How sleepy are you?

Did you know that ADD/ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are common misdiagnoses for sleep disorders like narcolepsy?  Sleep disorders are a lot more subtle than a person falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, despite what we see in pop culture.  People with sleep disorders, like myself, learn to adapt to our bodies gentle signals of sleepiness and can adopt behaviors that make the sleepiness appear differently than it is (e.g. binge eating, watching television, reading a book during class, procrastinating, and other self-stimulating behaviors).

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a tool used by physicians to screen for sleep disorders (note: it is NOT a diagnostic tool). In an ideal world, general practitioners would be well versed in the ESS and administer it to all patients who complain of sleepiness*.  They would then refer patients to a board certified sleep neurologist for further testing when appropriate. However, that is not currently the case and sleep disorders go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for YEARS in the average sleep disordered patient.

I am not a doctor and I encourage you to discuss your concerns with a physician as soon as possible.  Not all doctors are familiar with sleep disorders.  You may have to be proactive and while your journey may start with your primary care doctor, it’s important to consult a board-certified sleep specialist. (Source.) Also note that medications you are taking (e.g. stimulants or sedatives) might impact your answers.

*Note that many people (including me) use “sleepiness”, “exhaustion”, “tiredness”, and “fatigue” interchangeably.  This can be confusing to doctors, so be sure you think about what you are actually experiencing.  Are you losing consciousness? Then use the word “sleepy”.


For each situation, choose the value that is most appropriate for you.

0 = no chance of dozing
1 = slight chance of dozing
2 = moderate chance of dozing
3 = high chance of dozing.

  • Sitting and reading.
  • Watching TV.
  • Sitting inactive in a public place (e.g. A theater or a meeting).
  • As a passenger in a car for an hour without a break.
  • Lying down to rest in the afternoon when the circumstances permit.
  • Sitting and talking to someone.
  • Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol.
  • In a car, while stopped for a few minutes in traffic.

Total your score.
1-6: Congratulations, you are getting enough sleep!
7-8: Your score is average.
9 and up: seek the advice of a sleep specialist without delay.

(Source: https://web.stanford.edu/~dement/epworth.html.)


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