Excessive Sleepiness - Diagnosis

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Most people know that sleep is integral to our mental and physical health, and that sleepiness takes a major toll on work, school, and relationships. Unfortunately, a lot of people go about their daily lives feeling excessively sleepy without mentioning this to their doctor. In fact, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that less than half of people say they would talk to their doctor if they thought they had a sleep problem, and seven in ten said that their doctor had never asked them about their sleep.

If you feel sleepy on a regular basis and it interferes with your productivity, your ability to think clearly and quickly, or to take care of and enjoy your family, treat this symptom seriously and talk to your doctor. If you have an upcoming well visit, you can discuss it then. You could also make a special appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss this, or simply call to ask for a referral to a doctor with a specialty in sleep medicine.

When you talk to your doctor, it will be helpful to know the following:

  • How long have you been feeling excessively sleepy?
  • How many days a week does this feeling occur?
  • Do you fall asleep during the day at work or at school?
  • What are your sleep habits: how many hours of sleep do you get on a regular weeknight and a regular weekend night?
  • Do you wake up during the night as far as you know?
  • Is there anything that makes your sleep schedule irregular, such as shift work or a new baby?
  • Do you snore?

Your doctor's task will be to sort out whether your sleepiness is a result of your sleep behaviors (e.g. your schedule and sleep environment), a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, or possibly another health condition that causes sleepiness. Your doctor will ask you questions about your sleep habits and review your medical and psychiatric history with you. Depending on how this goes, he or she may want to do further tests and possibly even a sleep study, or polysomnography (see "How Does Polysomnography Work?")