Are You Just Drowsy...or is it Something More?

When you don't get enough sleep, you feel drowsy the next day. Simple enough. But if you're getting plenty of z's and still catch yourself nodding off in the middle of the day, it could be a sign of other health problems. Find out what's normal and what's not.

Excessive drowsiness that causes you fall asleep at inappropriate times is a much more serious condition than, say, general fatigue. If you find yourself routinely falling asleep at your desk, at meetings or, worse yet, while you're are driving or operating any type of machinery, it's time to find out why.

According to the National Institutes of Health, drowsiness can result from a variety of conditions, such as working a different shift, working long hours, taking certain medications, certain medical conditions including sleep disorders or simply not sleeping long enough the night before. Common signs of drowsiness include wandering or disconnected thoughts, having trouble holding your head up, constant yawning, missing traffic signs and swerving while driving.

If you're drowsy because you're not getting enough sleep, the solution is obvious. Go to bed earlier or get up a little later so that you get at least seven or eight hours sleep each night. If you are feeling drowsy during the day because of medication such as tranquilizers, antidepressants, antihistamines or sleeping pills, speak to your doctor about changing your dose, changing the timing of your dose, or alternative treatments.

When your schedule changes drastically, such as when you switch to a night shift or start working on weekends, your sleep patterns may be similar to those of someone who is jet-lagged. Your body needs time to adjust. If you are working against your natural internal clock, your body may never fully adjust and you may have to take special care to get enough sleep during the hours you are able to sleep.

If none of these situations apply to you, yet you still find yourself getting uncontrollably drowsy, speak to your doctor. Several medical conditions, including hypercalcemia, or excessive calcium in the blood; hypothyroidism, or low thyroid activity; and hyponatremia, or an electrolyte imbalance, can causes excessive drowsiness. It is also possible that you have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, that is preventing you from getting enough sleep during the night.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Recognize Symptoms for Sleep Disorders." 10 Feb 2009. Web. 16 Sept 2010.


National Institutes of Health/MedlinePlus. "Drowsiness" 1 June 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2010.