Seven Things You Need to Know About Excessive Sleepiness

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Excessive sleepiness is widespread. Roughly 20 percent of people feel excessively sleepy on a regular basis—enough to interfere with work, school, hobbies, or relationships. 

As a result of excessive sleepiness, roughly 35 percent of adults and almost 45 percent of young adults say they nod off unintentionally at some point during the day. Twenty three percent of adults say they have difficulty concentrating and 18 percent report not being able to remember things as a result of sleepiness. Indeed, research has shown that adults who get fewer than the recommended 7-9 hours of nightly sleep are more likely to have difficulty performing daily, routine tasks.

That's disconcerting, when you consider the nation's sleep habits. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 50-70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep problem. A 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep during the week. More than 60 percent say they experience a sleep problem (such as snoring, waking in the night, or waking up too early) every night or almost every night. No wonder the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has called insufficient sleep a "public health epidemic."

Given how widespread sleepiness is, and its potential impact on health and safety, it's surprising and concerning that it gets very little attention in the doctor's office. Most people—even those who feel very drowsy to the point of having it interfere with work or school—do not mention their sleepiness to their doctor at regular well visits. Nor do many doctors ask about sleep, let alone excessive sleepiness. In a 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll , even though almost 90 percent of people said doctors should discuss sleep issues with their patients, seven in ten people said their doctor has never asked them about their sleep. Less than half of people said they would talk to a doctor if they thought they had a sleep problem.