Excessive daytime sleepiness in sleep disorders

Gemma Slater, Joerg Steier


Excessive daytime sleepiness is a significant public health problem, with prevalence in the community estimated to be as high as 18%. Sleepiness is caused by abnormal sleep quantity or sleep quality. Amongst others, multiple neurological, psychological, cardiac and pulmonary disorders may contribute. Risk factors for excessive sleepiness include obesity, depression, extremes of age and insufficient sleep. In the clinical setting, two of the most commonly encountered causes are obstructive sleep apnoea and periodic limb movement disorder. There is continuing discussion of the mechanisms by which these disorders cause daytime symptoms, with intermittent nocturnal hypoxia, sleep fragmentation and autonomic dysregulation identified as important factors. The increased prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea in obese subjects does not fully account for the increased rates of daytime sleepiness in this population and there is evidence to suggest that it is caused by metabolic factors and chronic inflammation in obese individuals. Sleepiness is also more common in those reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders and significantly impacts their quality of life. Clinicians should be aware of factors which put their patients at high risk of daytime sleepiness, as it is a debilitating and potentially dangerous symptom with medico-legal implications. Treatment option should address underlying contributors and promote sleep quantity and sleep quality by ensuring good sleep hygiene. However, stimulant medication may be indicated in some cases to allow for more normal daytime functioning.