Cold,” “rainy,” “wet” and “gloomy” are typical words to describe springtime in the Pacific Northwest. For many people, such weather commonly is accompanied by fatigue or a lack of energy. But while some blame the weather, several other factors can cause excessive daytime sleepiness.
Complaints of feeling overly sleepy during the day are reported by 10 to 25 percent of the general population and is one of the most common issues I see among my patients.
A very common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness is an insufficient amount of sleep. While the right amount of sleep varies by age — about seven to nine hours a night for adults, and nine to 11 hours for kids and teens — many people are not getting enough sleep.
One specific syndrome of insufficient sleep is caused by behaviors such as watching TV late at night, staying out late or having poor sleep hygiene. Examples of poor sleep hygiene include not having a regular sleep schedule, eating or exercising within three hours of bedtime, drinking caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, texting or watching TV while in bed and a poor sleep environment. These factors are known to make it difficult to get a sufficient amount of sleep each night.
Psychiatric diseases such as depression and anxiety can also affect sleep. Many patients with anxiety and depression have difficulty maintaining their sleep and wake up frequently at night. Additionally, some patients with psychiatric illness wake up early in the morning and have difficulty falling back to sleep, resulting in fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day.
Lack of sleep can also be influenced by other medical disorders. People with issues of obesity or chronic pain often struggle to initiate or maintain healthy, consistent sleep patterns because of difficulty breathing or physical discomfort.
Similarly, Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease of the brain, can interrupt sleep patterns.
In addition to these medical disorders, several different types of sleep disorders can affect patients’ ability to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep apnea, a common disorder where a person has multiple pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep, is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness. In fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association estimates it affects 22 million Americans.
Other common sleep disorders that I see with patients with excessive da time sleepiness include restless leg syndrome; narcolepsy, a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-awake cycles; and circadian-rhythm sleep disorder.
If you struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness, you might check your medicine cabinet. Many medications have side effects that disrupt sleep, such as antihistamines, sedative antidepressants, opioid medications and antipsychotics. Be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist about your prescription medications to ensure that drowsiness does not affect your day.
Finally, substance abuse — excessive drug and alcohol use — is known to cause daytime sleepiness because these chemicals disrupt normal brain functions.
Getting back to sleep
All of these factors contribute to excessive daytime sleepiness and can cause poor performance in school or at work. Fatigue during the day also can have dangerous consequences such as motor vehicle accidents.
If you have excessive daytime sleepiness, it is important to talk to your doctor who can find out what is causing the drowsiness, based on your health history, a physical exam and, if necessary, specific tests like a sleep study or blood work.
Treatment options are often available and can be explored with your doctor. For example, sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP or surgery, depression and anxiety can be treated through counseling or medication, and sleep hygiene can be improved by less screen time before bed.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can keep you from the activities you love, but by working with your doctor to find the underlying cause, you can work to overcome fatigue and improve your sleep patterns.
ELHAM REZVANIAN, M.D., practices neurology and sleep medicine at Pacific Medical Centers (www.PacMed.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.