therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
Several different types of antidepressant medication are available. A person can talk to their doctor about which medication would be most appropriate for them.
Common psychotherapies for depression include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these therapies appear to be particularly effective in treating depression.
In some cases, daytime sleepiness may be a side effect of a particular medication, such as:
It is important to discuss the side effects of any medication with a doctor. If side effects such as sleepiness are too difficult to deal with, the doctor may recommend a change in medication or dosage.
Excessive sleepiness is not a disorder in itself but a symptom of insufficient sleep or an underlying health condition.
People who experience excessive sleepiness may notice the following:
- mental fog
- inability to focus
Excessive sleepiness may also cause:
- difficulty waking up or getting out of bed in the morning
- feeling sluggish and unmotivated throughout the day
- napping frequently throughout the day
- falling asleep at inappropriate times, such as while driving or during meals
- lapses in attention
- loss of appetite
- difficulty remembering events throughout the day
- difficulty concentrating
- poor performance in work or school activities
A person may experience additional symptoms if their excessive sleepiness is the result of an underlying health condition.
Correctly diagnosing the underlying cause of excessive sleepiness is important for establishing the best treatment.
During the diagnostic procedure, a doctor may ask questions about a person’s lifestyle habits and any medications that they are taking. The doctor may also ask questions relating to mental health.
In some cases, a doctor may order the following diagnostic tests:
- A sleep study called a polysomnography: This test records a person’s brain waves, oxygen levels, and body movements during sleep to assess their sleep cycle.
- Electroencephalogram: This noninvasive test records electrical activity in the brain.
General treatment for excessive sleepiness
Regular exercise might help people get a better night’s sleep.
The specific treatment for excessive sleepiness will depend entirely on the cause.
Most healthcare professionals will not want to prescribe highly addictive drugs to assist with sleep, and people who receive a prescription for sleep medications should not take them every day.
However, some general lifestyle changes may help people get a better night’s sleep. These include:
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
- limiting caffeine and alcohol intake
- exercising regularly
- creating a relaxing sleep environment
- taking a warm bath before bedtime
- keeping a consistent sleep schedule
Excessive sleepiness is normal after a night of poor or insufficient sleep. However, persistent sleepiness could be a symptom of a sleep disorder or some other underlying health condition.
Anyone who regularly experiences excessive sleepiness should visit their doctor for a diagnosis. Treating the underlying cause can improve sleep quality, and it may reduce the risk of other complications.
Many treatment plans incorporate simple lifestyle changes that can help improve sleep quality.
Stressed Students, Bridesmaids Drama, And More: An Advice Column From A Total Amateur
Hi! A while ago I asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me a problem they’re having, so that I — a person with absolutely zero professional qualifications to help anyone — could give them advice. So, here are the results! NBC 1. “Dear Andy,I have NO idea where I should go to school… I’m applying…
Hi! A while ago I asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me a problem they’re having, so that I — a person with absolutely zero professional qualifications to help anyone — could give them advice. So, here are the results!
I have NO idea where I should go to school… I’m applying to 12 schools, 10 on the west coast and two in BC. I’m a high achieving student (I’m in five AP classes, president of two clubs, volunteering and a job, etc.) and I don’t want to go somewhere that’s all about the pressure, but I still want a high quality education. I’m so lost, help!”
—The Overwhelmed Student
You posted this just to dunk on all of us academically, didn’t you?
Kidding. In all seriousness, you can get a very good education at a bunch of different schools. And when you’re done, you’ll have a degree that probably nobody will ever verify! In my completely amateur opinion, the only reason people think the “Ivy League” schools are better is because a lot of wealthy, well-connected people go there (and have gone there), and therefore when you graduate from one, you’re more likely to get in at some fancy law firm or whatever because of your connections. So if you aren’t planning on being like, IDK, the CFO of Waystar Royco or something, just pick the school that you really want to go to. Where are you going to be happy living? Is one of the schools in a city you already want to move to and/or the city that has jobs in your future profession? Is it important for you to be close to home? How many Wendy’s are there on campus, and do they carry Spicy Nuggets? These are the questions you should be asking.
Oh, wait, actually…forget all that. Go to the school that will cost the least when you factor in tuition, room & board, and any scholarships you might get. Student loans are a curse and you want as little of them as possible. In the end, you might not even end up doing the thing you studied in college. Wanna know what degree I have? A BFA in Theater Performance. An acting degree. And now here I am, writing for a website. You’ll be fine.
I got married this summer, and I decided to choose only family to be my bridesmaids. For me this included three female cousins and my (now) sister-in-law. My husband, on the other hand, decided to do a mix of family as well as friends from high school for his groomsmen. I had no problem with this at all.
I had a few friends who I knew would expect to be bridesmaids, so I made it clear to them from the very beginning that I would be choosing family only as to not have a huge wedding party, but I told them they were not any less important to me and that I still wanted them to be involved in the wedding as much as they felt comfortable with. Most of the friends I had this conversation with were very understanding, however one straight up told me that she was disappointed (this was two years before the wedding).
Now it’s been a few months since I got married and this friend (a friend from childhood) started talking about the wedding. She told me she felt left out of the wedding since she wasn’t part of the wedding party. It particularly bothered her that my husband included friends and I didn’t. She then proceeded to tell me that it was difficult for her to be there the day of my wedding because of these feelings. AT MY WEDDING. She also included the fact that she didn’t want to upset me and that it doesn’t change our friendship. But if that is the case then why say anything in the first place? I’ve already said one too many times the reason for my bridesmaid choices and how important she is to me regardless. And she says she understands. I just wish she would let it go. Ever since this conversation I feel like I’ve been seeing her in a whole new light.
I do care about her feelings, but I stick by my decision and I don’t regret anything. I feel like I’ve done everything I can to make her feel better.”
—The Besieged Bride
[TL;DR: Bride had only family as bridesmaids, groom had some friends in the mix, bride’s childhood friend felt left out and complained about it a few months after the wedding.]
Question one: How drunk was your friend when she brought this up to you? If she was like, a 6 or more out of 10, I say let’s give it a pass and hope she got it out of her system.
Question two: Has your friend had a wedding of her own yet? If yes, then she should’ve understood the situation, because wedding planning is a special kind of hell and inevitably you have to make difficult decisions like this one that might hurt people’s feelings. So if you’ve planned your own wedding, you know the deal and you’re able to say to yourself, “It’s their wedding, I’m just going to be supportive and have fun.” If she hasn’t gotten married yet, she’ll realize later that it was totally inappropriate to complain about this to you. Hopefully.
I have been taking so many of the relationship quizzes on BuzzFeed but they all say I’m single. The major problem is I have an S.O. Is she just faking or am I?? Help me!! Is my girlfriend not actually mine or are we real?”
—The Quizzical Quiz-Taker
You’re not real. This is all a simulation.
—Andy (or am I?)
I’m not sure where to live. I live in Milwaukee, WI, right now. Moved here three years ago for school, but that fell through because Milwaukee is friggin expensive. My family wants me to move back to the other side of the state, towards Minneapolis/St. Paul. What should I do?”
—Meandering the Midwest
Get the fuck out of there, it’s so cold! Listen, I used to live in Michigan, and it was depressing because it was grey and miserable nine months out of the year. Now I live in Southern California, it’s sunny and beautiful and my vitamin D levels are through the roof. Migrate south, seriously.
But if you HAVE to stay, I will say that everybody who lives in Minneapolis seems to LOVE Minneapolis for some reason.
My problem is that I struggle with feeling attractive. I started taking birth control when my boyfriend and I started dating (six years ago). I started gaining the weight right after. I’m now a size 12 and my boyfriend is a slender guy. I haven’t felt attractive in the last year. I gained so much weight at one point I was a size 16. I’m back to a 12 and trying to lose weight again. I don’t feel sexy or beautiful in any way. I prefer to keep my shirt on during sex now. I don’t know why my boyfriend still finds me attractive. I have a tummy, I have rolls when I sit down, I just don’t know what he sees anymore. Any advice you could give me would be much appreciated.”
—Struggling With Size
First off, don’t worry about your boyfriend. Clearly he finds you attractive, and when you actually care about someone, the size tags on their clothes don’t matter to you at all. Appreciate that fact and find some security there.
Now, consider the possibility that if your boyfriend finds you attractive at any size, you can too! It’s not easy. It requires shedding every bit of toxic influence that the media and our society overall has thrown at you for your entire life. That takes time and work.
But if you are worried about your physical health at all, consult a doctor. There are many different types of birth control and like 40 different pills, and everyone reacts to each one differently. It can take time to find the right one, and not every doctor is going to be helpful about it. Advocate for yourself if you’re unhappy with your medication. You may have done all of this already and I’m just sitting here mansplaining BC to you, but if so at least you can cross that off your Mansplaining Bingo Card.
That’s it for this week. But if you’re having a problem that you need advice about, let me know! It could be anything: petty arguments that you need a judge to decide who was right and who was wrong, help making life decisions, relationship issues — I’m your completely unqualified man. Email firstname.lastname@example.org (for total anonymity) or leave a comment here!