Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Ever witness a classmate or coworker plunge face-first into his desk and cause a loud commotion in an otherwise quiet classroom or office? While heavy bouts of sleepiness usually signify tiredness (and possibly an indication of boredom), excessive daytime sleepiness can also signal something more medically significant. Read on to see if you or someone you know is at risk.

What Is Excessive Daytime Sleepiness?

Rather than being a disease within itself, excessive daytime sleepiness is seen more as a symptom or warning sign for other possible illnesses. This symptom affects about 20 percent of adults in the United States, and is the number one reason why patients attend sleep clinics to determine the origin of this abnormal behavior.

While there are numerous potential reasons why a person may experience this condition, the side effects and consequences are generally the same: The affected individual will suffer from a decreased quality of life due to interference with daily activities, decreased productivity, and will have a higher risk of hurting himself. Excessive daytime sleepiness is sometimes confused with hypersomnia, although hypersomnia actually refers to a condition where a person constantly falls asleep, even after getting a full night's rest. Also, hypersomnia does not just describe sleepiness during the day, but at virtually any time.

Possible Causes And Indications

Some very common causes of excessive daytime sleepiness include:

  • Behavioral sleep deprivation. This is the most prevalent cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, and almost everyone is a culprit of self-induced sleep deprivation at one time or another. Remember that night when you played your favorite video game until the wee hours of the morning, only to fall asleep at school the next day? Or the time when you rushed a deadline at work and pulled an all-nighter? There you go. Most common “offenders” are adolescents, young adults or shift-workers.
  • Narcolepsy. This is an actual sleep disorder that affects about 1 in 2,000 people in the United States. It is a chronic condition with no cure, and is characterized by overwhelming feelings of sleepiness and fatigue, often during the daytime. Other side effects can include paralysis of muscles and hallucinations. Right now, many research centers are conducting further research on narcolepsy in an attempt to find a cure. Another sleep disorder frequently associated with narcolepsy is Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS), which is usually short-lived.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. For some people, breathing while sleeping is not that easy to do. Although the person may not be fully conscious, the affected person’s interrupted breathing cycle can cause broken cycles of sleep, thus inducing sleepiness during daytime hours due to tiredness and fatigue.
  • Medications. Many types of medications can cause drowsiness during the day. In fact, some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, along with prescription antipsychotics or antidepressants, are infamous for causing sleepiness during the daytime. On the other side of that spectrum, substance or alcohol abuse can also cause irregular sleeping patterns. If your medications are interfering with your daily activities, be sure to consult your doctor for an alternative option, or programs to ease off addictions.
  • Psychiatric or mental illnesses. Psychological conditions, such as depression, can also cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has also been linked to abnormal sleeping patterns, so be sure to seek help.
  • Other medical conditions. Other medical conditions unrelated to sleep can have excessive daytime sleeping as a side effect. They include: head trauma, stroke, cancer, inflammatory conditions, encephalitis, and certain neurodegenerative conditions.

As long as the doctor treats the underlying cause, excessive sleepiness during daytime will also be alleviated.


Sometimes, the underlying condition cannot be cured. Hence, excessive daytime sleepiness can be coped with a variety of different methods, which can also be used for preventative measures (especially in the case of behavioral sleep deprivation).

  • Establish regular sleep habits. Set a regular sleep and wake schedule and really try to stick to it. Turn off all stimulants (including computer screens and lights) an hour or two prior to bedtime, which will help the body wind down for sleep. Keep your bedroom dark and cool, and start to consciously relax the body as bedtime gets closer.
  • Exercise. Exercising can tire out the body, which can make it easier to fall asleep and start good sleeping habits. It can also help you feel more awake during the daytime. However, be sure to avoid exercise 2-3 hours prior to bedtime, or you may become stimulated instead.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol can actually make it harder for a person to fall asleep. Avoiding or limiting caffeine intake can also allow a more restful sleep.
  • Take naps as needed. For those who still feel the need to sleep during the day, strategically planned naps throughout the day can definitely help. Studies show that 20 minute power naps are long enough for a person to feel rested. To learn more about power napping, read Power Napping Benefits And Tips To Feel Refreshed.

Next time you see a person fall asleep at his or her meal, give these tips to the person so he or she can practice good sleeping habits!


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