On Your Health

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When to See a Doctor About Daytime Sleepiness

Everyone feels a little sleepy at times. The afternoon rolls around, and suddenly the yawns start and you struggle to keep your eyelids open. Late nights, too much coffee, unexpected stress and a new baby can all be causes of daytime sleepiness, and many of us will have days when we simply feel tired all day long.

Most of the time, extreme fatigue can be cured with a good night’s rest. But for some people, feeling exhausted during the day is a daily occurrence.

Excessive sleepiness can create numerous health problems ranging from distracted thoughts, memory problems and hallucinations to even more serious chronic disorders such as diabetes and hormone fluctuations.

The National Sleep Foundation celebrates Sleep Awareness Week March 10 to 16 with the theme “Begin with Sleep,” which highlights the importance of good sleep health for people to best achieve their personal, family and professional goals. Sleep requirements vary from person to person, but most healthy adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night and children and teens need even more.

While there are many possible causes of extreme daytime sleepiness, including dietary deficiencies, diabetes or thyroid problems and depression, your fatigue may also be caused by a sleep disorder.

What is excessive daytime sleepiness?

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is described as a chronic feeling of overwhelming daytime fatigue. Even those who get a full amount of sleep every night still experience tiredness and exhaustion during the day.

Symptoms of EDS include trouble waking in the morning, needing or taking frequent naps, dozing off at inappropriate times, feeling a lack of energy during the day, difficulty in concentrating, mood swings, loss of appetite and more.

Many underlying causes can result in EDS, so be sure to talk to your INTEGRIS physician or sleep specialist to discover the root cause. A sleep study can also help you find out if you have a sleep disorder that’s causing your fatigue and sleepiness.

Sleep disorders

The most common sleep disorders that can cause EDS include:

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder, with more than 20 million adults in the U.S. suffering from it. Obstructive sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing periodically during the night for up to 30 seconds at a time.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the upper respiratory airways that causes the muscles in the back of the throat to fail to keep the airway open.

The easiest way to diagnose whether you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea is through a sleep study. If diagnosed, the most common and most successful treatment is a CPAP, which is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth and blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome affects approximately one in 10 adults in the U.S. This sleep-related disorder is characterized by the overwhelming and often unpleasant urge to move the legs while at rest.

Medications like dietary supplements, dopamine promoters and nerve pain medication can be prescribed along with lifestyle changes, massage and therapy.


Ninety million Americans suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is when someone has persistent difficulty falling asleep, resulting in daytime drowsiness. In some cases, the cause could be as simple as physical discomfort while in other cases, a medical condition could be the cause. Some medications, such as those taken for blood pressure, thyroid disease or allergies, can also cause insomnia.

Anxiety and depression, certain foods and lifestyle behaviors can also be root causes for insomnia, so discuss your symptoms with your doctor.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that can include excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and, for some, sudden loss of muscle control. One in 2,000 to 3,000 people suffer from narcolepsy, which, in some cases, is caused by the failure of cells in the brain to release hypocretin, a chemical that regulates wakefulness.

While there’s currently no cure for narcolepsy, existing treatments and lifestyle changes can greatly improve the symptoms.

Your INTEGRIS physician or sleep specialist can suggest a combination of medications for the different symptoms you may have. Talk to your doctor about the severity of your symptoms, possible complications and how medication works together with lifestyle changes.

Other sleep disorders

Other sleep disorders that could cause excessive daytime sleepiness include non-24-hour sleep wake disorder and shift work disorder, both which affect the body’s natural cycle for sleep. Talk with your INTEGRIS physician or sleep specialist about symptoms and possible treatments if you suspect you suffer from either disorder.

Diagnosing and treating EDS

Your doctor may ask you to test your level of EDS using the Epworth sleepiness scale, which is based on a short questionnaire. Because many possible causes exist for EDS, the treatments also vary widely, so it’s vital that you discuss your problems with your doctor.

INTEGRIS has several dedicated sleep disorder centers and clinics that can offer diagnosis and treatments for people suffering from sleep disorders. Using a multidisciplinary approach and the latest diagnostic tools and treatments, the INTEGRIS Sleep Clinics staff are expertly trained in sleep medicine to evaluate test results and develop a treatment plan to resolve sleep related issues.

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