Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Causes of Excessive Sleepiness | Four Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss |
Do You Need More Sleep? | A Risk Factor for Risk Factors
It isn’t uncommon to feel inherently jealous of your friends or partner should they be the type that falls asleep within five minutes of making contact with their pillow.
To you, they may seem like the perfect sleeper. But little do they know that the ability to drift off into sleep within five minutes can indicate sleep deprivation.
Causes of Excessive Sleepiness
Sleepiness can be defined as the natural tendency to fall asleep, often during the day.
It’s most often caused by sleep deprivation, which can happen when you don’t get enough sleep that enables you to feel sufficiently rested.
On average, it’s recommended that adults get around 7-9 hours of sleep per night and children 8-17 depending on their age.[3,4] Alas, that often isn’t the case due to a cluster of factors.
Below is a selective list of sleep and medical disorders and other conditions that can affect the quality and quantity of sleep:
- Insufficient Sleep due to lifestyle factors, medical conditions, or sleep disorders
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a sleep-related disorder whereby an individual may stop breathing for short periods during sleep, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness, among other complications
- Restless Legs Syndrome, a sleep disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs to quell an uncomfortable sensation, which can disrupt sleep
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders occur when the biological clock (24-hour sleep-wake cycle) is out of sync with one’s environment
- Sleep-Wake Disorders, such as narcolepsy and hypersomnia
- Medications that cause sleepiness, such as sedative drugs, opioids, etc.
- Medical Conditions, including depression, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, can impact sleep duration and diminish one’s chances of getting adequate sleep
- Blue-Light Exposure from electronic devices emits a wavelength that may disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause poor sleep
All of the above, alongside other potentiating sleep deprivation factors, can cause you to fall asleep quickly or doze off accidentally. As a result, you may wake periodically throughout the night, resulting in fragmented or broken sleep.
Four Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss
The cumulative effects of sleep deprivation and various sleep disorders are attributed to a broader range of problematic health consequences.
With an estimated 70 million Americans suffering from chronic sleep disorders that hinder daily functioning, it highlights the necessity of recognizing your symptoms so that you can seek readily available remedies. Failure to recognize sleep problems can increase your risk of developing the following potentially morbid conditions.
Sleeping for durations below the recommended amounts is closely related to your likelihood of developing obesity. Studies show that those aged 27 or above who don’t get sufficient sleep (less than 6 hours per night) are at a 7.5x greater risk for obesity, with those sleeping an average of 7.7 hours per night having the lowest BMI.[9,10]
Obesity can then contribute to other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which puts you in a cycle of various sleep disturbances that’ll only worsen if you do not seek the appropriate treatment.
Multiple extensive studies have demonstrated the association between sleep loss and impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor to diabetes that can cause your blood sugar levels to rise for a prolonged period. Shorter sleep durations can disrupt the regulation of many physiological functions, including those associated with diabetes risk.
Though exact mechanisms are unclear, it’s proposed that those sleeping for 6 hours or less can cause insulin resistance, promote obesity, and elicit a diabetes-mediated inflammatory response, all of which are major contributing risk factors for diabetes.
3) Cardiovascular Disease
According to several extensive studies, heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions that can result in death are far more common in those who sleep just five or less or more than nine hours. Several mechanisms proposed can explain the link between excessive sleepiness and cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and impaired glucose control.
4) Mental Health Conditions
Chronic sleep loss that can increase your tendency to fall asleep in a short period of time can profoundly affect your mood and behavior. Sleep loss and excessive sleepiness can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression and even promote alcohol consumption. 
Notwithstanding, these are just four health consequences from a relatively long list of harmful conditions that may result from excessive sleepiness. We urge you to seek appropriate help should you suffer from excessive sleepiness or develop new symptoms that have interrupted your sleep in one way or another.
Do You Need More Sleep?
Measuring just how sleepy you are may seem complicated, but it’s made relatively simple.
Multiple diagnostic tools are available, including the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and Multiple Sleep Latency Tests, which can indicate excessive sleepiness.
Sleep specialists can carry out these tests, which can be used to lessen the time to diagnose and negate the potential consequences of chronic sleep loss by initiating prompt treatment.
A Risk Factor for Risk Factors
If you find yourself being one of those so-called ‘lucky’ individuals that can hit the hay in under 5 minutes, then it’s high time you investigate why you may be feeling overly tired. Excessive sleepiness is a risk factor for developing the above health consequences and symptoms.
Sufficient sleep can promote mental health and overall healthy well-being, so approaching sleep as a diagnostic treatment target can be helpful across various health severalties.
By identifying sleep disturbances and sleep disorders early, you can find the means to alleviate your risk of developing sleep-related complications and determine the potential causative factors attributed to your underlying health.
- Bittencourt, L., Silva, R. R., Santos, R. F., Pires, M. R. G. M., & De Mello, M. T. (2005). Sonolência excessiva. Revista Brasileira De Psiquiatria, 27(suppl 1), 16–21. https://doi.org/10.1590/s1516-44462005000500004
- Abrams, R. M. (2015). Sleep Deprivation. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 42(3), 493–506. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogc.2015.05.013
- Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D. J., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J. E., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C. A., Malhotra, R., Martin, J. H., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., Tasali, E., Twery, M. J., Croft, J. B., Maher, E., Barrett, J. A., . . . Heald, J. L. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4716
- Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C. A., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L. L., Hazen, N., Herman, J. B., Hillard, P. J. A., Katz, E. S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D., O’Donnell, A., Ohayon, M. M., Peever, J. H., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R., Setters, B., Vitiello, M. V., & Ware, J. S. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: final report. Sleep Health, 1(4), 233–243. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2015.10.004
- Lal, C., Weaver, T. E., Bae, C., & Strohl, K. P. (2021). Excessive Daytime Sleepiness in Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Mechanisms and Clinical Management. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 18(5), 757–768. https://doi.org/10.1513/annalsats.202006-696fr
- Hanson, J. A. (2022, September 9). Sleep Deprivation. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547676/
- Tosini, G., Ferguson, I., & Tsubota, K. (2016). Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Molecular vision, 22, 61–72.
- Morrell, M. J., Finn, L., Kim, H. S., Peppard, P. E., Badr, M. S., & Young, T. (2000). Sleep Fragmentation, Awake Blood Pressure, and Sleep-Disordered Breathing in a Population-based Study. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 162(6), 2091–2096. https://doi.org/10.1164/ajrccm.162.6.9904008
- Colten, H. R. (2006). Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/#:~:text=The%20cumulative%20effects%20of%20sleep,%2C%20heart%20attack%2C%20and%20stroke.
- Hasler, G., Buysse, D. J., Klaghofer, R., Gamma, A., Ajdacic, V., Eich, D., Rössler, W., & Angst, J. (2004). The Association Between Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Young Adults: a 13-Year Prospective Study. Sleep, 27(4), 661–666. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/27.4.661
- Katz, I., Stradling, J., Sljutsky, A. S., Zamel, N., & Hoffstein, V. (1990). Do Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Have Thick Necks? The American Review of Respiratory Disease, 141(5_pt_1), 1228–1231. https://doi.org/10.1164/ajrccm/141.5_pt_1.1228
- Grandner, M. A., Seixas, A., Shetty, S., & Shenoy, S. (2016). Sleep Duration and Diabetes Risk: Population Trends and Potential Mechanisms. Current Diabetes Reports, 16(11). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-016-0805-8
- Strine, T. W., & Chapman, D. P. (2005). Associations of frequent sleep insufficiency with health-related quality of life and health behaviors. Sleep Medicine, 6(1), 23–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2004.06.003
- Scott, A. P., Webb, T. L., James, M. M., Rowse, G., & Weich, S. (2021). Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 60, 101556. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101556
- Chervin, R. D., Aldrich, M. S., Pickett, R., & Guilleminault, C. (1997). Comparison of the results of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Multiple Sleep Latency Test. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 42(2), 145–155. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-3999(96)00239-5
- Winkelman, J. W. (2020). Screening for Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and Diagnosing Narcolepsy. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.4088/jcp.hb19045br1c