Tiredness is a normal part of being human — especially in our fast-paced, technology-fueled world. We all have nights where we can’t sleep, whether it’s due to insomnia, exercising too late, or feeling anxious and restless. Not being able to sleep from time to time is an occasional occurrence for most people, but one that doesn’t cause them much trouble.
Then there’s another camp of people: the ones who are tired all the time. Being constantly sleepy isn’t normal, and it could be a symptom of a more serious condition. If you’re always sleepy no matter how much sleep you get, here’s what could be causing you trouble — and how to get back to sleeping soundly.
Why Am I Always Sleepy No Matter How Much Sleep I Get?
Everyone deserves to get a good night’s sleep and wake up the next day feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Unfortunately, this isn’t realistic for people who feel tired all the time. It can be especially frustrating for people who experience tiredness and low energy levels on a daily basis, even when they go to bed early and try to sleep a full night.
The first thing to look at is the amount of sleep you get each night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Yet, if someone is physically active throughout the day or has additional medical conditions, this can vary.
Sleep problems can also be a result of over-reliance on sleep medicine, including synthetic pills as well as more natural approaches like melatonin or valerian. While natural remedies can be safer and have fewer side effects, relying on any type of medication to help you sleep can mask underlying sleep problems.
It may help to invest in a sleep tracker to better understand your sleep patterns during the night. A sleep tracker can help you understand things like how much time you spend in deep sleep and REM sleep, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and how much your sleep was disrupted. This sleep tracker data can be used to glean how much quality sleep you’re actually getting, and whether or not it’s time to make a lifestyle change.
Sleep Disorders and Persistent Tiredness
Quality sleep is something we all deserve, but something not everyone gets. Are you constantly asking yourself, “Why am I tired all the time?” If so, it might be time to explore additional causes of your tiredness that may be beyond your control. Here’s a look at sleep disorders and medical conditions that may be affecting your quality of sleep and contributing to chronic tiredness.
Sleep apnea is one of the most common medical conditions causing chronic sleepiness. Specifically, obstructive sleep apnea “occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Obstructive sleep apnea can be serious, yet it is the most common form of sleep apnea that people have.
The two main symptoms of sleep apnea are excessive daytime sleepiness and loud snoring. Sleep apnea is also a common reason why people who maintain a consistent, healthy bedtime routine still feel tired the next day. High blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, diabetes, and narrowed airways are all symptoms of sleep apnea.
One helpful solution for sleep apnea is a treatment called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This is simply a face or nasal mask that offers a consistent stream of airflow into the nasal passages, keeping the airway open. This is a non-invasive treatment and can help you improve the quality of your sleep. Meanwhile, the common medical advice for overweight people with sleep apnea is to engage in lifestyle factors that promote weight loss.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
When you feel like you’re never getting enough sleep even though you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, it could be due to chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition causes persistent daytime sleepiness regardless of nighttime sleep patterns. It can be exacerbated by intense physical activity and intellectual stimulation. In addition to causing fatigue, it causes loss of memory, sore throat, unexplained muscle and joint pain, and frequent headaches.
While chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t related to or caused by any other medical condition, it can be triggered by certain factors. These include viral infections, such as herpes and epstein-barr virus. It is also commonly associated with immune system problems and autoimmune disorders. Working with a therapist to take back control of your life can help you live with chronic fatigue syndrome despite its setbacks.
Additionally, a physical therapist can help you reduce your hypersensitivity to exercise and gradually begin helping you get active, which can stimulate blood flow, boost endorphins, and support higher energy levels.
Other Health Conditions Associated With Tiredness
The quality of your sleep is largely impacted by your circadian rhythm. Also known as your sleep-wake cycle, circadian rhythm dictates when you feel sleepy and when you’re alert.
While the circadian rhythm is meant to keep you awake during the day and tired at nightfall, circadian rhythm disorders can disrupt these sleep patterns to create an inconsistent sleep cycle. People’s circadian rhythm can be disrupted by inconsistent sleep schedules, especially for those engaging in shift work and those who work late into the night.
Iron deficiencies are another common reason why people are always sleepy. In fact, feeling very tired is one of the most common symptoms of an iron deficiency. “This happens because your body needs iron to make a protein called hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin helps carry oxygen around the body,” says registered dietician Mary Jane Brown.
Additional symptoms of iron deficiency include paleness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Iron deficiencies can be caused by poor nutrition, pregnancy, and inflammatory bowel disease. The good news is that most iron deficiencies are easy to address by increasing your iron intake and maintaining a balanced diet.
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene
Poor sleep is often a side effect of poor sleep hygiene. For example, a lot of people struggle to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, which makes it hard for their body to adjust during the day. Things like consuming alcohol on weeknights, exercising too late in the day, using the bedroom for work, and staying on screens while in bed are a few examples of poor sleep hygiene.
These things can be improved through consistency: going to bed at the same time each night and setting your alarm clock for the same time each morning. This can get your circadian rhythm back on track. Such consistency around sleep is also a great way to train your body when to get tired in the evenings and when to wake up feeling alert. Removing electronics from the bedroom and staying away from screens before bed is another way to prepare your body for sleep.
Mental Health Management
Mental health is another thing to consider when you’re always feeling tired. Anxiety and stress are two common, yet often overlooked causes of fatigue. This is in part because stress elevates a person’s cortisol levels, which in turn can disrupt a person’s ability to maintain high sleep quality.
Studies show that reducing cortisol levels and stabilizing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can greatly improve sleep disturbances and improve sleep quality. The HPA is the body’s system for regulation, helping keep a person safe in response to constantly changing environments. This is why it can send the brain into flight-or-fight mode, causing stress and anxiety.
Taking care of your mental health can help keep the HPA in check and regulate cortisol levels to prevent them from disturbing your sleep. Regular stress management practices like meditation, yoga, creative expression, and physical activity are all ways in which a person can improve their well-being, calm the nervous system, and get back to better sleep.
So, Why Am I Always Tired?
The quality of sleep you get matters. Whether you’re falling asleep at work or waking up groggy every day, it’s important to understand why you’re always tired.
If you feel like you’re sleeping for ample time through the night, your tiredness may be due to a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. It could also be related to chronic fatigue or an iron deficiency. Seeking out professional medical advice can help you get to the bottom of your persistent tiredness so you can get back to feeling your best and stop losing sleep over it.