Do you find it difficult to stay awake or nod off right after lunch, even after a full night’s sleep? Scientists refer to this as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (hypersomnia). It’s surprisingly common among people who dedicate 8-9 hours to their sleep routine. So, this isn’t just about being tired.
Some people feel uncontrollably sleepy at odd hours while watching TV, reading a book, studying, praying, or driving. Excessive daytime sleepiness and prolonged fatigue during the day may be due to a medical condition, such as idiopathic hypersomnia, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, or fibromyalgia.
According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease, about 18% of the population is affected by excessive drowsiness. While fatigue is often associated with low energy levels, over-sleepiness can make you feel so exhausted that it begins to affect your work, social life, and relationships.
Why Do I Fall Asleep During the Daytime?
Many different medical issues can contribute to excessive daytime sleepiness. Therefore, you must talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms to receive the appropriate treatment.
Sleep disorders or nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling chronically fatigued every day, making you crave more sleep at inopportune times.
However, some disorders cause perpetual drowsiness, with no known cause, making you fall asleep in your chair, despite getting 8 hours of sleep at night.
The following conditions may cause daytime sleepiness:
Imagine living in a constant state of sleepiness, even if you sleep the recommended amount of hours.
You feel the need to take frequent naps, and you never feel rested or recharged, no matter how much you sleep. If this sounds like you, you may have idiopathic hypersomnia.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a symptom of idiopathic hypersomnia, which means excessive sleepiness (hypersomnia) with no identifiable cause (idiopathic).
The condition is characterized by the constant need for sleep for extended periods, even longer than 10 hours at a time. People with idiopathic hypersomnia report feeling sleepy all the time and not experiencing restorative sleep.
Although the true cause of the condition is unknown, some experts believe it may be due to a nervous system disorder. Unfortunately, there’s no known cause for the disorder, so there’s no cure.
Even though there’s no cure, you can manage symptoms with sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and not taking stimulants, such as caffeine, if you’re taking amphetamine-based drugs.
While some of us have experienced dosing off in the middle of a movie or a boring lecture, falling asleep while driving, eating, or in the middle of a conversation is unusual. However, this is common among people with narcolepsy.
The condition causes you to fall asleep suddenly, often at inconvenient times.
Some symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Falling asleep suddenly, without knowing, in usual conditions
- Vivid dreams
- Sleep paralysis
- Cataplexy (loss of muscle tone) – this makes narcolepsy different from idiopathic hypersomnia
Although there’s no known cure for narcolepsy, your doctor may recommend medication to help you cope with the symptoms. You may also benefit from better sleep hygiene and working out regularly.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea causes individuals to wake up frequently from their sleep. Often, these people don’t know that they’re waking, causing unexpected tiredness during the daytime.
Obstructive sleep apnea affects over 20 million adults in the U.S., making it the most common sleep disorder. Apnea means cessation of breathing.
Sleep apnea causes the person to stop breathing periodically at night, with each pause in breath lasting 10-20 seconds. People with sleep apnea may experience these cessations in breathing up to 100 times per night.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs due to a blockage of the upper respiratory airways. The condition causes the muscles in the throat to collapse and the tongue to fall back into a person’s airways. Also, it may occur due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids that inhibit airflow into the lungs.
During an obstructive sleep apnea episode, the brain wakes itself up to ensure that the respiratory system continues to function. In many cases, people with sleep apnea don’t realize that they have the condition until a bed partner notices their interrupted breathing patterns and informs them of it.
The poor sleep quality that results from multiple arousals throughout the night to get rid of the airway obstruction and breathe properly makes daytime sleepiness the most common symptom of sleep apnea.
Anemia is a condition that occurs due to low hemoglobin levels, excessive blood loss, not consuming enough iron from your diet, or when your body is unable to absorb enough iron.
Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs and delivers it to the rest of the body. Anemia causes your tissues to receive insufficient oxygen due to a low blood cell count or a condition that drops your hemoglobin count.
When your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin to deliver oxygen, your heart has to work harder to ensure that all of your vital organs receive adequate oxygen.
Because anemia makes the heart work harder, it causes people to feel tired easily – even after a full night’s sleep. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, which can be improved by eating more iron-rich foods.
Some good sources of iron include:
- Lean meat
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark leafy greens
Also, your doctor can check if you have anemia, determine the cause, and develop a treatment plan to raise your hemoglobin levels.
Are you frequently tired, have trouble focusing, gaining weight, or have difficulty staying up? If yes, you should get tested for hypothyroidism.
The thyroid gland, found behind your trachea, produces hormones that regulate your metabolism, temperature, and other functions.
A type of thyroid disorder, called hypothyroidism, is characteristic of the body producing too little thyroid hormone and could be one of the reasons one feels sleepy or lethargic all the time.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by many factors, including iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, or the overtreatment of hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is more common in women than men. Other symptoms include feeling cold, constipation, unintentional weight gain, mental fog, and difficulty concentrating.
Hypothyroidism can be difficult to manage, as eating can interfere with your treatment. Some nutrients can affect your thyroid gland function, impairing your body’s ability to absorb replacement hormones, which will be part of your thyroid treatment.
Foods to avoid during treatment include:
- Soy products (tofu, miso, and tempeh). People with hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency should monitor their soy intake as too much can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb thyroid medication.
- Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower). These vegetables contain nutrients that may affect your production of thyroid hormone. Digesting these vegetables also affects the thyroid gland’s ability to use iodine.
- Fried food. Fats from butter, fried food, and fatty meat cuts can inhibit thyroid medication absorption.
- Sugar. Hypothyroidism slows down your metabolism, causing you to gain weight if you’re not careful. Avoid sugar because it offers no nutrients and is notorious for causing fast weight gain.
- Processed food. Packed foods are often high in salt (sodium). Hypothyroidism increases your risk of high blood pressure, and too much sodium can make the situation worse.
- Caffeine may hinder the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement. Avoid starting the day with coffee.
- Alcohol affects your thyroid hormone production, as well as the absorption of thyroid hormone during your treatment.
Experiencing insomnia, either during or before your monthly period, is common. During the premenstrual phase, your body may produce lower melatonin levels, which is a hormone that regulates sleep and responds to dark and light.
Your sleep stages may also be affected during your menstrual phase as the period of deep sleep, also called slow-wave sleep (SWS), is increased. This causes daytime fatigue that may cause you to yawn all day.
If you find yourself falling asleep in the daytime every month before or during your period, do the following:
- Nap. If you’re at work, taking a 15-minute nap during your lunch break can boost your productivity.
- Stretch frequently. Stand on your toes, lock your hands together, and stretch upwards as far as you comfortably can.
- Refreshing drink. Peppermint or lemongrass tea can lift your mood and make you feel more awake.
- Deep breathing. When you breathe deeply, you deliver a surge of oxygen to the brain. This oxygen high wakes you up. You can also incorporate deep breathing into your workout, especially when warming up.
- Sun. If you work indoors all day, open the windows and get out whenever you get the opportunity.
Fibromyalgia is a generalized pain in the body, accompanied by fatigue, emotional problems, and sleeping issues. People with fibromyalgia report waking up too early, having trouble falling asleep, or maintaining sleep.
The condition disrupts the natural phases of your sleep cycle, particularly your deep sleep stage, which is the most restorative. When your body doesn’t get enough deep sleep, it may not feel well-rested, resulting in fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
Although fibromyalgia has no cure, doctors can manage the pain and fatigue that keep you up at night.
Depression can cause you to feel sleepy in the daytime, along with other symptoms such as low energy, feelings of despair and hopelessness, insomnia, nightmares, waking up frequently in the night, difficulty focusing, etc.
Depression can be mentally and physically debilitating, causing fatigue and sleepiness that may not even be caused by having sleep issues at night.
Along with treatment measures recommended by a doctor, you can make some lifestyle changes to reduce daytime sleepiness, such as:
- Finding an exercise that you enjoy and doing it for at least 30 minutes, 5 times per week.
- Spending some time outside every day and going for short walks.
- Talking to a friend or family member that you trust.
- Practicing self-care techniques, such as taking care of your hair and skin, taking Epsom salt baths, and using essential oils for aromatherapy regularly.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
This is a severe premenstrual syndrome that occurs during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle.
The luteal phase occurs 10-14 days before your period and may make you feel different, even though you feel normal for the rest of the month.
You may also experience mood swings, irritability, exhaustion, drowsiness, bloating, and joint pain. These symptoms disappear as soon as your period starts.
If symptoms of PMDD, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, are interfering with your life, consult your healthcare provider. Your doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
This condition causes constant fatigue that can severely interfere with your daily responsibilities. In most cases, chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by viral diseases, such as Lyme disease.
Some people may have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. While symptoms may be similar, they’re not the same and will require different treatment methods.
If you feel you may have chronic fatigue syndrome, your health care provider may recommend treatment methods to help alleviate symptoms.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)
The condition causes your legs, and sometimes your arms, to move involuntarily during your sleep.
This movement can be substantial enough to wake you up in the middle of the night, causing frequent sleep disturbances that affect your sleep quality. The disorder takes a toll on your natural sleep cycle, causing you to feel sleepy and tired during the daytime.
Although the direct cause of PLMD hasn’t been determined yet, it may be genetic or associated with central nervous system issues or anemia.
Combined with your doctor’s recommendations, you may see improvements in symptoms with proper sleep hygiene.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome causes a twitching or tingling sensation in the legs or an urge to move them while you sleep.
The condition causes frequent sleep disturbances because, despite being still, your legs have sensations of persistent activity. The vexing, aching, and constant urge to move only improves when you move around.
RLS can severely affect your sleep patterns, resulting in persistent fatigue that inhibits your daily functions.
RLS is common during pregnancy and may be worsened with certain medications. This is most likely to be allergy drugs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to alleviate depression.
Stimulants, such as smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or frequently consuming coffee, may worsen your condition.
Develop a proper sleep schedule with healthy sleep hygiene habits.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Proper sleep hygiene refers to the habits you practice before going to bed.
Some good sleep hygiene practices include:
- Sleep schedule. This involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even at weekends.
- Not drinking alcohol. Alcohol affects your normal sleep cycle and the quality of your sleep.
- No coffee. Caffeine can stay active in the body for 8 hours or more, preventing you from sleeping.
- Avoiding sleeping pills. Sleeping pills give you a lower quality of sleep compared to naturally falling asleep.
- Not using blue light devices. Restrict the use of cell phones, computers, and TV for a few hours before bedtime.
- Avoiding long daytime naps. While a power nap of 30 minutes can energize you, sleeping for too long in the daytime can prevent you from falling asleep at night.
- Not exercising. Keep your workouts for early morning or afternoon hours as working out can increase your adrenaline levels and heart rate; making you feel alert for hours
- Not eating. Eat at least 3 hours before bedtime to prevent heartburn, bloating, or other issues that keep you awake.
- Bedding setup. Using clean and comfortable bedding and pillow covers
You may be sleep deprived because you recently pulled an all-nighter or routinely get improper sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, you should get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Not being able to get even the bare minimum of 7 hours can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, affecting your performance at work or school.
The solution for sleep deprivation is a schedule that allows you to fit in more sleep. It also helps to practice sleep hygiene habits to ensure quality sleep throughout the night.
Around 40 million people in America report experiencing insomnia every year. Insomnia isn’t just one condition; there are different classes and types.
If you notice that you’re tired and unable to fall asleep, this may be onset insomnia. Alternatively, if you fall asleep but cannot maintain your sleep, you may have maintenance insomnia.
Some common causes of insomnia include:
- Anxiety, depression, and other stress-related issues
- Acid reflux, chronic pain, or other medical issues
- Irregular work shifts
- Use of stimulants, such as nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine
- Alcohol consumption before bedtime
Having insomnia during stressful events or while traveling isn’t uncommon. In most cases, this type of insomnia goes away and doesn’t require medical attention.
If you have chronic insomnia and have trouble falling asleep regularly, you may need to make lifestyle modifications while getting medical assistance.
While sleepiness caused by poor sleep hygiene and sleep deprivation doesn’t require medical attention, more severe conditions such as narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia, sleep apnea, depression, and nutritional deficiencies do.
Although some of these conditions don’t have a cure yet, your doctor can prescribe medications and create a plan that allows you to sleep better at night.