Woman waking out of her house with a pillow and a sleep mask.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and Microsleep

I have been digging into information on micro-napping, also called microsleep; basically, it comes down to having excessive daytime sleepiness due to sleep deprivation. You are alert one moment, and then suddenly you slip into a short micro-nap that you may not even be aware of. I usually am aware of them, but perhaps not all of them.

Extreme daytime sleepiness is a problem for me

This is a major problem for me right now. I have micro-nap attacks all the time. I also have extreme daytime sleepiness. It is such a problem that, obviously, my sleep specialist and my neurologist are adamant about me not driving. That is pretty obvious because I just nod off anywhere at any moment for no particular reason. And, yeah, it can be only for a few seconds, but I can’t stay awake — so it keeps happening over and over until I go to sleep, or my brain will make me go to sleep.

The resulting nap will be great for a bit, and then... repeat. The sleep specialist hasn’t really done anything to address it at this point, but she is pretty sure it’s severe sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation has complicated my life

The thing about sleep disorders and sleep deprivation is that we’re old friends. I have had sleep issues since I was a child, the onset of which was due to pain and led to delayed onset insomnia and frequent waking that persisted my entire life. It just got significantly worse.

Sleep deprivation is a chronic state of existence. It causes frequent attacks of sleep paralysis. I get frequent hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren't there while falling asleep or while waking up). It severely complicates my migraine attacks and contributed to them becoming chronic. And, of course, lack of sleep also is a trigger for restless legs syndrome (RLS). It complicated my chronic pain, too. But pain and insomnia are all tangled together.

Obviously, chronic sleep deprivation has caused a lot of issues for me during the day. All those effects were mixed with chronic illness and pain symptoms as it was. I assume it affects memory, attention, and mood, as does pain and my existing chronic illnesses.

Running on empty

The one thing chronic sleep loss never did before was cause micro-napping. Not that I was aware of, anyway. My spouse, who has a spot-on perfect sleep cycle, is one of those people who, if he stays up a minute past his usual bedtime, will start to nod off with long blinks — and then boom, asleep on the couch in the weirdest positions. I was never that person. Now I am. All the time.

I wasn’t excessively tired the next day with very little sleep, but I didn't feel wired, either. I was just drained and in pain, like every other day. It’s like running on empty all the time and trying to get things done anyway.

Dragging myself through the day, trying to stay awake

I’m not sure if it was my poor recovery from COVID, or the onset of other health conditions, or the fact that my RLS is worse that my sleep is more erratic lately. But now, daytime sleepiness is a thing that exists for me on a level I have never experienced before. Yet, due to excessive fatigue, I’m actually sleeping more overall throughout the entire 24-hour cycle.

It’s an insane struggle dragging myself through the day trying to stay awake. And eventually, I have to nap. The problem is just trying to delay that for as long as possible so I don’t nap too much and ruin what sleep I can actually manage at night.

If I leave the house, I am bringing a pillow

Whether I nap or not, it doesn’t change the amount of sleep I get at night (or lack thereof) but it does make the day more 'functional.' It’s hard to function in this state of severe excessive sleepiness. Your brain is in a bit of a daze, at the extreme end of that 'need-to-sleep' zone.

If I go out and about, there is a chance I may spontaneously nod off in public. Maybe a micro-nap. But when I micro-nap, it isn’t one little 15-second nod-off. It’s over and over and over until I find a place to sleep. Or I might just sleep wherever I am.

I can’t sleep at night. I can’t stay awake during the day. I definitely can’t drive. I may nap in public. And, no one really has a plan for helping me out with this.

So, if I leave the house... I am bringing a pillow.

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