If you struggle to stay awake during the day, you may have what is called “Excessive Daytime Sleepiness.” (Don’t you love the inventive, catchy name “they” gave this?) EDS is just like it sounds: a condition where someone is sleepier than we would expect then to be if they’ve had a good night of sleep.
That leads us to the first and most obvious question: has the person had a good night of sleep? The next question is what is a “good” night of sleep? I think a “good” night of sleep involves two characteristics: good sleep quality (as opposed to restless or fragmented with lots of awakenings) and adequate amount of time. If you are getting 7 hours of sleep and yet you are still struggling with excessive daytime sleepiness, you might need to consider whether you are a person who needs 8, 8 ½, or even 9 hours of sleep a night to be truly rested.
Are you physically active? Physical activity is an important component of sleep. As I explained in a previous blog post, the more active you are during your waking hours, the more likely you are to be ready to sleep well. If physical activity isn’t the issue, are you struggling with jet lag or shift work? These can be causes of excessive daytime sleepiness. (If your wake and sleep schedule varies from night to night by more than an hour, you are subjecting your body to jet lag without even traveling). Although not common, circadian rhythm sleep disorders can also be a cause of EDS. In circadian disorders, a person’s physiological wiring for when the should be awake or asleep doesn’t match with what we’d call everyday life. These people are wired to go to sleep quite early and awaken quite early or to stay up until quite late and sleep in until late in the morning. If your body is wired for you to be asleep at a time when you are trying to be awake, you’re going to struggle to stay awake and feel like you are unusually sleepy.
It is possible that your EDS may have at its root another sleep disorder, such as restless leg syndrome. Other sleep disorders interrupt your sleep, fragmenting it, shortening it, or otherwise causing it to be less restorative than you would expect it to be, particularly if it appeared that you are sleeping long enough. You will need to see a sleep specialist who will do a sleep study to determine if any other sleep disorder is an issue for you.
Other possible explanations for excessive daytime sleepiness will require a trip to the doctor. You may be excessively sleepy, and sleep a great amount, if you are suffering from major depression. Hypothyroidism is a common and easily treated cause of fatigue and sleepiness. Your doctor may check for vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as biotin and iron as well as check for hormone levels.
Certain classes of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications may cause excessive sleepiness. To determine if this is a possible problem for you, talk to a pharmacist about your medications. If the pharmacist identifies any as potential culprits, you can then talk to your doctor about trying a medication which is less sedating instead.
The good news is here that exercise, a routine bedtime and wake time that provides the amount of sleep your body needs, and a diet with a variety of foods to supply good nutrition is likely to do a lot to reduce your excessive daytime sleepiness. If it does not, then you know you do need to see a doctor to figure out what else could be going on.