Is Daytime Sleepiness Normal – Or Should You Be Worried?
January 30, 2022
Many adults will take an afternoon nap now and then, and it’s no cause for concern. But excessive daytime sleepiness can be a real problem and often signals an underlying medical issue that should be addressed.
Ongoing drowsiness due to sleep deprivation can interfere with work and life, and lead to problems with mood, memory, decision-making and with your overall health. It puts people at risk for motor-vehicle accidents and work-related injuries.
“Excessive daytime sleepiness is a frequent complaint that patients come in for,” says UH sleep specialist Dennis Jurcevic, MD. “It interferes with their daytime functioning. They are falling asleep at meetings or in front of the computer. Some of them fall asleep behind the wheel.”
Research has shown as many as one in three U.S. adults report excessive daytime sleepiness. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults sleep at least seven hours a night, but many do not.
Underlying Medical Issues
Excessive daytime sleepiness often is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. But it may be linked to other medical issues, such as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, narcolepsy or a psychiatric disorder. Sometimes, the cause is not an underlying medical issue, but a work or lifestyle issue. Shift work, for example, has been linked to insufficient sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders are big public health problems. They elevate risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and depression. In many cases, sleep loss can be fixed with behavior adjustments, such as keeping a consistent sleep schedule. But for the most part, the problem goes unrecognized.
Dr. Jurcevic says people who often need sleep during the day can start by talking with their primary care doctor.
“How often it happens and how long it has been happening is the concern,” Dr. Jurcevic says. “Typically, napping is not something people need to do on a regular basis.”
Your doctor will ask you questions, take a comprehensive history and evaluate whether to refer you to a sleep clinic for further tests and treatments.
“The good news is there now is greater recognition of sleep health, and what can be done to fix problems before they take a toll on people, Dr. Jurcevic says.
Sleep disorder doctors at University Hospitals work hand-in-hand with our pulmonary specialists, heart doctors, ENTs, neurologists and psychologists to evaluate patients’ sleep struggles and restore them to good, solid rest. Learn more about treatment for sleep disorders at University Hospitals.