How to measure your sleepiness?

You know the feeling. It’s about 2:30 in the afternoon, you’ve just had a hearty lunch, and now the meeting you’re in is dragging on and on and on. Suddenly, your eyelids start to get heavy, and you realize — oh no — there’s a real chance you might fall asleep in front of all of your coworkers. On a scale of 0 to 3, how likely would you say that is? Make sure you take notes — you’re knee-deep in the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Everyone gets drowsy during the day sometimes, especially if you happened to be up late the night before. But the Epworth Sleepiness Scale isn’t designed to test your drowsiness at a particular day and time. Instead, the goal is to gauge your overall sleepiness in the larger context of your life.

The test is self-administered, so you don’t have to worry about getting a professional to perform it for you. All you need to do is rate your chance of dozing off in eight different situations on a scale of zero to three. Give a score of 0 if there’s no chance of dozing, 1 for a slight chance of dozing, 2 for a moderate chance of dozing, and 3 if you always seem to doze off in those situations. Then it’s just a matter of adding up the numbers and placing yourself on a scale that goes up to 24. Got the rules? Now give it a try:

On a scale of 0 to 3, rank your chance of dozing off in the following scenarios:

  • Sitting and reading.
  • Watching TV.
  • Sitting inactively 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 circumstances permit.
  • Sitting and talking to someone.
  • Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol.
  • In a car, while stopped for a few minutes due to traffic.

Now score yourself. 0-5 means you have below-average daytime sleepiness, 6-10 means it’s higher than average, 11-12 means it’s mildly excessive, 13-15 is moderately excessive, and 16-24 means you are severely, excessively sleepy during the day.

The Epworth Sleep Scale was devised by Dr. Murray Johns in the 1990s and finalized in 1997, but it’s not the only sleepiness test available. One other option is the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, in which those being examined self-report their sleepiness on a scale of 1 to 9 (1 being “extremely alert” and 9 being “fighting to stay awake”). There are advantages and disadvantages to both scales. The Epworth scale has a slightly more concrete metric since participants are asked to gauge themselves presumably on the frequency that they have dozed off in the past.

But the Karolinska scale is much better for gauging sleepiness at a particular time. If you want to gauge your sleepiness at various points during the day, Karolinska is the test for you. It’s also a good scale to use if you want to get a sense of how sleepy a sample group of people is at a particular time — administer this test at your local subway station at 5:30 p.m., and you’ll get a portrait of how sleepy commuters in your town are during the evening rush hour. But if you want to figure out how sleepy you are overall, Epworth is the way to go.

Check out my related post: Should your dog sleep in bed beside you?

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