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Somnolence: Irritating, But Not Necessarily Harmful

If you are constantly tired and drowsy and often feel the need to sleep for longer than normal periods (10 hours or more), then you may be suffering from a condition known as somnolence, also called hypersomnia.

The actual term somnolence basically means drowsiness or drowsy sleep, but it is also used to refer to the chronic condition of constantly feeling tired or needing excessive amounts of sleep.

Many people suffer from excessive tiredness and constantly feel the need for sleep, something which even a nap will not change, and the reasons for this drowsy sleep condition can be quite varied. Therefore, if you have these feelings of somnolence, it is highly recommended that you see a doctor to determine the underlying cause, as it could be related to a serious medical condition or a sleeping disorder. Alternatively, your doctor may also be able to prescribe you medicine which may help to combat your drowsy sleep problem.

Causes of Somnolence

The reason that it is recommended to see a doctor if you constantly feel excessively tired is that the causes are so wide ranging and varied that it is virtually impossible for one to diagnose the causes of their own sleepiness.

In most cases, your physician will run a series of different tests to try and determine exactly what is causing it, but sometimes even physicians have a hard time, so it may be necessary to try out many different solutions before you finally find one that fixes the problem.

Some of the most common causes of somnolence can include:

  • somnolenceSleeping Disorders
There are many different sleeping disorders which could be the responsible. Some of the more common ones are insomnia, sleep apnea, somnambulism or sleep walking, narcolepsy, and even excessive snoring unrelated to any other condition. If your doctor determines a sleeping disorder is the underlying problem, then they will most likely suggest the use of sleeping aid or device, cognitive behavioral therapy, or possibly even medication.

  • Medical Conditions
There are a huge number of different medical conditions that could also be responsible for your drowsy sleep. In addition, it could also be a result of a treatment that you are undergoing for a medical condition. 

Certain types of cancer and also certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can result in this problem, as can diabetes, anemia, an underactive thyroid gland, and chronic pain. Alternatively, it could also be a result of a mental condition such as depression, stress, boredom, or anxiety. 

If you are currently undergoing treatment for an illness or other medical condition, then your doctor may experiment with other treatment options to determine if it could be the cause. 

  • Medication
People who take certain types of medication may also experience excessive sleepiness. Some drugs known to cause this problem include antihistamines, tranquilizers, steroids, sedatives, and even sleeping pills. Again, if you are currently on any of these medications, your doctor may recommend changing to a different medicine to see if it helps to combat your drowsiness. 

Ways to Combat Somnolence

somnolenceWhile each of the medical conditions above may have their own solutions, there are also other ways that you can try to combat your excessive sleepiness if nothing else works. In some cases, people just seem to be constantly drowsy and no underlying cause can be determined or no treatment method works. 

In these cases, many physicians will choose to prescribe a drug to help keep the patient more awake and alert during the day. There are a few different wakefulness promoting drugs that may be able to help those with chronic drowsiness, and they are often prescribed for individuals suffering from a sleeping disorder. 


The two most common types are modafinil (Provigil) and armodafinil (Nuvigil). These drugs can help reduce drowsiness by affecting chemicals in the brain to keep the person more awake. Both types of medicine are considered safe for daily use


Still, some people experience dizziness, anxiety, headaches, and even insomnia while taking these medications, so they are not right for everyone. Nonetheless, if you are tired of constantly feeling drowsy, then these pills might just be the perfect choice for you.

Still, some people are against taking medication and may not want to go this route to deal with their tiredness problem. Luckily there is hope for people like this, and there are actually many, quite simple things that you can do to at least manage your drowsiness and help keep it under control. 

Some of the things you can do involve changing your sleeping habits and patterns, while others are simply activities you can do in your daily life which may help. Nonetheless, it must be noted that all of these activities fall under the category of symptom management, meaning that they will do nothing to solve the underlying problem, but can still make the condition and its symptoms have less of an effect on your everyday life. Some of the most effective symptom management strategies for excessive drowsiness and hypersomnia include:

  • Making sure you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Developing a routine can help reset your body’s internal clock and make it more aware of when the appropriate time to be tired is. This might be the single most useful tip: if you don't do anything else, at least do this;
  • somnolenceSleeping for a few extra hours each night. If you find your sleepiness impossible to deal with, try to add an extra hour or two to your sleep schedule to see if this extra time spent sleeping can reduce your drowsiness during the day;
  • Only use the bed for sleeping. Making sure that you only spend time in bed when sleeping is another great way to develop better sleeping patterns. No watching TV from your bed, eating, or writing your latest novel on your laptop.

  • Try to do at least some exercise every day, and as early in the day as possible. Exercise will actually give you energy, and the earlier in the day you do it, the better. Try not to exercise too hard after 7pm, as the adrenaline release can disturb your rest later on.

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