Recognition and management of excessive sleepiness in the primary care setting

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;11(5):197-204. doi: 10.4088/PCC.07r00545.


Background: Excessive sleepiness often goes unrecognized in the primary care setting despite its high prevalence and deleterious effects on both individual and public safety. Patients with neurologic and psychiatric illnesses, as well as those with acute and chronic medical conditions, plus those with sleep disorders, often have symptoms of excessive sleepiness, tiredness, and fatigue. Recognition and prompt treatment of these symptoms are important, even though their etiology may not be immediately understood. This review focuses on the underlying causes, consequences, identification, and treatment of excessive sleepiness.

Data sources: A search of the literature to 2007 was performed using the PubMed search engine. English-language articles were identified using the following search terms: excessive sleepiness, fatigue, circadian rhythm, obstructive sleep apnea, shift work disorder, narcolepsy, drowsy driving, and wakefulness. Additional references were identified through bibliography reviews of relevant articles.

Data synthesis: Current assessments of the prevalence, consequences, and etiologies of excessive sleepiness, with leading treatment strategies, were extracted, reviewed, and summarized to meet the objectives of this article.

Conclusions: Excessive sleepiness is associated with a wide range of medical, neurologic, and psychiatric disorders frequently seen in primary care practice. Excessive sleepiness is a serious, debilitating, potentially life-threatening condition, yet also treatable, and it is important to initiate appropriate intervention as early as possible. Physicians should place increasing emphasis on the substantial benefits that accompany improvements in wakefulness.