Alternative names 
Sleepiness - during the day; Hypersomnia; Somnolence

Drowsiness refers to feeling abnormally sleepy during the day - often with a strong tendency to actually fall asleep in inappropriate situations or at inappropriate times.

Excessive daytime sleepiness (without a known cause) suggests the presence of a significant sleep disorder and is different from fatigue.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and boredom are commonly thought to cause excessive sleepiness, but in fact these conditions cause fatigue and apathy.

Common Causes

  • Self-imposed short sleep time  
  • Medications (tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antihistamines)  
  • Sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea syndrome and narcolepsy)  
  • Other medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, and hypo/hypernatremia)

Home Care

The cause must be treated.

For drowsiness due to depression, anxiety, boredom, stress, try to solve problems without professional help first.

For drowsiness due to medications, talk to your health care provider about switching medications or discontinuing them. DO NOT CHANGE MEDICATIONS WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER.

For drowsiness due to obesity and hypoventilation (reduced breathing), weight loss is recommended, and your health care provider should be consulted.

Hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, and hypo/hypernatremia are treated by your health care provider depending on the situation.

For drowsiness due to narcolepsy, stimulants (like Ritalin) may be prescribed.

For drowsiness due to other causes, seek medical help.

Call your health care provider if

  • You think the cause of your drowsiness is from any of the above conditions.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Sleep patterns will be investigated and a psychological profile obtained. Medical history questions documenting drowsiness in detail may include:

  • Sleep pattern       o How well do you sleep?       o How much do you sleep?       o Do you snore?       o Do you have episodes where you do not breathe during sleep (sleep apnea)?       o Do you fall asleep during the day when you are not intending to nap?           + If so, do you awake feeling refreshed?           + How often does this happen?  
  • Emotional state       o Are you depressed?       o Are you anxious or feeling stressed?       o Are you bored?  
  • Other       o What medication do you take?       o What have you done to try to relieve the drowsiness?       o How well did it work?       o What other symptoms are also present?

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

  • Blood tests (such as a CBC and blood differential, and electrolytes)  
  • CT scan of the head  
  • EEG (measures brain waves)  
  • Sleep studies (you may stay at the clinic overnight for this)  
  • Urine tests (such as a urinalysis)

After seeing your health care provider:
If a diagnosis was made by your health care provider related to drowsiness, you may want to note that diagnosis in your personal medical record.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Dave R. Roger, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.