Everyone has days when they feel tired. Maybe you’ve had a few late nights or you’re stressed at work. A little sleepiness isn’t usually a cause for concern. However, if your sleepiness is affecting your everyday life, it might be time to talk to a doctor to rule out an underlying cause.
About 20 percent of the U.S. population lives with excessive sleepiness, which is characterized by constant feelings of drowsiness and low energy. Different factors can contribute to excessive sleepiness. You may have an underlying condition, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, that’s keeping you from getting the rest you need. Or, your tiredness may be a side effect of medication or lifestyle choices.
Depending on the cause, excessive daytime sleepiness may not improve on its own. If left untreated, it can interfere with the quality of your life.
Here are a few clues it’s time to seek medical attention for chronic drowsiness.
1. You can’t shake the brain fog
Excessive daytime sleepiness can lead to chronic brain fog, which is a lack of mental clarity. Being in this state of mind can make it difficult to think clearly and concentrate at work or school.
You might repeatedly read information to grasp the meaning. In social settings, you may have trouble focusing on topics or following conversations.
2. Being tired affects decision making
Excessive daytime sleepiness caused by sleep deprivation can also affect the choices you make. If you’re not getting enough rest, your brain won’t be as attentive and alert during your waking hours.
If drowsiness persists, you might make errors in judgment due to a lack of mental clarity. You might fail to think through all aspects of a decision. As a result, you could end up regretting some of your choices.
3. You have issues with short-term memory
Excessive daytime sleepiness causes significant problems with short-term memory. Everyone is forgetful at times, but if you’re experiencing ongoing memory issues, it could be because you’re not getting enough rest.
Memory loss is linked to sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes short pauses in your breathing during sleep, which can result in waking up several times during the night. Even if you’re not aware of interrupted rest, lack of restorative sleep takes a toll on your brain. This affects the process of converting short-term memories to long-term ones.
While you may not have trouble recalling an incident that happened years ago, recent conversations or experiences might be hard to remember. Treating sleep apnea can decrease daytime sleepiness, as well as improve your memory and cognitive function.
4. Your productivity drops at work
Depending on the extent of daytime sleepiness, your work performance and productivity may take a hit. If you’re unable to keep up with your workflow, it can create problems with your employer and put your job at risk.
Signs of reduced productivity include an inability to meet deadlines or complete tasks. Your employer or coworkers may complain about your level of performance or lack of motivation.
A treatment program for sleepiness can help you feel more alert and energetic, and ultimately boost your workplace performance.
5. You nod off while behind the wheel
Falling asleep behind the wheel is a very serious problem. It should be addressed immediately in all circumstances. No matter what the cause of your tiredness, if you start to feel sleepy while you’re driving, pull the vehicle over to the side of the road. Call a friend or loved one to make them aware of the situation, and ask them for help.
An inability to keep your eyes open during activities like driving can indicate a sleep disorder or too little sleep at night. Seek a medical opinion if you experience this symptom.
6. You can’t sleep at night
If you have sleep apnea and wake up coughing or gasping for air, you may have difficulty going back to sleep. Insomnia, which is triggered by too much caffeine, stress, depression, or physical pain, may also be keeping you up at night.
Discuss options for better sleep with your doctor. You may need to begin treatment for a sleep disorder, or your doctor may recommend an antidepressant, antianxiety medication, or a pain reliever to ease any underlying issues affecting your quality sleep.
Sometimes, improving your sleep hygiene can help you sleep better. Sleep in a quiet, comfortable environment. The room shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. Avoid doing any stimulating activities before bed, and make sure to dim the lights in your room before going down for the night.
7. You’re a snorer
If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness and nighttime snoring, your doctor may need to adjust your sleep apnea treatment. If you’re currently using an oral device, you may need to switch to a CPAP machine. This provides continuous airflow to keep your airway opened during the night.
If you’re not currently on medication for your sleep apnea, it might be time to start. Treating sleep apnea will improve your daytime sleepiness. It can also reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can have a major impact on the quality of your life. You may experience memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or reduced performance at work. Rather than live with constant fatigue, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the different ways to boost your energy.