Drowsiness is a feeling that can range from vague sleepiness, which could be an annoying and irresistible sensation of fighting to stay awake. The term hypersomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness is also known as daytime drowsiness. When drowsiness becomes overwhelming, an individual might fall asleep during the day when he is supposed to remain alert and awake. The individual may even wake up during the day without realizing that he has fallen asleep. Drowsiness invades a person’s waking life at the wrong times and may create a multitude of undesirable and dangerous consequences.
For most people, feeling a little drowsy at times is not a great deal of concern. However, when drowsiness starts to interfere with our ability to remain awake at work or school, reading, driving a car, watching television, attending church, or in some quiet circumstances, fighting the sensation can begin to control our lives. When drowsiness begins to intrude into normal life, we should start considering the reasons behind the drowsiness.
The most basic reason why people sleep at night is to keep them functioning and alert during the day. An adequate amount of sleep and good quality sleep are essential for daytime functioning. When drowsiness starts interfering with waking, it may be because some aspects of nighttime sleep might have been disturbed or another problem exists. Drowsiness may be caused by simple issues such as a very busy schedule, which accounts for not being able to get enough sleep at night. However, there could be some medical problems or sleep disorders present, such as sleep apnea.
Drowsiness may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying condition, disease, or disorder. The related symptoms that may accompany drowsiness include:
- Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
- Difficulty with talking, thinking, memory, writing, reading or comprehension
- Lethargy or malaise
- Low energy
Drowsiness may be accompanied by symptoms that are related to other body systems including:
In some cases, drowsiness could be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that needs immediate and emergency evaluation. Seek emergency medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms that could be life-threatening, including:
- Change in alertness or consciousness such as unresponsiveness or passing out
- Sudden behavior change or change in mental statuses such as delirium, hallucinations, lethargy, or delusions
- Inability to get warm
- Seizures or convulsions
- Severe drowsiness
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
Several reasons might have caused drowsiness. The reasons can range from lifestyle choices to mental states to serious medical conditions.
There are lifestyle factors that may lead to increased drowsiness, such as switching to a night shift or working very long hours. If these are the reasons behind your drowsiness, it will subside the moment your body gets adjusted to the new schedule or routine.
Drowsiness could result from the emotional, mental, or psychological state. Depression may greatly increase your drowsiness, as can high levels of anxiety or stress. Boredom could be another reason behind drowsiness. If you experience any of these mental conditions, you will also likely feel apathetic and fatigued.
There are medical conditions that may cause drowsiness. Diabetes is one of the common reasons behind drowsiness. Other conditions such as chronic pain may affect your mental state or metabolism, leading to drowsiness. Other medical conditions that may cause drowsiness include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Infectious mononucleosis
Certain medications, such as tranquilizers, antihistamines, and sleeping pills have drowsiness as a possible side effect. The medications included in their labels a warning against operating machinery or driving while using the drugs.
See your doctor if you are experiencing prolonged drowsiness due to your use of these medications. The doctor may adjust your current dosage or prescribe a new medication.
Excessive drowsiness with no known cause could be a sign of a sleeping disorder. There are various types of sleeping disorders, each one having its unique effects.
Sleep apnea is characterized by a blockage in the upper airways that leads to snoring and pauses in your breathing while you sleep. This wakes you up while experiencing also a choking sound.
Other sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and delayed sleep phase disorder.
Serious or life-threatening causes of drowsiness
There are instances when drowsiness could be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that needs immediate evaluation in an emergency setting, such as:
- Head trauma or concussion
- Hyponatremia or low levels of sodium
- Hypernatremia or excessive levels of sodium
- Medication overdose
Potential complications of drowsiness
Drowsiness can be caused by serious diseases. Failure to treat the underlying causes can result in serious complications or permanent damage. Once the doctor has diagnosed the underlying cause, it is necessary that the recommended treatment be strictly followed. Your healthcare professional will design a treatment plan specifically for reducing your risk of potential complications, such as:
- Heart disease
- Poor quality of life
- Inability to perform daily tasks
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor or a licensed healthcare provider will diagnose your condition by asking you many questions related to your drowsiness. The treatment will be dependent on the underlying cause of your drowsiness.
Your doctor will attempt to identify the cause of your drowsiness by discussing the symptoms with you. He will ask you about how well you sleep at night and if you wake up frequently.
You should be ready to answer questions about:
- Your sleeping habits
- If you snore
- The amount of sleep you get
- How often you fall asleep during the day
- How often do you feel drowsy during the day
You may be asked by your doctor to keep a diary of your bedtime habits for some days. The diary will document the number of hours you sleep at night and what you usually do when you are feeling drowsy during the day.
The doctor may also ask for specific details, such as if you wake up feeling refreshed when you fall asleep during the day. If the doctor has a suspicion that your drowsiness has a psychological cause, he may refer you to a therapist or counsel to help you find a solution.
Drowsiness that has medications as the underlying cause will be easier to cure. Your doctor may change that medicine or change the dosage of the medication until your drowsiness subsides. Do not change your medication or dosage or stop taking a prescription medication without the approval of your doctor.
If the doctor cannot find an apparent cause of your drowsiness, he may conduct some tests, most of which are painless and noninvasive, such as:
- Urine tests
- Complete blood count
- CT scan of the head
If there is a suspicion of obstructive sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, the doctor may schedule a sleep study test. For the test, you will have to spend the night in a sleep center or hospital to be observed by a sleep specialist. Throughout the night, your heart rate, blood pressure, heart rhythm, brainwaves, breathing problem, oxygenation, and other body movements will be monitored for any signs of a sleep disorder.
Some cases of drowsiness may be treated at home, especially if they are caused by lifestyle factors such as irregular working hours, or a mental state such as anxiety.
For cases like these, plenty of rest and distracting yourself will of great help. The underlying causes must be investigated and take the steps to reduce such feelings.
Prevention of drowsiness
Drowsiness during the day is often the result of poor sleep at night. There are ways to improve nighttime sleep and avoid daytime drowsiness:
- Get adequate sleep at night
- Keep distractions out of bed
- Wake up consistently at a certain time
- Gradually move bedtime earlier
- Set consistent mealtimes
- Exercise regularly
- De-clutter your schedule
- Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy
- Do not take a nap late in the day
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual
- Avoid nightcaps
- See a sleep specialist
Risks of Having Drowsiness
The following have a greater risk of drowsiness than the general population:
- People who work long hours
- People who work different shifts
- People with jet lag
- People with an undiagnosed or untreated disorder
- People who have trouble sleeping
When to Seek Medical Attention
Everybody experiences dip in energy from time to time, but for people who are suffering from drowsiness or excessive daytime sleepiness, there is a profound effect on their quality of life. Drowsiness if often misunderstood because it has subjective symptoms.
While plain sleepiness may not be enough reason to see a doctor, drowsiness may lead to potentially serious problems. If you experience the following symptoms, you must schedule an appointment with your doctor.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lapsed judgment
- Increased risk of accidents
- Reduced productivity
- Health problems`
Your doctor must identify the underlying cause of your drowsiness and draw up a treatment plan before the condition gets serious.
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