Can’t keep your eyes open?

May 4, 2017|

If this is happening to you on a regular basis you could be suffering from excessive sleepiness, a condition that can and should be treated.

We all have days when we feel tired. When we’d rather curl up under our desk than turn on the computer. Generally though, whether it’s too many late nights binge watching Netflix, a teething baby or a heavy work schedule, we know why.

Some people however, feel a sense of overwhelming tiredness every day, without a clear cause. Tiredness is a significant problem in their lives and they can find themselves falling asleep throughout the day - at work, out with friends, maybe even while driving.

It’s known as excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnia, and it’s often a symptom of other underlying conditions.

“The main cause of excessive sleepiness is insufficient sleep,” says Respiratory and Sleep Disorders physician, Dr Marcus McMahon. “Most healthy adults need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours a night on a regular basis in order to function optimally.”

“However, it can be caused by more serious conditions including sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, narcolepsy and parasomnia, movement disorders including restless leg syndrome and drug and alcohol use.”

Underlying health conditions, including heart and lung problems and diabetes can also make it difficult to get enough sleep, as can pain associated with conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. People with depression and anxiety may also find it hard to get enough sleep.

Excessive sleepiness requires a good evaluation with a doctor or sleep physician. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale, a simple 8-point questionnaire developed at Epworth Richmond, is used internationally to assess whether sleepiness in different situations falls into the normal range for healthy adults. Sleepiness can also be assessed objectively using specialised sleep tests.

 Getting better sleep

If an evaluation determines that it’s simply a case of not getting enough sleep, there are some basic things that can be done to address this. They include:

·         going to bed at a regular time each night
·         making sure bedrooms are dark, quiet and cool
·         resetting your body clock each day by getting out in bright light or daylight exposure in the mornings
·         avoiding stimulants such as caffeine in the afternoon and evenings
·         minimising alcohol consumption.

The body is generally designed to sleep overnight and be alert during the day. Shift workers often struggle with this. The same suggestions above apply, however, they may also need to do things like minimise daytime noise and keep shifts consistent to help develop a good sleep pattern. Making a conscious effort to get enough sleep is also important, which can be hard as sporting, social and family events are usually during the day.

If a sleep evaluation indicates a more serious condition a doctor or sleep physician will recommend treatment or further testing.

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