February 20, 2024 3 min read

It’s normal to occasionally feel sleepy after skipping a night or more of sleep. But when it seems like you’re sleepy all the time, nearly every day, and despite getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep, it could be a sign of trouble.


Excessive daytime sleepiness, also referred to as daytime somnolence, is a warning sign of poor-quality sleep due to a sleep disorder or an underlying medical condition [1]. Besides affecting your ability to function, poor-quality sleep can jeopardize your health and put you at risk of accidents. 


The first step is to speak to your doctor to find out what is causing your daytime somnolence. But until then, here are 5 tips to help you pull through your sleepy days.

1. Let Sunlight In

Daylight suppresses the production of melatonin [2], which is a hormone that helps you go to sleep. If you live or work in a dark environment with not much natural sunlight, artificial light may do the trick. Besides suppressing sleepiness, daytime exposure to sunlight can also help regulate your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. 

2. Get Moving

Daytime sleepiness tends to be worse when you’re sitting for extended periods, especially if you’re doing monotonous work. To help yourself stay awake, try to walk around as much as you can. And if you’re driving for extended periods, take frequent pauses to stretch and get your blood flowing. 

3. Try Power Naps

Taking brief naps lasting 5 to 15 minutes is scientifically proven to reduce sleepiness and boost cognitive performance [3]. These benefits are felt immediately after a nap and can last upward to three hours. If possible, try napping during the day when you start feeling sleepy and your performance drops. Avoid longer naps, however, especially near the evening hours as this can disrupt the quality of your sleep at night. 

4. Take a Shot of Caffeine

A quick and effective fix for excessive daytime sleepiness is caffeine, which is a well-known stimulant. Caffeine increases alertness and reduces fatigue, especially in low-arousal situations [4]. But it’s important not to overdo it. The FDA has cited 400mg a day as a safe upper limit [5]. That’s about four or five cups of coffee. Try to keep your intake below these levels to avoid side effects, which can include insomnia. 

5. Have a Light Snack

A light snack can help keep your energy levels up. A study examining how meal composition affects shift workers and their sleepiness levels found that meals with slightly more carbohydrates than fat had a positive effect on their cognitive performance [6]. With that said, avoid heavy meals with lots of fat since these can contribute to sleepiness.


And if nothing else works, it’s a good idea to work on your sleep hygiene and sleep quality to prevent and treat daytime sleepiness. 


References:

  1. Gandhi KD, Mansukhani MP, Silber MH, Kolla BP. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: A Clinical Review [published correction appears in Mayo Clin Proc. 2021 Oct;96(10):2729]. Mayo Clin Proc. 2021;96(5):1288-1301.doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2020.08.033

  1. Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie (Berl). 2019;23(3):147-156.doi:10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x

  1. Lovato N, Lack L. The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. Prog Brain Res. 2010;185:155-166.doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00009-9

  1. Smith A. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002;40(9):1243-1255.doi:10.1016/s0278-6915(02)00096-0

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? Last updated July 2023.https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much

  1. Love HL, Watters CA, Chang WC. Meal composition and shift work performance. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2005;66(1):38-40.doi:10.3148/66.1.2005.38



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