Have you ever gotten to work and about an hour in you’re already struggling to keep your eyes open?
Feeling sleepy can have a huge impact on your day to day life, especially if you are feeling that way most of the time. You feel sluggish, unfocussed and totally unmotivated, and as a result it’s impossible to be the best that you can be, whether that be in your professional or personal life.
Worried that you’re just lazy? Don’t be! There are a huge number of reasons that explain why you’re feeling this way, let’s go through the main reasons that can cause you to feel tired, as well as some easy fixes for them to ensure that you get plenty of (good quality!) sleep and always wake up feeling refreshed!
You're not getting your 8 hours
We’re sure that you could have guessed this one, but that doesn’t make it any less important to include! It is recommended that you get between 7-9 hours of sleep every night, as this allows you to enter REM sleep (rapid eye movement), which is the 4th sleep stage and arguably the most important. It is during REM sleep that your brain is able to process thoughts, memories and emotions which is essential for learning and higher levels of thought. Without this, you can expect to experience problems with memory, difficulty concentrating and having slower cognition overall.
The experts also recommend sleeping in a slightly cooler room in order to promote a better night’s sleep. A temperature anywhere between 19-21C is optimal as our bodies naturally release sleep hormones as our core temperature drops, therefore meaning that you are more likely to get a night of undisturbed sleep.
You're not staying active
Another reason that you might find yourself unable to sleep at night is that you may not be active enough during the day. If you spend the majority of your day sitting down or generally being inactive, your body won’t use up any of its energy levels, meaning that you will feel restless at the end of the day and spend your nights tossing and turning. Incorporating at least half an hour of moderate exercise into your day will hugely contribute to a better night’s sleep, as you will use up some energy and be able to get into levels of deep sleep, which has proven to be extremely beneficial physically. Achieving a larger amount of time in deep sleep can help to improve your immune system as well as strengthen your cardiac health.
Too much caffeine/alcohol
I know, I know, two of the biggest guilty pleasures! But unfortunately the evidence is there that these substances can have a huge impact on your quality of sleep. Most of us indulge in that morning coffee (or two or three!) to give us the boost of energy we’re craving at the start of the day, and whilst this is fine in moderation, having caffeine in the afternoon or evening can have a huge impact on your night of sleep. The effects of caffeine are usually felt after 30-60 minutes of consuming it, but can affect your brain for hours afterwards. Caffeine reduces the amount of slow wave sleep that our brains get, which is the deep stage of sleep that allows us to feel refreshed and well rested the next morning. It can also lead to issues with memory, problem solving and emotions. It is therefore recommended that no caffeine is consumed at least 6 hours before you hit the hay in order for you to achieve the best night’s sleep possible.
As alcohol is a sedative, people often think that a nightcap is a great way to quickly get to sleep, and whilst sleep onset is often quicker after a few drinks, the issue is the quality of the sleep that they are getting. Alcohol allows for deep sleep, however it can reduce the amount of that important REM sleep that we mentioned earlier. The imbalance of these two sleep stages causes poorer sleep quality overall, and can explain why some may wake up multiple times in the night after drinking. It is therefore recommended that you have your last drink a few hours before you plan to go to bed in order to have good quality, uninterrupted sleep
Too much screen time
For many of us, scrolling through social media apps or checking emails is a large part of our nighttime routine, however the evidence shows that this can hugely affect your sleep schedule. The screens of computers, tablets and smartphones put out blue light, which suppresses the levels of melatonin that our brains produce. Melatonin is an essential sleep boosting hormone, and without it our brains are unable to ‘switch off’ or promote sleep across the body. It might be a good idea to ditch the electronics around two hours before you plan to go to sleep, and instead spend the time reading, listening to music, meditating or just spending time with your friends/family.
It’s a big myth that only vegetarians/vegans can be low in iron, the reality is that it can happen to anybody! Some have genetic predispositions to having low iron, some don't have a varied enough diet, and some simply don’t eat enough (think low calorie diets, or disordered eating). The reason why having low iron can result in you feeling so tired is rather scientific, but the simple version is that the body needs iron to create a protein called haemoglobin, which is what it uses to carry oxygen around the body in your red blood cells. This reduction in the amount of haemoglobin means that less oxygen is pushed through your body into your muscle tissue, meaning that they receive less energy (and you feel fatigued!).
The easy answer is to recommend taking a diet supplement of iron once a day (almost all pharmacies will sell it!). However, it’s important to know that it’s also possible to up your iron through diet alone. Foods like red meat, beans (such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas), nuts, dried fruit, fortified breakfast cereals and leafy greens like spinach are all great ways that you can incorporate more iron into your diet.
Lack of routine
Lots of us love a good lie in on the weekends (especially after a night out!) or a quick nap after a particularly taxing day at school/work, but these changes to your regular routine can have a really negative effect on your overall sleep/wake cycle. It is recommended to try to get to sleep and wake up at a similar time every day, as this allows your body to get into a regular routine (meaning that you will naturally release sleep hormones around bedtime) and consistently get a good night’s sleep/wake up naturally feeling completely refreshed.
Too much sugar
Lots of us already know that too much sugar can lead to weight gain, an increased risk of diabetes and rotten teeth, however it can also hugely impact your sleep! Consuming sugary foods/drinks like sweets or fizzy drinks late in the day can overstimulate the body, giving it a burst of energy and preparing it for activity. This can make it impossible to wind down properly before bed and can leave you feeling restless for hours. Sugar also uses up our body’s reserves of magnesium, which is an essential nutrient for sleep. It is recommended that instead you stick to more fibrous foods that have slow releases of sugar closer to bedtime, such as wholemeal bread, fresh fruits such as berries or apples and sweet potatoes.
Too much stress is a problem that is faced by everybody at some point in their lives, and can cause a vicious cycle of poor sleep due to an inability to get your brain to switch off, and a consequential lower cognitive function the next day (which can make you more stressed and eventually lead to total burn out). If you’re finding yourself to be too stressed in your day to day life, mind-body exercises such as yoga can calm down your parasympathetic nervous system, which aids in relaxation, as well as lowering blood pressure and overall improvement of mood. It might also be a good idea to try to lighten your workload if your career is the root of your stress, or even take a short holiday if you can! If this isn’t possible, at least try not to take your work home with you, or allocate only a few hours at home to finishing work, and the rest to yourself. Practicing mindfulness and trying out journaling can also be huge stress busting activities that we can attest to, as well as putting down your smartphone once in a while!
We really hope that these tips prove to be useful for you, and that you can use them successfully in your day to day life in order to overall improve the quality of your sleep, and stop feeling so tired!