The best way to treat excessive sleepiness is to address its underlying cause. Often this means making changes to your sleep schedule, habits and routines, stress management, or sleeping environment. If you are diagnosed with a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, a treatment course that involves a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) is often the most effective course.
There are cases, however, in which medication can be helpful in treating excessive sleepiness. For example, if you have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine, but continue to feel drowsy during the day, your doctor may suggest a medication to make you more alert. Medication can also be prescribed for patients with narcolepsy to help them remain awake and productive during the day. Shift workers who persistently feel sleepy during work hours may also benefit from medication if adjusting sleep habits does not help, or if rotating schedules make it difficult to sleep sufficiently. If you have worked with a sleep specialist and tried behavioral changes to improve sleep, medication may be an option.
Modafinil (Provigil) and armodafinil (Nuvigil) are possible medications to treat excessive sleepiness. These medications work by changing the action of certain chemicals in the brain, and have "monoaminergic" effects (altering neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin). Other possible medications are stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin). Read more about medications, side effects, and safety.
It's very important to work closely with your doctor to determine if a medication is right for you. This will depend on your unique situation, schedule, sleep habits, and medical history, as well as any further tests your doctor needs to understand the root of your excessive sleepiness. Talk to your doctor or ask for a referral to a sleep specialist to discuss your excessive sleepiness and work on a treatment plan.
If your doctor recommends taking medication for excessive sleepiness, there are a number of different options that may be considered. It's important to know that medication will not take the place of healthy sleep. Most often, medication for excessive sleepiness will complement or supplement other forms