It is normal to feel sleepy during a slow day, but this is different. People with excessive daytime sleepiness feel sleepy and sleep during work hours despite having had 7 hours or more of sleep. It is excessive when it happens every day for up to three months.
It occurs more frequently when holding one position, like driving or sitting at a desk. Affected people may not be able to stay awake for long.
Excessive sleepiness is not a life-threatening disorder. If, however, left untreated may worsen quality of life.
The primary symptom is excessive sleepiness. You may take naps throughout the day and still feel sleepy. You may also have:
- Problem waking from long periods of sleep.
- Trouble staying alert.
- Feelings of irritation.
- Memory problems.
- Trouble focusing.
- Difficulty retaining new concepts or making decisions.
- Slower reaction times.
- Increased risk-taking behaviours.
Several factors can cause your excessive daytime sleepiness, including not getting enough sleep, taking excessive stimulants, drinking too much alcohol, restless leg syndrome, sleep disturbances (like sleep apnea) and depression. Sometimes the cause of your excessive daytime sleepiness may not be known.
You may find yourself sleeping excessively during the daytime:
- If you are stressed.
- If you consume too much alcohol often.
- If you have had an infection caused by a virus.
- If you have had an injury/trauma to your head.
- If any of your close relatives have excessive sleepiness.
- Having a mental disorder like depression.
While these are known risk factors and potential contributors to the condition, some people may have excessive daytime sleepiness from an unknown cause.
If you have any of these symptoms in addition to excessive daytime sleepiness, please visit your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment:
- If you are confused or aggressive while trying to wake up.
- If you have low energy most times.
- If you lose your appetite.
- If it takes you longer to remember things.
- If you have a fever, skin rash and mood changes, you need prompt tests to rule out sleeping sickness. Sleeping sickness is a disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma; it is passed on through the bite of the tsetse fly.
You may be able to prevent excessive daytime sleepiness if the cause of your condition can be treated (like depression or stress) or prevented (lack of sleep or poor sleep hygiene).
If the cause of your condition is genetic (like sleep disorders), you may not prevent excessive daytime sleepiness.
Lifestyle changes are a critical part of the treatment process. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you make changes to your sleep hygiene:
- Avoid stimulants like coffee and smoking before bedtime.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation. Avoid it if you can.
- Expose your room and workspace to plenty of outdoor light during the day. Make your room darker before going to sleep; it may improve sleep quality at night.
- Make your sleep environment more comfortable. Cool your room, avoid light from your cell phones and computers, sleep on a comfortable mattress.
- If you have heartburn often, avoid foods that cause heartburn or indigestion. Foods made with plenty of oil, spicy meals, citrus fruits like oranges, fried foods, and carbonated drinks should be avoided.
- Your healthcare provider will ask you some questions about your symptoms, go over your family and medical history, your medications, and conduct a physical examination. If there are no signs of any medical disorder, you will be required to undergo some sleep tests and keep a sleep diary.
- With medical conditions, your healthcare provider can recommend treatment or refer you for specialist care.
- Your healthcare provider can prescribe drugs like modafinil to help you stay active and awake during the day. All medicines used in managing excessive sleepiness require a prescription from your healthcare provider.
- Your healthcare provider may also prescribe some drugs to treat depression.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is manageable and is not a life-threatening condition, but it may affect your daily activities and work. You may discuss working from home and flexible work hours with your superior at work and learn stress reduction techniques. This will improve your sleep habits and help with your symptoms.
Following your healthcare provider's advice will also help you manage your symptoms better and improve your quality of life.