I never thought I’d ever have to write an article about an extreme daytime sleepiness treatment.
However, my own struggles with sleep and my relentless research into various sleeping disorders has finally led me down this path.
Just so you’re aware the terms extreme daytime sleepiness and excessive daytime sleepiness will be interchangeable throughout this article, but I will always be referring to the same subject matter.
So, without further ado let’s discuss what I now know to be an extremely concerning problem that affects 1 in 5 people.
Is Excessive Daytime Sleepiness Actually A Thing?
When I was younger I always had my struggles with feeling tired and fatigued during the day, but this was usually because of what I’d been up to the night before.
This could range from a few too many after-work drinks or watching TV until the early hours.
There were even times I would fall asleep straight after a particularly hard day at work, only to wake up a couple of hours later, have dinner, and then find I was unable to get a decent night’s sleep.
All of these things would leave me absolutely exhausted the following day.
However, as I got older I started to realize the importance of sleep and especially trying to get a good 8 hours a night.
I thought this would solve any problems I had with feeling really sleepy the following day, and occasionally it was, but that tired and sluggish feeling never truly left me, and I often felt I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat.
So, it was time to do some research.
Firstly, I’m left somewhat confused by my findings on excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). The fact that it has its own acronym (EDS) and is sometimes referred to as hypersomnia led me to believe it was an actual sleeping disorder.
Yet, I have also read that it is not in fact a condition, but a serious symptom that could have many causes.
These are the facts as far as I see it – EDS is a condition whereby a person has extreme trouble staying awake during the day. Whereas, someone with hypersomnia you can physically fall asleep anywhere and at any time, e.g. while at work or driving.
If you suffer from EDS you may also display other symptoms. Including:
- You have real trouble waking up in the mornings.
- You feel sleepy on a regular basis during the day.
- Even when you have a nap this doesn’t seem to make any difference to how sleepy you feel.
You may also find that:
- You have a loss of appetite and hardly ever feel hungry during the day.
- You have difficulty in retaining information and with your thinking and memory in general.
- You suffer from feelings of anxiety and are also very irritable.
It is estimated that 20% of adults suffer with EDS and it is severe enough to impact on their everyday lives and activities. It is also the leading symptom of patients who visit sleep clinics.
What Causes EDS?
The most common cause of EDS (as you would suspect) is not getting enough sleep, often by choice.
It is especially prevalent in night-shift workers, who obviously work at night and try to sleep during the day.
EDS can also be caused by alcohol, cigarette and drug use, as well a lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese, and by using certain medications.
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EDS could also be provoked by an underlying condition, such as depression. However, it is more commonly associated with an undiagnosed sleep disorder including, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea.
To be honest, the list is almost endless when it comes to causes of extreme daytime sleepiness and various other conditions which could be behind EDS include, asthma, infections, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, metabolic abnormalities, and Parkinson’s disease.
I also think it’s important to differentiate between EDS and general fatigue.
If you’re feeling fatigued this can also be attributed to numerous medical or health conditions, such as anemia, diabetes, lung and heart disease, or thyroid conditions.
However, fatigue most typically means that you feel tired and exhausted throughout the day, whereas with EDS you will generally just want to sleep, and often will during the day.
How to Avoid Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
As I’ve mentioned, the most obvious reason for EDS is simply that you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Nevertheless, poor sleeping habits can be blamed for a wide variety of physical and mental disorders, so getting adequate rest at night is a must.
Your sleep quality isn’t just limited to how many hours you spend under the duvet, but it’s a good starting point.
Make sure you get enough sleep
Adults should be getting between 7-9 hours sleep a night and for a teenager this should be increased to 9-10 hours.
We all have the occasional day when we may go to bed a little later or need to get up earlier in the morning, but don’t make a habit of it.
You should attempt to block out a total of at least 7 hours every night just for sleep.
Keep distractions in the bedroom to the bare minimum
I have often come across the saying, “the bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex” and this is one of the most important things I have ever read in terms of sleep.
The bedroom, especially in the modern-day-and-age, seems to have become a haven for entertainment (and no I’m not talking about the sexual variety).
We now typically read, watch TV, check our smartphones and tablets, play video games, and even continue working from our laptops in the bedroom.
I have spoken in more detail here about the effect this is having on the quality of your sleep.
I would also suggest that having a heated pre-sleep discussion/argument should also be kept out of the bedroom. Reserve this as your sleep sanctuary and nothing more.
Have a consistent wake-up time
I have often spoken about our circadian rhythm (our internal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle) and one of the most frustrating things I hear is people who have no set wake-up time.
In order to improve the quality of your sleep you need to establish a routine that the body then gets used to and can then follow.
This includes weekends and holidays, and where possible stick to the same waking time.
We tend to sleep in cycles, which typically last 90-120 minutes, so try to time your sleep to coincide with this. If you’ve ever woken up feeling extremely groggy, even though you’ve had the recommended 8 hours, then it’s likely that you have woken up in the middle of a sleep-cycle.
This is why I hate alarm clocks and no longer use one.
I now know the exact time I need to go to bed and the exact time I need to wake up (give or take no more than 15 minutes either side) and my body has become used to this.
I now fall asleep within 10-15 minutes of going to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, feeling alert and refreshed.
Don’t try to complete the above all in one go
If you’re someone who’s spent the last 10 years going to bed an hour or two later than you probably should, immediately going to bed a lot earlier will not work.
Try going to bed earlier in 15 minute intervals and build up to an hour over the space of a month.
If you’ve gotten used to going to bed at 12am, but in order to get at least 7 hours sleep you need to be going to bed at 11, you’ll simply lie wide awake unable to sleep by trying to make such a big change in one immediate hit.
The Importance of Exercise and Diet
Exercise and diet play a major role in how healthy we are and the same can be said for how well we sleep.
I’m not talking about pumping iron for 3 hours a day here, or trying to live off lettuce leaves 7 days a week.
Consistently exercising for 30-45 minutes a day will do wonders for your overall health and will make it far easier to fall asleep at night. It will also help you to feel more alert during the day, especially if you workout outdoors and expose yourself to sunlight.
The same can be said for eating a healthy, well-balanced meal at a regular, consistent time each day.
How often do you skip breakfast, grab a quick sandwich for lunch and then pig out on a carb-ladened meal just before bedtime? I don’t think you need me to tell how bad this is for your sleep quality, and your health in general.
Look at Your Schedule
I’m amazed at how many times I hear someone say, “I haven’t got enough time to sleep for that long”.
Admittedly, 7-9 hours sleep a night is a standard and I know many people who function completely normally with far less sleep, whereas others are dead to the world if they don’t get 10+ hours a night.
However, if you do suffer with extreme daytime sleepiness then surely rearranging your schedule to ensure you get adequate sleep will actually make you more productive during the day anyway.
You wouldn’t consistently miss one or two meals every day for an extended period of time, as you know that your body won’t function as it should. The exact same can be said if you regularly miss an hour or two of sleep every night, so make the effort to rearrange your schedule to fit in good, quality sleep at night.
EDS can lead to you wanting to grab a bit of shut-eye during the day and I see nothing wrong with the occasional nap.
However, napping for too long or at the wrong time of the day can cause havoc for night-time sleep.
I mentioned earlier that a sleep cycle usually lasts 90-120 minutes and a nap should always be for less time than this. In fact, an ideal nap would generally be 20-30 minutes so you don’t hit the stages of deep or REM sleep. This should leave feeling awake and refreshed.
I would also advise not to nap too close to bedtime and I personally like to have a cut-off point of no later than 3pm. Any naps taken after 6pm will severely hamper your attempts to sleep at night.
Create a relaxing ritual leading up to bedtime
I find it’s important to almost “tell” your brain and body that you are getting ready for bed.
For me, this will typically involve no electronics at least an hour before bed (that includes the TV). I may choose to have a hot, relaxing bath, read a physical book (not kindle), write in a gratitude journal, or listen to soothing music.
All of these things help to keep me relaxed and calm and I know as soon as I’ve shut off the TV or laptop that I’ll be going to bed very soon.
The Treatments for Extreme Daytime Sleepiness
I would suggest that the best form of treatment for EDS is to address the underlying causes.
More often than not this will mean making changes to your sleeping habits, schedules and routines as I’ve alluded to above – basically learning and implementing good sleep hygiene habits.
If EDS is caused by an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder then you should look to treat this.
However, there are certain cases where medication may be the best course of treatment for someone suffering from EDS.
Possible medications that may be prescribed by your Doctor include, Modafinil (Provigil) and Armodafinil (Nuvigil). These drugs work by altering the actions of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.
Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) are sometimes prescribed to deal with EDS, but in truth I view taking something to keep yourself awake during the day as a way of avoiding the actual problem.
Yes okay, I understand that feeling extremely sleepy during the day will have a detrimental effect on your life, but surely you’re just aggravating any problems you have with sleep by taking a stimulant.
It’s much the same as people who drink copious amounts of coffee during the day just to literally function. That amount of caffeine in your system is once again going to cause problems when it comes to bedtime.
The medications I’ve listed are all aimed at activating the central nervous system, thus increasing your overall alertness.
But, of course, they also come with potential side-effects which include, high blood pressure, tremors, irritability, headaches, nausea, dizziness, nervousness, upset stomach, diarrhea, back pain, stuffy nose, and surprise surprise, difficulty in sleeping and insomnia.
You’ll learn from reading my many articles on this website that I’m not a fan of medication, not only for sleep, but in many other areas of our life.
However, if you feel this is your only course of action then please do speak with your Doctor or a sleep specialist.
So, we have discovered that excessive or extreme daytime sleepiness is very common, in fact 1 in 5 adults suffer from it.
It can be caused by certain lifestyle choices you make or by the effects of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder.
There are various medications prescribed for EDS, but in reality all these do is keep you awake and alert during the day, without dealing with the actual cause.
In my mind, EDS is most commonly caused because you aren’t sleeping well at night. Therefore, the best way to treat EDS is to deal with the issues that lead to a bad night’s sleep.