Excessive daytime sleepiness, or hypersomnia, is defined as an inability to stay awake or alert during the waking hours of the day. You may feel the need to take multiple naps throughout the day and sleep long hours at night.

But you may still not feel refreshed despite this “extra” sleep. You may even doze off at inopportune times, including while driving, talking, or eating.

If you’re concerned you may have excessive daytime sleepiness, it’s important to contact a doctor for a diagnosis. Your sleepiness may be related to an underlying medical condition.

Make sure you’re prepared for your next appointment by having the following questions on hand.

Excessive daytime sleepiness is commonly related to poor sleep hygiene or not getting enough total hours of sleep per night.

It can also be related to several possible health conditions. These may include primary sleep disorders or a secondary complication of another health condition.

Some possibilities include:

  • Sleep apnea: With sleep apnea, you stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer while sleeping, which can also cause loud snoring and gasping sounds. In addition to daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can cause morning headaches, irritability, and problems concentrating.
  • Narcolepsy: This sleep disorder causes you to fall asleep anytime and anywhere without warning.
  • Mental health conditions: These may include depression and bipolar disorder, which can cause low mood and excessive sleepiness.
  • Restless legs syndrome: This neurological disorder can cause sensations in your legs when you’re resting. You may have urges to move them, which can keep you up at night.
  • Medications: Certain medications may cause drowsiness and daytime fatigue, including some allergy and mental health medications. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend a different schedule for your medications or a different type altogether.

In some cases, excessive sleepiness has no identifiable underlying cause. This is also called idiopathic hypersomnia.

Excessive daytime sleepiness can affect anyone at any age. But researchers believe it’s becoming an increasing problem in the United States for adults.

In fact, a 2021 review estimates that excessive daytime sleepiness affects about 15.6% of U.S. adults. Children and adolescents may also be affected.

Other medical conditions that may cause excessive daytime sleepiness can have other risk factors. For example, the most common risk factor for sleep apnea is obesity, but excessive daytime sleepiness may also increase in all adults as they age.

A doctor may order a physical exam and blood testing to determine whether you have excessive daytime sleepiness. They will give a thorough look at your medical history, too.

It’s crucial to tell your doctor as many details about your daytime sleepiness and sleep patterns as possible.

Then, depending on your doctor’s initial findings, they may recommend a sleep study. Also called a polysomnogram, a sleep study provides data during a full night’s sleep, such as your breathing rate and heart rate. This may help identify sleep apnea as well as other sleep disorders.

Since excessive daytime sleepiness causes symptoms during the day, you may also need tests that measure how quickly you take naps and your alertness during waking hours. These are known as multiple sleep latency tests.

A multiple sleep latency test is a full-day exam consisting of five scheduled naps. Each nap lasts about 15 minutes. In addition to how long it takes you to fall asleep, a doctor will look at other data, such as your measured sleep cycles.

It’s natural to feel fatigued from time to time, but excessive daytime sleepiness goes beyond feeling tired. It’s important to seek help if you continuously fall asleep throughout the day despite getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night.

It also might be a good idea to consider seeking help if sleepiness interferes with your daily activities, such as work, school, or commuting.

Other warning signs include falling asleep during other activities, such as watching TV, talking with someone, reading a book, or listening to a lecture.

Falling asleep without warning during the day is not only an inconvenience. It can also be dangerous.

This is especially the case if you have the urge to fall asleep during certain activities, such as walking or driving a vehicle. In fact, it’s estimated that sleepiness contributes to 100,000 motor vehicle accidents each year.

Having excessive daytime sleepiness can also indicate a serious underlying condition, such as sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea may increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It may even contribute to early death.

Treatment for excessive daytime sleepiness depends on the underlying cause and whether it’s a primary condition or secondary to other conditions you might have.

If it’s idiopathic or related to sleep-wake disorders, such as narcolepsy, stimulant medications may help you stay awake during the day. Common options include stimulants, such as amphetamines, or medications that promote wakefulness, such as modafinil (Provigil).

On the other hand, if your case is secondary to another health condition, treatment for the primary cause may help treat excessive daytime sleepiness.

For example, if you have depression, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants. If you have sleep apnea, you may need to wear a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night.

While lifestyle changes won’t likely cure excessive daytime sleepiness, certain habits can help you feel better and manage the symptoms. Talk with a doctor about trying the following:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Take naps, if needed, but keep them short and at regular intervals earlier in the day.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment in your bedroom. Keep it cool and dark and without electronic devices.
  • Avoid heavy caffeine or alcohol use, especially later in the day.
  • Quit smoking if you currently smoke. Your doctor can help you get started.
  • Exercise 20 minutes or more per day, but avoid working out 4 to 5 hours before your scheduled bedtime.
  • Adjust your work schedule so you can relax in the evening hours before bedtime.