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Drowsiness

Definition

Drowsiness refers to feeling abnormally sleepy during the day. People who are drowsy may fall asleep in inappropriate situations or at inappropriate times.

See also: Idiopathic hypersomnia

Alternative Names

Sleepiness - during the day; Hypersomnia; Somnolence

Considerations

Excessive daytime sleepiness (without a known cause) suggests that you have a significant sleep disorder. It is different from fatigue.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and boredom can all contribute to excessive sleepiness, but these conditions more typically cause fatigue and apathy.

Causes

  • Having to work long hours or different shifts (nights, weekends)
  • Medications (tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antihistamines)
  • Medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, and hyponatremia /hypernatremia)
  • Not sleeping for long enough
  • Sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea syndrome and narcolepsy)

Home Care

You can relieve drowsiness by treating the cause of the problem. First, determine whether your fatigue is due to depression, anxiety, boredom, or stress. If you are not sure, talk with your health care provider.

For drowsiness due to medications, talk to your health care provider about switching or stopping your medications. DO NOT CHANGE MEDICATIONS WITHOUT FIRST TALKING TO YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER.

Your health care provider can treat hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, and hypo/hypernatremia.

For drowsiness due to narcolepsy, your doctor may prescribe stimulants (such as Ritalin).

For drowsiness due to other causes, seek medical help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you think the cause of your drowsiness is from any of the above conditions.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The doctor will examine you to determine the cause of your drowsiness. The doctor will investigate your sleep patterns, and you'll have a psychological profile taken.

You may be asked the following medical history questions about your drowsiness:

  • Sleep pattern
    • How well do you sleep?
    • How much do you sleep?
    • Do you snore?
    • Do you have episodes in which you do not breathe during sleep (sleep apnea)?
    • Do you fall asleep during the day when you are not intending to nap (such as when watching TV or reading)?
      • If so, do you awake feeling refreshed?
      • How often does this happen?
  • Emotional state
    • Are you depressed?
    • Are you anxious or feeling stressed?
    • Are you bored?
  • Other
    • What medications do you take?
    • What have you done to try to relieve the drowsiness?
    • How well did it work?
    • What other symptoms do you have?

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

If your health care provider makes a diagnosis related to drowsiness, you may want to note that diagnosis in your personal medical record.

References

Morgenthaler T, Kramer M, Alessi C, Friedman L, Boehlecke B, Brown T, et al. Practice parameters for the psychological and behavioral treatment of insomnia: an update. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine report. Sleep. 2006;29:1415-1419.

Schwartz JR, Roth T. Shift work sleep disorder: burden of illness and approaches to management. Drugs. 2006;66:2357-2370.


Review Date: 6/1/2009
Reviewed By: Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness, and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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