Do you find it difficult to stay awake or nod off right after lunch – even after a full night of sleep? Scientists refer to this as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. It’s surprisingly common among people who dedicate 8 to 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 or while at work. Sometimes excessive daytime sleepiness and prolonged fatigue during the day may point towards something more serious than just being overworked.
According to research published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease, it is estimated that about 18% of the population is affected by excessive drowsiness. While fatigue is often associated with low energy levels in the body, excessive sleepiness can make you feel so exhausted that it begins to affect your work and relationships. So, take a look at the subject in this in-depth guide.
Why Do I Fall Asleep During the Daytime?
Many potential issues can contribute to excessive daytime sleepiness. Therefore, it is critical that you talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms to receive the appropriate treatment for the condition.
In many cases, conditions such as sleep disorders or nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling chronically fatigued every day, making you crave for more sleep.
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 are some conditions that may be causing your daytime sleepiness, and how you can approach each of them.
1) Idiopathic Hypersomnia
Imagine living in a constant state of sleepiness, even if you sleep the recommended amount of hours – or more. 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 crucial 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 stretch. People with idiopathic hypersomnia report being sleepy all the time and not experiencing restorative sleep.
Although the true cause of the condition is unknown, some experts believe it may have something to do with a nervous system disorder. Unfortunately, because there is no known cause for the disorder, there is no cure for it either.
If you suspect you have idiopathic hypersomnia, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Even though there is no cure, you can manage symptoms with proper 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 during a boring lecture, falling asleep while driving, eating or in the middle of a conversation is quite unusual. However, this is common among people with narcolepsy.
The condition causes you to fall asleep suddenly, often at inconvenient times.
Some common 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 is no known cure for narcolepsy, your doctor may recommend medication that can help you cope with symptoms. You may also benefit from having proper sleep hygiene and working out regularly.
3) 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 in the daytime.
Obstructive sleep apnea affects over 20 million adults in the US, making it the most common sleep disorder. Apnea means cessation of breathing.
Sleep apnea causes the person to stop breathing periodically in the night, with each pause in breathing lasting between 10 and 20 seconds. People with sleep apnea may experience these cessations in breathing up to 100 times per night.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs due to blockage of the upper respiratory airways. The condition causes the muscles in the throat to collapse, as well as 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 do not realize 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 obstruction of the airway and breathe properly makes daytime sleepiness the most common symptom of sleep apnea.
4) Mild Anemia
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 as a result of a low blood cell count or a condition that drops your hemoglobin count.
When your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin to deliver oxygen all around, your heart has to work harder to ensure all your vital tissues receive adequate oxygen.
Because anemia makes the heart work harder, it causes people to feel tired easily – even after getting a full night’s sleep. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, which can be improved by including more foods rich in iron.
Some excellent sources of iron include:
- High-quality lean meat
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark leafy greens
Also, your doctor can check whether you have anemia, help determine the cause for it and develop a treatment plan to bring your hemoglobin levels up.
Are you frequently tired, have trouble focusing, gaining weight or have difficulty staying up? If yes, try getting 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, characteristic of the body producing too little thyroid hormone could be one of the reasons one feels sleepy or lethargic all the time.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by a myriad of factors, some of which include iodine deficiency, an autoimmune disease or overtreatment of hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is more common in women than in men. Other symptoms include feeling cold, constipation, unintentional weight gain, mental fog and difficulty concentrating.
If you suspect that you have may have hypothyroidism, see a doctor to receive the appropriate diagnosis for the condition and treatment.
Hypothyroidism can be difficult to manage as what you eat 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.
Some foods to avoid during treatment include:
- Soy products, such as tofu, miso, and tempeh. People with hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency should monitor their intake as too much soy may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb thyroid medication.
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as 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, fatty meat cuts, and mayonnaise can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb thyroid medication.
- Hypothyroidism slows down your metabolism, causing you to gain weight if you’re not careful. Try avoiding sugar because it offers no nutrients and is notorious for causing fast weight gain.
- Processed food. Foods that come from packages are often high in sodium. Hypothyroidism increases one’s risk for high blood pressure, and too much sodium can worsen this.
- Caffeine may hinder the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement. Avoid starting your day with coffee, and have a tall glass of water first.
- Alcohol affects your thyroid hormone production, as well as the absorption of thyroid hormone during your treatment.
6) Premenstrual Syndrome
Experiencing insomnia either during or before your monthly period is common. During the premenstrual phase, your body may produce lower levels of melatonin, 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, try incorporating the following tips:
- Take a power nap. If you’re at home, or in a safe environment where you can sleep, set the alarm and take a nap for 15 minutes. If you’re at work, taking a 15-minute nap during your lunch break can do wonders for your productivity levels.
- Stretch frequently. Stand on your toes, lock your hands together and stretch upwards as far as you comfortably can. This can help relieve drowsiness, wherever you are.
- Have a refreshing drink. Instead of grabbing a cup of coffee, try peppermint or lemongrass tea as they help lift your mood and feel more awake.
- Practice deep breathing. When you breathe deeply, you deliver a surge of oxygen to the brain. This “oxygen high” helps wake you up and feel more energetic. You can also incorporate deep breathing into your workout, especially when you’re warming up.
- Get some sun. If you work indoors all day, try opening the windows and getting 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 typically report waking up too early or 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 help you manage pain, fatigue and other symptoms that may keep you up at night.
8) Mild-to-Moderate Depression
Depression can cause you to feel sleepy in the daytime, along with other symptoms such as low energy, feelings of despair and hopeless, insomnia, nightmares, waking up frequently in the night, difficulty focusing and so on.
Depression can be mentally and physically debilitating, causing fatigue and sleepiness that may not even be caused by having sleep issues in the night.
Along with treatment measures recommended by your doctor, you can make some lifestyle changes to reduce daytime sleepiness, such as:
- Finding an exercise that you enjoy and doing it at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week
- Spending some time outside every day and going for short walks
- Talking to a friend or family member 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 on a daily basis
9) Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
This is a severe type of premenstrual syndrome that occurs during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. The luteal phase takes place 10 to 14 days before your period and may make you feel different, even though you’re normal 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 daily life, consult your health care provider as soon as possible.
Your doctor may prescribe medications that may alleviate symptoms and thus, reduce the sleepiness and exhaustion associated with PMDD.
10) Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome causes constant fatigue that may 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 for the two, they’re completely different disorders, which 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.
11) 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 will affect your sleep quality. Ultimately, the disorder takes a severe toll on your natural sleep cycle, causing you to feel sleepy and tired in the daytime.
Although the direct caused of PLMD is not determined yet, it may be genetic or associated with central nervous system issues or anemia. Along with your doctor’s recommendations, you may see improvements in symptoms by practicing proper sleep hygiene.
12) Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome causes a twitching or tingling sensation in your legs or a constant urge to move them while you sleep.
The condition causes frequent sleep disturbances because despite being still, your legs have sensations of persistent activity until you get out of bed and walk around. The vexing, aching and constant urge to move only improves when you move around.
Restless leg syndrome can severely affect your sleep patterns, resulting in persistent fatigue that inhibits your daily functions.
RLS is generally 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.
Use of stimulants, such as smoking tobacco products, drinking alcohol or frequently consuming coffee may worsen your condition.
Try building a proper sleep schedule with healthy sleep hygiene habits. If this doesn’t help, see your health care provider for additional help.
13) Poor Sleep Hygiene
Proper sleep hygiene isn’t about whether you brush your teeth or shower before bedtime. It merely refers to the quality of the habits you practice before getting ready to sleep.
Some good sleep hygiene practices include:
- Having a set sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Not drinking alcohol before sleep. Alcohol affects your normal sleep cycle and the quality of your sleep.
- Not drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime. Caffeine can stay active in your body for 8 hours or more, thereby preventing you from falling asleep.
- Not using sleeping pills. Sleeping pills offer a lower quality of sleep compared to naturally falling asleep.
- Not using blue light devices before bedtime. This means restricting the use of cell phones, computers, and TV at least a few hours before bedtime.
- Not taking long daytime naps. While a power nap of 30 minutes can energize you, sleeping too long in the daytime can prevent you from falling asleep on time in the night.
- Not exercising too close to bedtime. 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 before bed. Make sure you eat at least 3 hours before bedtime to prevent heartburn, bloating or other issues that may keep you up.
- Using clean and comfortable bedding and pillow covers
14) Sleep Deprivation
This refers to not getting enough sleep. You may be sleep deprived because you recently pulled an all-nighter or have been routinely getting improper sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, you should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of shuteye 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 to have a set schedule so that you can fit in more sleep. It also helps to practice sleep hygiene habits to ensure you get quality sleep throughout the night.
15) Insomnia Disorder
Around 40 million people in America report suffering from insomnia every year. Insomnia is not just one condition; there are different classes and types of it.
If you notice that you are tired and unable to fall asleep, this may be onset insomnia. Alternatively, if you fall asleep but are unable to maintain your sleep, you may have maintenance insomnia.
Despite what category your insomnia belongs to, what’s certain is that you have it and it can leave you feeling sleepy all day.
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 should go away on its own and often does not require medical attention.
If you suspect you have chronic insomnia, for example, if you have trouble falling asleep many nights per week, you may require the help of your doctor, along with lifestyle modifications.
If you’re falling asleep unexpectedly, there is a chance that you’re more than just tired. Unless you have pulled an all-nighter, check to see whether you have an underlying issue that is causing you to fall asleep while watching TV or sitting down.
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 do not have a cure yet, your doctor can prescribe medications and help you build a plan that will improve your quality of life so that you can sleep better at night.