Distinguishing sleepiness and fatigue: focus on definition and measurement

Sleep Med Rev. 2006 Feb;10(1):63-76. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2005.05.004. Epub 2005 Dec 22.


Sleepiness and fatigue are two interrelated, but distinct phenomena; observed in a number of psychiatric, medical and primary sleep disorders. Despite their different implications in terms of diagnosis and treatment, these two terms are often used interchangeably, or merged under the more general lay term of 'tired'. Sleepiness is multidimensional and has many causes (multidetermined) and distinguished from fatigue by a presumed impairment of the normal arousal mechanism. Despite its ubiquity, no clear consensus exits as yet as to what constitutes sleepiness. Definitions of sleepiness, to date, are at best operational definitions, conceptualized so as to produce specific assessment instruments. As a result, while a number of subjective and objective measurement tools have been developed to measure sleepiness, each only captures a limited aspect of an otherwise heterogeneous entity. Fatigue is an equally complex phenomenon, its nature captured by a number of conceptualizations and definitions. Measures of fatigue have remained subjective, with a 'gold standard' for its measurement remaining elusive. Despite a high prevalence and high degree of morbidity, fatigue has remained a relatively under appreciated symptom, from both a clinical and research point of view.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / diagnosis*
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / epidemiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electrooculography
  • Fatigue / diagnosis*
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Wakefulness