Health

Why Am I Always Tired?

Experts share big and small things that can mess with your sleep quality.

A woman yawns after waking up. Always sleepy no matter how much sleep I get? Experts share why peopl...
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A good night's sleep is supposed to leave you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and wide awake. But what if it doesn't? If you've gotten the recommended amount of sleep, it's extra frustrating to start to feel worn down and exhausted a few hours into the day. Figuring out why you’re so tired after sleeping well is the first step toward actually feeling like a human being after your alarm clock goes off.

Typically, experts say that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to get energy and stay healthy — but it is possible to get that amount of sleep every single night and still feel sleepy the next day. “Sleep is not just about quantity,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a sleep expert and sleep advisor for the wearable Oura. “It's really more about quality.”

Feeling exhausted for seemingly no reason can often point to a whole bunch of other health issues, whether it's something mental or physical. There might also be something you're doing before bed that isn't letting you sleep as well as you thought — you might think you just had some great shut-eye, but you may not have been as deeply asleep as it seemed. So, what could be behind all of this? Here are a 11 reasons you might be tired even after sleeping well.

1. Lack Of Movement Can Decrease Sleep Quality

A lot of people associate physical activity with exhaustion, but that's not always the case. While an intense sweat session at the gym can help you sleep better, it's not going to drain you of energy completely. In fact, not incorporating any physical activity in your day will make you even more tired.

“There is no question that regular exercise improves your quality of sleep,” says Dr. Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Baltimore-based internal medicine physician. “Exercising moderately has been shown to increase the amount of deep sleep individuals get.” In other words, taking that spin class at the crack of dawn might be exhausting to get to — but it can make you sleep better long-term.

2. Dehydration Can Hurt Sleep

Being dehydrated can do more than just make you feel light-headed and dizzy — it can also make you feel really, really tired. Being dehydrated messes with your blood volume, which can make your heart less efficient, leading to exhaustion all the time. “Going to bed dehydrated puts you at risk for leg cramps, limb movements, and larger movements during sleep which lead to awakenings,” Breus explains.

3. Depression Can Cause Sleep Issues

One of the most common symptoms of depression is exhaustion. Experiencing depression can leave you feeling tired all the time, no matter how much sleep you get — people often don't realize they're depressed until they realize how sleepy they are. “Depression certainly can be associated with sleep problems (both in terms of sleeping long periods of time and excessive daytime sleepiness, or conversely individuals with depression may have difficulty falling asleep),” Dr. Cherian tells Bustle. Either way, he explains, depression can negatively impact a person’s sleep cycle, leaving them more tired than they would expect upon waking from a long slumber.

4. Alcohol Can Interrupt Your Sleep Cycle

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If you’ve ever unwound from a long day at work with a glass — or two — of wine, you might have found yourself conking out easier than expected. “Short-term alcohol can have a sedative effect and actually help induce sleep,” Dr. Cherian says. But if a person consistently turns to a glass of the good stuff to get them to sleep, Dr. Cherian explains that it might have the opposite impact. “Individuals who excessively consume alcohol often have difficulty sleeping or insomnia.”

5. Coffee Can Affect Your Sleep Rhythms

If you're drinking coffee as late as six hours before your bedtime, that's affecting your sleep — even if you don't realize it. Coffee is meant to keep you awake and energized, but too much of it too late in the day will backfire. Breus suggests cutting off your coffee consumption past 2 p.m. if your afternoon pick-me-up is picking you up too long into the night.

6. Nighttime Phone Use Can Hurt Sleep

Re-runs of The Gilmore Girls might be your fave thing to drift off to, but if you’re doing a lot of staring at a screen at night, it might negatively impact your sleep. Blue screens like the ones on smartphones can trigger a "wake-up" hormone even when you're about to sleep for the night. Again, you might not realize it's messing with your rest, but it could be keeping you from getting a deep enough sleep and leave you tired the next day. “There is mounting evidence that blue light actually suppresses the secretion of melatonin, which is a hormone that influences your circadian rhythm,” Dr. Cherian explains.

It’s not just the blue light you’ve got to be wary of, though. “The real issue with screens at night is the engagement in the activity that really is going in the opposite direction of sleep,” Breus tells Bustle. “If you are trying to get your high score on Candy Crush, you are really not trying to go to bed.”

7. When You Eat Can Impact Sleep

Skipping your breakfast won’t just leave you at risk of being hangry in the morning — it might also prevent you from getting a good sleep that night. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Current Biology, eating each day on a relatively consistent schedule can help your body regulate your circadian rhythms. In other words, eating your Wheaties can help you sleep better each night.

8. Nutritional Deficiencies Can Interrupt Sleep

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Having all your nutrients might be as important as curling into a comfy mattress for getting a good night’s sleep. Iron deficiencies can negatively impact sleep quality, according to a 2015 study published in the journal African Health Sciences. Being deficient in vitamin B can also make you extra tired even after sleeping, since that vitamin is responsible for helping convert food into energy. Magnesium deficiencies can also knock a person’s blood glucose levels out of whack and leave you feeling lethargic. Your doctor can test for nutrient deficiencies and prescribe a treatment plan.

9. Anxiety Can Hurt Sleep Quality

Stress and anxiety can go hand in hand in ensuring you'll feel less energetic and more lethargic, no matter how much sleep you get. “Individuals with anxiety often have difficulty falling asleep (insomnia) and tend to have more sleeping issues when going through stressful situations,” Dr. Cherian explains. Even when someone with anxiety does get a solid amount of shut up, being anxious can make sleep more restless, causing you to wake up more and not fall into the deep sleep you need.

10. Hormone Disorders Can Mess With Sleep

When you can’t identify the reason for your exhaustion even after consistent sleep, Dr. Cherian suggests checking in with your doctor. Diabetes, thyroid disorders, and anemia can all cause sleep issues and exhaustion. Anemia can also make people feel weak and short of breath, and is typically caused by an iron deficiency, blood loss, or even something like cancer or kidney failure. Meanwhile, one major sign of both thyroid disease and diabetes is exhaustion.

11. Sleep Disorders Can Cause Sleep Issues

“You can never be certain, but there may be some clues that you may have a sleep disorder if you feel you’re getting a good night’s rest but always feeling tired,” Dr. Cherian explains. He suggests keeping track of when it is that you’re feeling tuckered out — it might be a sleep disorder, but it also might just mean you’re not a morning person.

“It’s not uncommon to wake up feeling disoriented or drowsy,” Dr. Cherian says. “Sleep inertia is a term used to describe this is actually a normal part of the process of waking up. It typically resolves after a few minutes but also can last up to an hour.” But if your sleep inertia is lasting much longer than normal — if you’re sluggish way longer than expected every morning — Dr. Cherian suggests checking in with your primary care physician.

Experts:

Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleep expert, sleep advisor for Oura

Dr. Vivek Cherian, M.D., Baltimore-based internal medicine physician

Studies Referenced:

Wehrens, S.M.T. (2017) Meal timing regulates the human circadian system. Current Biology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483233/.

Murat, S. (2015) Assessment of subjective sleep quality in iron deficiency anaemia. African Health Sciences, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4480468/.

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