Coping with excessive sleepiness

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Why do I always feel sleepy?

Do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, find yourself yawning every five minutes throughout the day and feel like having a daytime nap under your desk? Most of us feel tired occasionally, but if you are suffering with persistent sleepiness, you might need to look at your sleeping habits. One of the major causes of excessive sleepiness is sleep deprivation. We are all guilty of skimping on sleep in the hopes of getting more done, which is actually a catch‐22, because we will generally be less productive in the long run. It’s estimated that people now sleep about 20 per cent less than they did a century ago.1 Other factors that may contribute to excessive sleepiness include:

  • Environmental factors – Being disturbed throughout the night by a snoring partner, crying baby, noisy neighbours, an uncomfortable mattress or a change in temperature.2 Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity and continuity is an important factor in determining whether sleep is refreshing.3
  • Sleeping problems – Sleep conditions like difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking unrefreshed may contribute to persistent daytime sleepiness.1
  • Shift work – It is very difficult for most people to get a restful sleep when doing shift work, especially night shifts, which may disturb the body’s internal clock.2
  • Changes in time zoneJet lag may cause daytime sleepiness because the body is out of sync with its natural environment. Symptoms of jet lag are generally worse the more time zones are crossed.1
  • Mental State – If you are feeling out of sorts it might keep you awake at night which will make you prone to sleepiness during the day.2
  • Medication – Some medication can disrupt sleeping patterns. This group includes caffeinated beverages, alcohol and some antihistamines.2
  • Medical conditions – A number of medical conditions are associated with disturbed sleep that may be responsible for excessive sleepiness e.g. urinary dysfunction, asthma or chronic pain of any nature.3

What are the top tips on how to stay awake naturally?

Of course the best way to stay awake during the day is to make some lifestyle adjustments to improve your sleep quality In addition, the following self‐help strategies may help you to stay awake and cope with excessive sleepiness.

  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight. Try to exercise outdoors in the morning especially if you have had a sleepless night.
  • Ensure you consume a well‐balanced diet to prevent any nutritional deficiencies. Include whole grains, plenty of fresh fruit and vegies, lean meats, legumes, at least 2L of water and reduce caffeinated beverages, alcohol and processed foods.
  • Take a good quality multivitamin to boost up your daily intake of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.
  • If you do have a sleepless night, try not to rely on that triple shot espresso (which will only cause you to crash later on in the afternoon), but have a green tea or try a half‐strength coffee, and boost your energy levels with B vitamins.
  • If necessary, take a brief “power nap”, to help you stay alert. Whilst daytime naps are generally not recommended because they may reduce your desire to sleep at night, certain occasions might benefit from a brief nap especially where increased concentration is required, for e.g. regular breaks on a long trip.2

How can I relax and prepare for sleep?

Winding down after a stressful day is important in preparing your body for sleep, but is often overlooked. Having a wind down routine doesn’t have to be complicated or long. It could simply be reading a book under low light, doing some light stretching or deep breathing, writing tomorrow’s to‐do list in a journal to free your mind up, having a herbal tea or calming hot drink such as warm milk. However you choose to wind down your day, be consistent and these simple routines may help you reduce your sleepless nights and stay awake throughout the day.


  1. National Sleep Foundation, Fatigue and Excessive Sleepiness,
  2. Better Health Channel, Sleep – Hypersomnia,, Accessed April 2013
  3. Guilleminault C and Brooks S. Excessive sleepiness – a challenge for the practising neurologist. Brain (2001); 124: 1482‐1491

Published May 29, 2013
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