What is a Sleepiness Scale?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2018
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A sleepiness scale is a screening tool used by a physician to assess a patient's level of daytime sleepiness or sleepiness in a given setting. It allows doctors to quantify the experiences of their patients so they can note clinically useful information in the patient's chart, in addition to providing an appropriate level of intervention and care. People can also use sleepiness scales as self-assessment tools if they are concerned about levels of daytime sleepiness they feel are unusual.

With a sleepiness scale, the patient is asked a series of questions about sleepiness in different settings. Rather than asking vaguely if patients feel tired during the day, doctors will ask if patients feel tired in class, at work, or while driving, for example. The degree of tiredness will also be assessed, with patients disclosing whether they yawn and feel exhausted, or actively fall asleep. They may also be asked how often sleepiness occurs, and when it first started. All of this information can be clinically valuable.

The Epworth sleepiness scale is a well known example, and other scales have been developed by doctors and medical centers around the world for patient assessments. Doctors may find this information useful when discussing sleep disorders, checking for signs of conditions known to be associated with fatigue, and determining whether a patient has a disorder like narcolepsy. Patients can use a sleepiness scale at home to assess their risk of having sleep disorders and may discuss the results with a physician.


When answering questions for a sleepiness scale, if a question is not clear, patients should ask for clarification. Additional information can also be volunteered, even if the scale does not ask for it. If a patient notices more sleepiness after eating, for instance, this may be important for a doctor to know. Patients may also be asked to report on their current state of consciousness, to see if a patient is feeling actively sleepy or disoriented while meeting with the doctor.

This tool can be used with other diagnostic tests and a patient interview to develop theories about why a patient is experiencing medical problems. These may eventually lead to a diagnosis and development of a treatment plan. Sometimes changes like getting more sleep, changing medications, or switching the layout of a room to promote the free flow of air and light are enough to resolve daytime sleepiness. In other cases, more extensive interventions will be needed to address an underlying medical disorder.



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