Reasons for Feeling Sleepy All the Time

It can be miserable to feel too sleepy. If you always have trouble staying awake during the day, you may wonder, "Why do I feel sleepy all the time?" Discover some of the common symptoms of excessive sleepiness and potential health consequences, and then dive into seven reasons that sleep disorders may lead to feeling sleepy all the time.

First, there are some important signs that you may be feeling too sleepy. Here are some examples:

  • Feeling excessive sleepiness or drowsiness that interferes with function
  • Easily dozing off in sedentary activities like reading, watching TV, or sitting
  • Taking regular naps (especially if they are frequent, prolonged, or unrefreshing)
  • Poor attention, concentration, or short-term memory problems

Some sleep disorders make it so you can't sleep well. This may lead to insomnia or result in poor sleep quality. If other symptoms are present, further evaluation by a board-certified sleep physician may be important. Consider these potential red flags:

  • Taking more than 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep initially or to get back to sleep after waking
  • Light fragmented sleep with frequent awakenings that does not feel refreshing
  • Disturbed breathing during sleep including snoring, gasping, choking, and witnessed pauses
  • Other symptoms of sleep apnea such as frequent urination (nocturia), bruxism (teeth grinding), morning headaches, heart palpitations, and heartburn at night
  • Vivid hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up
  • Recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis, characterized by the inability to move with waking or falling asleep, often with associated hallucinations
  • Sudden temporary muscle weakness in response to an emotion, such as knee-buckling with laughing
  • Uncomfortable feelings in the legs that occur at night when lying down that are relieved by movement
  • Sleep-related behaviors such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, or dream-enactment such as hitting, kicking, or jerking body movements

Excessive sleepiness may have significant impacts on health. It increases the risk of falling asleep while driving. Sleep deprivation has physical tolls, affecting chronic pain, hormones, and weight gain. Insomnia may contribute to anxiety and depression. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea may cause hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and sudden death. Quality of life is significantly compromised by poor sleep.

Fortunately, there may be effective treatments if the underlying cause of sleepiness can be identified. Discover seven common reasons for feeling or being too sleepy during the day, including various sleep disorders that lead to abnormal sleepiness.

1

Poor Sleep Habits

Sleepy woman at desk
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The most common cause of always feeling too sleepy or drowsy during the daytime might be the most obvious: you are simply not getting enough sleep at night. But, consider the following poor sleep habits and if they apply to you, it might be time for some changes:

Any and all of these things may leave you too sleepy the next day, without any specific sleep disorder as the cause.

2

Sleep Apnea

A man treats his sleep apnea with CPAP therapy to reduce daytime sleepiness
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Sleep apnea is a condition in which you repeatedly, partially, or completely stop breathing while asleep. It can occur dozens or even a hundred times per hour of sleep and may result in witnessed pauses followed by a loud snort and brief awakening as you gasp for air.

With each awakening, you shift briefly into lighter stages of sleep. You may wake completely and fall back asleep without even remembering it.

But, this disruption leads to sleep fragmentation and poor quality sleep, resulting in significant excessive daytime sleepiness. People with severe sleep apnea are also at increased risk for falling asleep while driving.

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is a similar condition in which the breathing disturbances are less pronounced during sleep.

There are also serious health consequences to sleep apnea, so treatment such as the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy or the use of an oral appliance should be pursued.

3

Narcolepsy

Waking with sleep paralysis is one symptom of narcolepsy, that also causes sleepiness
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There are four defining symptoms of narcolepsy, the least specific being excessive sleepiness. This sleep disorder occurs when there is a problem with the regulation of sleep and wakefulness. Therefore, characteristics of sleep may suddenly occur while awake (such as paralysis) and elements of wakefulness may intrude upon sleep.

The most characteristic symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy, which is the sudden loss of muscle tone with an emotional stimulus such as surprise or laughter. The sleepiness associated with narcolepsy may require treatment with stimulants, such as Ritalin, Provigil, and Nuvigil.

4

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A man sleeps during the day due to chronic fatigue syndrome causing sleepiness
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Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that might make you feel tired, exhausted, or sleepy. It is characterized by worsened fatigue that occurs after exertion. It is also associated with less refreshing sleep and frequent joint and muscle pain.

Although the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not completely understood ​and may be due to subtle sleep apnea, it can lead to significant impairment and disruption of the affected person's life.

5

Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Children may rarely suffer from Kleine-Levin syndrome as a cause of sleepiness
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Although quite rare, Kleine-Levin syndrome is a condition that may affect young adults and can cause recurrent episodes of excessive sleepiness. These episodes can last for days, weeks, or even months at a time. And the sleepiness can be incapacitating.

Moreover, the syndrome often interferes with school attendance and basic daily functions. There may be associated symptoms, such as hallucinations or hypersexual or compulsive behaviors, too.

The only treatment known to be beneficial in Kleine-Levin syndrome is the mood stabilizer lithium, though it has mixed benefits in some studies.

6

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome can make it hard to sleep and lead to sleepiness
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Disorders that cause excessive movements during sleep may lead you to feel sleepy the next day. The most common of these conditions is restless legs syndrome (RLS). This disorder is characterized by an uncomfortable sensation in the legs associated with an urge to move. It often develops in the evening as you are lying down to rest and is relieved by movement.

The commonly associated condition, periodic limb movement syndrome (PLMS), is diagnosed when there are sudden jerking movements that occur during sleep. These may be repetitive and disturb the sleep of the affected person as well as potentially disrupt the sleep of their bed partner. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for these conditions, depending on the underlying cause.

7

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian rhythm disorders may lead to both sleepiness and insomnia at different times
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Various circadian rhythm disorders may leave you feeling too sleepy. The circadian rhythm is the body's natural clock that helps to coordinate your activities to the timing of light and dark in your environment. If this timing is misaligned, you may find yourself sleepy at inappropriate times. It may also contribute to sleepiness after lunch.

For example, if you have advanced sleep phase syndrome, you will feel sleepy in the evening. Conversely, with delayed sleep phase syndrome, you will have difficulty falling asleep (or insomnia) and feel sleepy in the morning. People with the first condition are called morning larks and those with the second condition are called night owls.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments, like light therapy and the use of melatonin, for these and other circadian rhythm conditions, including jet lag and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle with persistent sleepiness, consider an evaluation by a board-certified sleep physician who can discover the underlying cause and initiate the treatment needed to help you feel rested.

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