The Science Behind Drowsiness

Written by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine
The ADC Sleep Disorder Center - Drowsiness

Your body requires three things: water, food and sleep. You can choose not to drink water or not to eat food until you eventually die. Your body’s need to sleep is so strong, however, that you can try not to sleep, but your brain will eventually make your body sleep, no matter what you are doing at the time.

VIDEO: (Inside Look) Sleep Medicine with Dr. Gary Polk

Several factors can cause drowsiness: body clock, exposure to daylight/darkness and how long you’ve been awake. Your body’s internal clock (called Circadian rhythm) signals you to be sleepy twice a day: first in the evening at bedtime, and again about 12 hours later, during the “siesta” time of the afternoon. The cycle of sunlight and darkness in a day also affects our bodies’ internal clocks. In addition, the length of time we stay awake can increase our need for sleep (i.e., the longer you stay awake, the more you need sleep).

Although each person’s sleep needs and patterns vary, most adults require an average of eight hours of restful sleep each night. If you are not getting enough sleep, the result is sleep debt. Your sleep debt continues to grow as you “add on” more and more hours of missed sleep time.

The longer you try to stay awake or the more nights you get poor or not enough sleep, the greater the effect on your mental and physical abilities.

Poor sleep quality, or not getting enough sleep, causes excessive sleepiness and reduces your alertness and performance. You react more slowly and have more trouble making decisions. You also have a difficult time paying attention, and your memory and coordination are weaker. In fact, people who are drowsy sometimes don’t realize that they have these symptoms, making drowsiness that much more dangerous.

The effects of drowsiness actually are just like the effects of drinking. In many states a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 is the legal limit for alcohol. A 1997 research study found that being awake for 18 hours produced impairment equal to a BAC of .05. After 24 hours of being awake, it jumps to .10. Even if you only lose one or two hours of sleep a night, drowsiness can impair your ability to drive at a rate that is higher than the legal alcohol limit.

The ADC Sleep Disorder Center - Drowsiness

This fact is even more disturbing when compared with the average amount of sleep that adults get every night. Sleep studies report that adults do not get the recommended eight hours of restful sleep at night. One study found 64% get less than eight hours and 32% report they get six hours or less. Whether you are severely drowsy only once in your lifetime, or you’re sleepy all the time, the consequences can be fatal.

The ADC Sleep Disorders Center

Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic Sleep Disorders Center opened in 1999 for the diagnoses and treatment of patients who have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep at night, problems with excessive daytime sleepiness or other medical problems that may occur or exacerbate during sleep.

Sleep Disorders

We are the only comprehensive clinic which offers our patients evaluations and follow-up consultations with board certified physicians in:
• Internal Medicine
• Pulmonary Diseases
• Sleep Medicine

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