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What is Normal vs Excessive Sleepiness

What is Normal vs Excessive Sleepiness

Sleepiness is a feeling of excessive drowsiness. This feeling is entirely normal at bedtime or as the result of strenuous physical or mental activity. When it occurs during the day without a known cause, however, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. When daytime sleepiness is chronic or severe enough to interfere with one's normal daily activities, medical attention should be sought.

What Causes Excessive Sleepiness

Numerous factors can cause feelings of sleepiness. In normal situations, they occur as the result of intensive physical activity or mental strain, working long hours, or lack of sleep. Most everyone experiences daytime sleepiness from time to time as the result of the normal strain of daily life. Ongoing drowsiness that does not have an apparent cause and does not improve with adequate rest, however, is usually a symptom of an underlying disorder.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy are common causes of unexplained feelings of drowsiness. Individuals who have these disorders may not be getting enough sleep and not even know it. Other conditions that can cause sleepiness include chronic pain, anxiety, depression, underactive thyroid, and diabetes. Some individuals may also experience lethargy or drowsiness as the result of vitamin or mineral imbalances in the blood and certain medications such as tranquilizers and antihistamines.

Diagnosing the Cause

Because the causes for sleepiness vary greatly, doctors may need to perform various tests when diagnosing a patient. Physical examinations and patient medical histories are often used in conjunction with other tests such as blood tests and sleep studies to determine the cause of a patient’s sleepiness. When medications are the suspected cause, doctors may try changing the patient to a different prescription to see if it alleviates the feelings of daytime sleepiness.

Treating Sleepiness

Effectively treating sleepiness requires treating the cause. Sleep disorders and other underlying conditions can usually be treated with medications or medical equipment such as CPAP machines for sleep apnea. Other problems like vitamin or mineral deficiencies may be treated using dietary supplements. When treating mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, doctors may recommend anti-depressants or counseling.

Treat the Underlying Cause

In the vast majority of cases, feelings of sleepiness can be alleviated by determining and treating the underlying cause. Tiredness itself is not life-threatening, but when left untreated, it may lead to complications such as reduced quality of life or higher risk of injury due to decreased alertness. Underlying causes may also worsen when left untreated.

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