Do you sleep too much? Even during the day? While others might well envy this ability, excessive daytime sleepiness can still prove extremely debilitating or exhausting in everyday life. In this article, we'll explain the difference between “mere” fatigue on one hand and chronic excessive daytime sleepiness on the other, as well as the symptoms and treatment options for the latter.
What is excessive daytime sleepiness?
The most important thing first - don't worry, it’s not a disease. That said, chronic daytime fatigue or sleepiness can help make you sick in the long run. This is because there are various causes of excessive daytime sleepiness, some of which have to do with poor sleep at night. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Properly understood, excessive daytime sleepiness, then, is not just the urgent need to take a short nap in broad daylight, but rather to really go to sleep.
This need to sleep can be so strong that it affects your entire daily routine, making tasks such as deep work, driving, taking care of the children, reading, difficult or all but impossible. In the most extreme cases, excessive daytime sleepiness can be so powerful that you forget to listen in the middle of a conversation, briefly close your eyes or even nod off while doing something. While those who don’t suffer from this disorder are able to return to their peak performance level after a nap, a short nap is of no real help to those affected by excessive daytime sleepiness.
The symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness
You are not alone in this. About 10% of German workers suffer from this problem, while about 25% of the Swiss population suffers from some type of sleep disturbance. In addition to the already mentioned symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness, the following characteristics are included:
- Difficulty staying awake
- Feelings of irritability
- Problems with memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty retaining new concepts
- Difficulty making decisions
- Slowed reaction times
- Risk-taking behavior
If you recognize these symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness in your own life, you should seriously consider getting some help. This condition can result in a variety of consequences that can negatively affect your life in the long term. For one, driving while extremely fatigued or drowsy significantly increases your risk of getting into a car accident. Excessive daytime sleepiness is associated with mood swings, a reduced quality of life, and a higher instance of relationship problems.
The causes of excessive daytime sleepiness
If all of this seems rather frightening, now to the positive! Because once you know the causes of the problem, you can start to fix it.
There are many possible causes of chronic daytime sleepiness. One of the most common of these is chronic sleep deprivation, be it due to long working hours, an irregular daily routine or insomnia.
Excessive sleepiness or fatigue can be caused by frequently interrupted or otherwise insufficient sleep. For example, getting up several times a night to go to the bathroom severely disrupts the natural sequence of our sleep cycle, thereby reducing the total amount of restful sleep we get per night. Smoking, insufficient exercise and other bad lifestyle habits can also negatively affect our sleep quality and cause excessive daytime sleepiness.
Many people who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness claim to have no problems either falling asleep or getting enough sleep. In these cases, their symptoms may be a sign of an underlying health condition or sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder. These conditions can cause micro-awakenings that disrupt our sleep cycle, although patients may not realize they themselves suffer from these disorders until they visit a sleep doctor.
What to do about excessive daytime sleepiness?
Get up and move around to wake yourself up.
Get up and get moving. Walk around the office, make a trip up and down the stairs, or jog around the block for a few minutes. Exercise pumps oxygen to the brain, which makes you feel rejuvenated even up to two hours later.
If you work at a desk, get up frequently and take short walks. During your lunch break, walk to a restaurant; if you bring your lunch, take it to a nice place to eat it. Whether you walk outside your building or just around the office where you work, this should help you feel more alert and refreshed.
Take a nap to clear out the cobwebs
There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to naps: only take one per day and don't take it too close to your bedtime. Your nap should last between five and twenty-five minutes and ideally take place about six or seven hours before bedtime.
If you absolutely must take another short nap just before bedtime, it should only be a few minutes. The same applies to excessive daytime sleepiness in toddlers and babies. It is completely normal for them to sleep a lot. However, children’s naptime and bedtime should be spaced a minimum of three hours apart.
Taking a nap at work, on the other hand, can be tricky. It's best to do this during your lunch break and, if necessary, use a vibrating alarm clock to ensure you don't continue sleeping during your work hours. Sleeping at your desk is usually not a good idea, but luckily many companies now provide quiet rooms for their employees for this purpose.
Give your eyes a break to avoid fatigue.
Constant fixation on a computer screen can tire your eyes out. This is due to the fact that we open our eyes wider while looking at a computer and blink a full 66% less. As this can exacerbate sleepiness and extreme fatigue, be sure to look away from the screen for a few minutes from time to time to relax your eyes.
Eat a healthy snack for an energy boost
Sugary snacks give you a quick dose of energy. Unfortunately, this sugar high is quickly followed by a sugar low when your blood sugar levels come back down, which in turn leads to mental fogginess and a lethargic feeling. Healthy snacks made with whole grains, fruits, vegetables or protein provide more long-lasting energy without the unpleasant come down.
Practice deep breathing to feel more energized and alert
Deep breathing increases the body’s blood oxygen levels. This slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and improves circulation, all of which ultimately boost your energy level and improve cognitive performance.
Deep breathing exercises require breathing into your abdomen, not your chest. You can do these exercises at your desk. Sit upright and do this exercise up to ten times: Place one hand on your abdomen just below your ribs and the other on your chest, breathe deeply through your nose, and let your abdomen push your hand outward. Your chest should not move.
Exhale with your lips pressed together as if you were whistling. You can use your hand on your belly to push the air out.
Another technique, called stimulating breath, is used in yoga for a quick burst of energy and increased alertness: Breathe in and out quickly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Make the inhalation and exhalation short - about three times in one second. Then breathe normally. You can do this for up to fifteen seconds the first time, and then add five seconds each time until you reach one minute.
Optimize your sleep with Zizzz products
The right mattress, the right pillow, blanket, duvet, pyjamas and the right bedtime - all of these factors can make a big difference when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. The materials in your sleeping environment also make a big difference.
At Zizzz, our products are made using only natural and sustainable materials, as they’re the most breathable and comfortable. Take a look at the Zizzz store to find the right products for you!