Fighting Off Sleepiness: Myths and Facts

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Shives advises patients to pinpoint the time they typically get tired in the afternoon and to take an exercise break right before that time. "Don't wait until you start to feel tired," she says. "Walk around the block or do some stretches before your circadian dip hits, or you'll never get out of your chair."

According to Miran, "Daily exercise is the best natural sleep aid there is. Even a 20-minute walk taken at least four to five hours before the normal bedtime will help you fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep." It is important not to exercise too close to bedtime, because the stimulation can disrupt your sleep. (Miran cautions that you should always check with your physician before beginning an exercise regime.)

Myth: Sleepiness is normal -- I just have to live with it.

Fact: If you experience persistent sleepiness, you should consult your doctor: It could signal an underlying condition that requires treatment.

Sleepiness may be a fact of contemporary life, but that doesn't mean you should ignore it. If you often feel drowsy during the day, you should consult your physician. Drowsiness could be a sign of an underlying health condition that should be addressed.

Drowsiness is one of the primary symptoms of hypothyroidism, for example, and Shives says that is one of the first things your physician is likely to check for if you complain of persistent fatigue or sleepiness.

Depression and other mood disorders can also manifest themselves as sleepiness and fatigue. Daytime sleepiness can indicate a sleep disorder, like insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome, that is preventing you from sleeping well at night, and anuntreated sleep disorder puts you at high risk for a stroke or heart attack. Finally, recent research has found that excessive day time sleepiness in an older person can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease.

Dealing With the Facts: Get More Sleep

Of course, you may just be sleepy because, like so many other Americans, you don't get enough sleep at night. If this is the case, you may want to make some payments on your sleep deficit.

A growing body of research establishes how important sufficient sleep is to our quality of life. Sleep deprivation can trigger depression and anxiety; it can also impede performance and creativity. Finally, sleep deprivation can be fatal. As many as 100,000 deaths each year are caused by drowsy drivers, according to the National Safety Council.

It's never too late to begin developing good sleep habits. Why not start tonight?

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 17, 2010



Lisa Shives, MD, medical director, Northshore Sleep Medicine.

M. Jawad Miran, DO, sleep medicine specialist, Somerset Medical Center's Sleep for Life program, Hillsborough, N.J. 

Stanford University Hospital Sleep Disorders Clinic, Stanford, Calif.

Anderson, C. and Horne, J.A. Human Psychopharmacology, 2006; vol 21: pp 299-303.

Medlineplus: "Fatigue."

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: "Insomnia."

The National Safety Council: "Fight Drowsy Driving."

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