What causes drowsiness? 38 possible conditions

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What Is Drowsiness?

Feeling abnormally sleepy or tired during the day is commonly known as drowsiness. Drowsiness may lead to additional symptoms, such as forgetfulness or falling asleep at inappropriate times.

What Are the Causes of Drowsiness?

A variety of things may cause drowsiness. These can range from mental states and life choices to serious medical conditions.

Life Choices

Certain life choices may lead to increased drowsiness, such as working very long hours or switching to a night shift. In most cases, your drowsiness will reduce as your body adapts to your new schedule.

Mental State

Drowsiness can also be caused by your mental, or psychological, state.

Depression can greatly increase drowsiness, as can high levels of anxiety or stress. Boredom is another known cause of drowsiness. If your drowsiness is caused by these conditions, you are also likely to be fatigued and suffer from apathy.

Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions can cause drowsiness. The most common is diabetes. Other conditions that may lead to drowsiness include those that cause chronic pain or affect your metabolism, such as hyponatremia. An underactive thyroid may also make you feel drowsy.

Medications

Many medications, particularly antihistamines, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills, list drowsiness as a possible side effect. Typically these medications carry a warning against driving or operating machinery while on the drugs.

Talk to your doctor if you suffer from prolonged drowsiness due to your medications. He or she may prescribe an alternative or adjust your current dosage.

Sleeping Disorder

Excessive drowsiness without a known cause can be a sign of a sleeping disorder. There is a range of sleeping disorders, and each has its own unique effects.

Sleep apnea is a disorder where a blockage in your upper airways creates pauses in your breathing throughout the night, causing you to wake up frequently with a choking sound. Other sleep disorders include narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and delayed sleep phase disorder.

When to Seek Emergency Care

You should seek medical attention if you begin to feel drowsy after you:

  • start a new medication
  • take an overdose of medication
  • sustain a head injury
  • are exposed to the cold

How Is Drowsiness Treated?

Treatment of your drowsiness will depend on the cause.

Self-Treatment

Some drowsiness can be treated at home, especially if it is the result of life choices, like working longer hours, or a mental state, such as stress.

In these cases, it may help to get plenty of rest and distraction. It is also important to investigate what is causing the problem—such as stress or anxiety—and take steps to reduce the feeling.

Medical Care

During your appointment, your doctor will try to identify the cause of your drowsiness by discussing the symptom with you. He or she may ask about how well you sleep, and whether you wake up frequently in the night.

Be prepared to answer questions about:

  • your sleeping habits
  • the amount of sleep you get
  • if you snore
  • how often you fall asleep during the day
  • how often you feel drowsy during the day

Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of your sleeping habits for a few days, documenting how long you sleep at night and what you are doing when you feel drowsy in the day. He or she may also ask for specific details, such as if you actually fall asleep in the day and whether you wake up feeling refreshed.

If the doctor suspects that the cause is psychological, you may be referred to a counsellor or therapist to find a solution.

Drowsiness that is a side effect of medication is often curable. Your doctor may swap the medication for a different type or change your dosage until the drowsiness subsides. Never change your dosage or stop a medication without first talking to your doctor.

If no cause for your drowsiness is apparent, you may need to undergo some tests. These are usually noninvasive and painless. Your doctor could request a full blood count, urine tests, an EEG, or a CT scan.

If your doctor suspects you may have sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or another sleep disorder, he or she may schedule a sleep study test. For this test, you will spend the night in the hospital or a sleep center under the observation and care of a sleep specialist. Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and brain waves will be monitored throughout the night for any signs of a sleep disorder.

What Is the Outcome for Untreated Drowsiness?

You may find that drowsiness goes away naturally as your body becomes used to a new schedule or as you become less stressed, depressed, or anxious.

However, if the drowsiness is caused by a medical problem or sleep disorder, it is unlikely to get better on its own. Some people manage to live with drowsiness. However, it may limit your ability to work, drive, and operate machinery safely.

How Can Drowsiness Be Prevented?

Often, a regular amount of sleep each night can prevent drowsiness. Most adults require about eight hours of sleep to feel fully refreshed. Some people may need more, especially those with medical conditions or a particularly active lifestyle.

Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any changes in your mood, signs of depression, or uncontrollable feelings of stress and anxiety.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Encephalitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain tissue usually caused by viral infection. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, and vomiting. Seizure, unconsciousness, and high fever are severe signs.

Read more »

2

Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent (one-fifth) of your body's blood or fluid supply. This severe fluid loss makes it impossible for the heart to pum...

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3

Concussion

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Usually it occurs after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury. A concussion can cause many severe symptoms that affect brain function.

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4

Delirium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Delirium is an abrupt change in the brain that causes mental confusion and emotional disruption. It makes it difficult to think, remember, sleep, pay attention, and more. You might experience the condition durin...

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5

The Catastrophy of Cardiac Tamponade

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiac tamponade is a serious medical condition in which fluids fill the space between the sac around the heart and the heart muscle, creating pressure. Symptoms include anxiety, short breath, fainting, and more.

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6

Mini Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini stroke) blood stops flowing to the brain for a short period of time. TIA doesn't kill brain cells like a stroke does. TIA causes symptoms that mimic those of a stroke.

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7

Epidural Hematoma

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An epidural hematoma occurs when blood fills the area between the skull and the protective covering of the brain. It usually results from a traumatic injury to the head, and puts you at risk for brain damage or death.

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8

Cardiogenic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiogenic shock is a rare condition in which the heart is so damaged that it is unable to supply sufficient blood to bodily organs. Sweating and cold extremities are potential signs of this condition.

Read more »

9

Sleeplessness

Insomnia is a serious sleep disorder. It can mean the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, or the tendency to wake too early before having gotten enough sleep.

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10

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders/disturbances can cause your sleep to be disturbed. Disturbed sleep includes the inability to fall asleep, the inability to go back to sleep, and frequent waking up during the night. Sleep disorders ca...

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11

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland is an important endocrine gland that controls the body's metabolism. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid gland produces th...

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12

Head Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Injuries to your brain, skull, or scalp are all types of head injury. A head injury may be mild or severe depending on what caused it. Some injuries produce bleeding within your skull. Others cause damage on the outsid...

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13

Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke is a medical emergency where part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. There are four major kinds of stroke: cerebral thrombosis, cerebral embolism, subarachnoid hemorrhage & intracerebral hemorrhage.

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14

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which you briefly stop breathing during sleep. The moments of apnea can occur repeatedly throughout the night. The interruption of your breathing happens may indicate a proble...

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15

Low Blood Sodium (Hyponatremia)

Low blood sodium is also known as hyponatremia . Sodium is an electrolyte. It helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. Sodium is important for proper muscle and nerve function. It also keeps you...

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16

Migraine with Aura

Migraine is a disorder characterized by repeated attacks of severe headache. A migraine headache causes throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on only one side of the head. These headaches are often associated wit...

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17

Hypercalcemia

Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too much calcium in your blood. Calcium performs important functions, such as helping to keep your bones healthy. However, too much of it can cause problems. Hypercalcemi...

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18

Polycystic Kidney Disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited kidney disorder. It causes fluid-filled cysts to form in the kidneys. PKD may impair kidney function and cause kidney failure. According to the University of Chicag...

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19

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the nervous system. It causes drowsiness and sleep attacks. It's also known as daytime sleep disorder and cataplexy. The Center for Narcolepsy (CN) at Stanford University School of Medicin...

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20

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a form of heart disease caused by alcohol abuse. Long-term alcohol abuse weakens and thins the heart muscle. The damaged muscle cannot pump blood as it should, which deprives the bod...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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