The National Sleep Foundation says that millions of Americans struggle with the problem of excessive sleepiness. This condition causes sleepiness during the day and interferes with normal activities such as going to work and attending classes. In severe cases, it can even ruin relationships and put people at risk for losing their jobs. Understanding the causes of excessive sleeping can help sufferers learn to cope with this problem.
What Causes Excessive Sleeping?
There are many reasons for excessive sleeping, so the cause of this problem is not the same for everyone who experiences it. A problem with excessive daytime sleeping may be due to a person’s physical health, psychological health or lifestyle. These are some of the most common causes of this problem.
Millions of people cause their own sleep problems by failing to get enough sleep at night. This is particularly true of Americans, who struggle to balance career and family. In an effort to stay productive, many people get up early and go to bed late, depriving their bodies of the sleep they so desperately need. Researchers from Emory University School of Medicine have identified significant costs associated with a lack of sleep. These effects include sleep attacks and lapses in mental function.
Working second or third shift can disrupt the natural sleep cycle, making it difficult for shift workers to get the sleep they need. Those who work from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. may find it difficult to go to sleep immediately when they get home from work. Those who work third shift may have difficulty sleeping during the day due to the amount of light in the bedroom and the noise caused by traffic and other activities. People who work at night may even develop a condition known as shift work sleep disorder. This is a disorder that causes excessive sleepiness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and headaches. Shift work sleep disorder increases the risk for work-related errors and accidents.
Primary Sleep Disorders
Primary sleep disorders are a major cause of excessive sleeping. One such disorder is sleep apnea, which causes brief interruptions in breathing as many as 30 times per hour during sleep. These interruptions in breathing also interrupt the sleep cycle, depriving people with sleep apnea of the deep sleep they need to rest their minds and bodies. Even if someone with sleep apnea spends eight or nine hours in bed, the quality of sleep is so poor that it can lead to abnormal sleepiness during the day. Another sleep disorder, insomnia, is another one of the most common excessive sleeping causes. This disorder makes it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Some people develop insomnia due to bad habits such as napping during the day and failing to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Too much light or noise in a person’s sleep environment may also contribute to insomnia.
Narcolepsy does not actually belong to the group of excessive sleeping disorders. It is a neurological disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and interferes with normal activities of daily living. People with narcolepsy may have trouble getting to sleep at night and then find fall asleep during the day. Narcoleptics may also develop sudden weakness of the muscles and experience episodes of sleep paralysis. Another neurological disorder, restless leg syndrome, makes it difficult to sleep. This disorder causes a strong urge to move the legs. It also causes unpleasant sensations in the legs. RLS worsens at night, increasing the risk of excessive sleepiness during the day. Researchers have found that sleep studies of people with RLS indicate that this disorder has a detrimental effect on sleep. The patients in this study experienced reduced sleep quality and reduced total sleep time when compared to patients without RLS.
People with depression often experience sleep disturbances. Patrick McNamara, associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, says that this is because REM sleep abnormalities may produce symptoms that mimic those of depression. People with depression may sleep too little or too much, disrupting their normal sleep cycles. Even when people with depression do sleep, they still feel tired when they wake up. Antidepressants seems to suppress the REM cycle of sleep, leading to a reduction in depression symptoms and making it easier for people with depression to get the sleep they need. Unfortunately, scientists do not yet know what effects suppressing REM sleep will have over a long period of time.
One of the lesser-known causes of excessive sleeping is jet lag. Jet lag occurs when someone travels across one or more time zones and has to adjust to a new schedule. If the body has difficulty adjusting, the person will be very sleep and have a difficult time staying awake. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of exercise can help combat the effects of jet lag. Experts also recommend arriving at your destination early so you have enough time to sleep before attending your event.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
People who abuse drugs and alcohol tend to have sleep problems, making addiction one of the causes for excessive sleepiness. Some drugs depress the activity of the central nervous system, which changes sleep patterns and may contribute to this problem. One excessive sleeping symptom related to drug and alcohol abuse is daytime sleepiness, which affects work and school performance. Alcohol is also a nervous system depressant.
Some medical conditions interrupt sleep, increasing the risk for sleeping excessive amounts of time. Injuries to the central nervous system may alter the sleep cycle so much that patients have difficulty getting to sleep at night. Brain tumors can affect the release of melatonin from the pineal gland, affecting the amount of sleep a person gets. Other medical conditions that may cause sleep disturbances include kidney disease, anemia and hypothyroidism.
Those struggling with excessive sleepiness should make lifestyle changes to improve their quantity and quality of sleep. Adding blackout shades to a room can keep out excess light, making it easier to sleep. Sleeping with earplugs can block out noise and reduce sleep interruptions. Those who have sleep disorders or medical disorders that affect sleep should work with their physicians to develop a treatment plan to reduce excessive sleepiness.