If you’re always feeling sleepy or tired during the day and can’t seem to get enough rest, there may be an explanation. Certain sleep disorders can be to blame for excessive daytime sleepiness. Disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorder, and insomnia shorten the length of time you are asleep, and also reduce sleep quality. It’s important to get these disorders diagnosed and treated. Untreated sleep disorders leading to daytime sleepiness increase risks of auto accidents, work-related accidents, and poor health in general.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes pauses in breathing for several seconds or even min
utes many times throughout the night. These pauses in breathing cause the body’s oxygen level to be low, and when this happens you may gasp for air, waking you up. Continuously waking up at night interrupts your sleep cycle. Because of these interruptions, you don’t get sufficient sleep and you wake up feeling tired. Many people don’t even know they have OSA and do not realize they are waking up several times throughout the night.
Insomnia is characterized by sleeplessness. It is a disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep for the amount of time your body needs (usually about seven to nine hours). The lack of sleep and interruptions to the sleep cycle may cause daytime sleepiness, irritability, and depression. It can last a short period of time or become a long-term condition. Insomnia can be primary or secondary. Primary insomnia is a problem of its own, not caused by any other health condition. Secondary insomnia is caused by something else, such as medications, other health conditions, pain, anxiety, or substance abuse. Most people with insomnia are aware there is a problem but do not seek help from their doctors.
Another disorder that keeps us feeling tired is circadian rhythm disorder. Circadian rhythm is the “internal clock” that regulates biological processes over a 24-hour cycle. It determines when we are awake and when we sleep, and normal “clocks” are set by light and dark. But those suffering from circadian rhythm disorder have different sleep and wake times dictated by their “clocks.” These times do not fall into society’s “normal” sleep times, and they are forced to sleep or wake up against their bodies wishes, leaving them tired the next day. There are multiple causes for this disorder. A common cause is shift work disorder, which affects people such as firefighters and nurses who work overnight or rotating shifts. Jet lag or changes in time zone also lead to excessive sleepiness during the day. Other causes for circadian rhythm disorder are pregnancy, certain medications, medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, mental health disorders, and any changes in routine.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes extreme sleepiness during the day, causing the sufferer to unwillingly and suddenly fall asleep at any point of the day, no matter what he or she is doing. This could be dangerous because someone with this disorder can fall asleep even while driving. Most of the time narcolepsy is caused by a dysfunction in the part of the brain that causes us to stay awake. Although there is no known cure, it is treatable, so it’s important to seek help from your doctor.
Being tired or sleepy throughout your day does not necessarily mean you have a sleep disorder. But if you’re excessively tired every day and you cannot figure out why, a sleep disorder could be to blame. The sleepiness that these disorders cause can be dangerous and not good for your health, so make sure to talk to your doctor about diagnosis and proper treatment.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.