You usually need 7-8 hours of sleep every night, but it is not the same for everyone. Some people need more or less sleep to feel all charged up when they wake up the next morning. You are going to deal with so many issues for not having enough good sleep – the list includes heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, dementia, and weight gain. On the other hand, you may have a sleep disorder if you are getting enough sleep but still feel sleepy during the day.
Falling asleep all the time can disrupt your normal life and cause odd behaviors. It may cause "sleep attacks" during which you find it extremely difficult to stay awake during the day.
Why Am I Falling Asleep All the Time?
Frequent naps during the day, frequent sleepiness may well be the signs of narcolepsy. This disorder makes you sleep during the day or prompts recurring "sleep attacks". These sleep attacks usually happen after eating but can happen any time. They usually last for several minutes and you can’t control it. Compare other symptoms of this condition to see if you have narcolepsy.
People who have narcolepsy usually experience cataplexy, which is characterized by sudden muscle weakness. You may experience your jaw dropping, head slumping down, and legs collapsing uncontrollably. Some people also have slurred speech and find it difficult to focus.
It is important to understand that certain emotions such as anger, laughter, excitement, and surprise trigger cataplexy attacks. These attacks may last for only a few seconds, but they may also continue for several minutes in some cases. Similarly, some people may experience these attacks once or twice a year, but others may have these attacks several times a day.
If falling asleep all the time is caused by narcolepsy, people with this disorder may experience episodes of sleep paralysis. This refers to a situation when you cannot speak or move when you wake up from sleep. The attack may last for a few seconds, but may continue for several minutes in some cases.
If you have narcolepsy, you may have some other symptoms as well, such as memory problems, hallucinations, restless sleep, headaches, depression or automatic behavior. Some people even have vivid nightmares.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
When narcolepsy is the reason behind you falling asleep all the time, you may wonder what causes this behavior. The real cause of narcolepsy is not clear. Some studies show that it may be a genetic disorder, but others say it is due to an imbalance of chemicals in your brain. They say so because some people show signs of narcolepsy after events such as periods of psychological stress, pregnancy, head trauma, and sudden changes in sleep patterns. Keep in mind that problems like seizures, depression, lack of sleep, and fainting do not cause narcolepsy.
You may have to go for daytime sleep testing coupled with overnight sleep study for proper diagnosis of narcolepsy. Unfortunately, there is no single cure for this condition, but certain stimulants definitely help reduce daytime sleepiness. Other medications like SNRIs, SSRIs, and sodium oybate may help reduce symptoms.
Other Possible Causes of Falling Asleep All the Time
While narcolepsy may well be the underlying cause of daytime drowsiness, this may happen due to other problems. For instance, you may experience these issues due to sleep deprivation. Several things can cause sleep deprivation, such as sleeping for too few hours, alcohol consumption, and being under stress. You may also experience sleep deprivation due to a disorder called sleep apnea that causes an interruption in breathing when your muscles are relaxed.
Some medical issues can also lead to daytime fatigue. The list includes diabetes, thyroid problems, iron deficiency, heart disease, certain medications, and medical conditions such as malignancies. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis may also cause daytime drowsiness and extreme fatigue.
You should also bear in mind that your daytime drowsiness could be due to certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and cold remedies. Similarly, products that contain older sedating antihistamines such as diphenhydramine may cause daytime drowsiness. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of diphenhydramine, doxylamine, promethazine, and other similar ingredients in medication, so they stay under the effects of these ingredients longer.
Your doctor will consider your medical history and conduct physical examination, which may include tests like a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram, blood test, sedimentation rate, a comprehensive metabolic panel, thyroid function studies, fasting blood sugar, and antinuclear antibodies.
Things You Can Do to Help
You can make some lifestyle changes to keep you from falling asleep all the time due to narcolepsy. For instance:
- Set a schedule. Always go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Try to schedule short naps during the day. Sleep for no more than 20 minutes in one session.
- Do not use alcohol or nicotine because these substances will make your symptoms worse.
- Stay active and exercise regularly. Doing some exercise about five hours before bedtime will help sleep better at night.
If these measures do not help or you think your daytime drowsiness is due to something other than narcolepsy, talk to your doctor about it. You should schedule an appointment immediately if you find it difficult to stay away during the day and feel unable to move for a few seconds. You should see your doctor if you have other issues such as a rapid heart rate, frequent nighttime waking, and a craving for sweet things.