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Excessive Sleepiness associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The National Sleep Foundation

Medically Reviewed by

The National Sleep Foundation

Written by

The National Sleep Foundation

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP is a device worn on the face during sleep to deliver air pressure and keep the airway open. The mask goes over the nose, or the nose and mouth. If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and CPAP is recommended, you will need an additional sleep study to determine the air pressure you need – this additional study can in some cases be performed on the same night as your diagnostic sleep study.

Your doctor will then refer you to a respiratory therapist who specializes in sleep apnea treatment. The therapist will show you how the CPAP machine works, help you choose from different options of masks, and fit your mask in a way that is most comfortable and effective for your head and face. CPAPs are very effective if they are fitted properly and used regularly.

Other treatments include using a mouthpiece that holds the jaw forward in a position that prevents the back of the throat from collapsing and makes it less likely for the airway to become blocked. Less commonly, surgery may be performed to remove tissue in the throat, to make a blockage less likely. For overweight patients who are able to lose a significant amount of weight, this can improve symptoms in some cases.

Treatments for excessive sleepiness begin with understanding the cause. If obstructive sleep apnea is the cause, then CPAP or another treatment to alleviate the airway blockages you experience at night will be the first step in improving excessive sleepiness. In some cases, your doctor may also suggest medication to improve your alertness, especially if you feel at risk for drowsy driving or accidents. These medications may include modafinil / armodafinil or amphetamines – all of which stimulate the nervous system, improve alertness and reduce unintentional napping. These medications can have side effects, so it’s important to work with your doctor and take them exactly as directed.

Caffeine is often consumed to self-treat excessive sleepiness. Caffeine does increase alertness and it may work well when you feel mildly sleepy. Caffeine, however, is not enough to counteract the excessive sleepiness that comes with obstructive sleep apnea.