Holistic Health Coach Phillippa Quigley looks to answer the question – why am I always sleepy? Find out how you can answer this for yourself and how to prevent it below…
Do you hear the saying ‘you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep’ and often wonder why you wake up after a long sleep and you don’t feel any benefit?
Going to bed at night is supposed to be the opportunity for your body and brain to reset with the intention that you’ll wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
It is normal to wake up with a certain amount of grogginess and perhaps have a little slump during the afternoon. However, if you are constantly feeling sleepy through the day and find yourself asking ‘why am I always sleepy?’ then that could be down to a few health related issues.
The good news is, is that with lifestyle changes and better habits, these can be solved.
In this article we will discuss the reasons why you are possibly feeling sleepy and tired throughout the day and how you can manage and improve this.
What does it mean to be ‘sleepy’?
If you’re feeling sleepy it means you are feeling drowsy, tired and heavy eyed. When we feel like this it should be late into the evening when our body and brain is telling us it’s time to go to sleep. Feeling like this during the day means that we are unable to function at our most optimal level.
The impact of feeling sleepy means that we would be showing slow reflexes, a poorer immune system response, impaired cognitive function and our mood would be low. If this is how our body is behaving on a daily basis, eventually this could cause chronic diseases and disorders.
It is important to recognize that feeling sleepy throughout the day isn’t normal, especially if you think you are getting the amount of hours of sleep you should.
Recommended hours of sleep:
- Newborns (up to 3 months old): 14 to 18 hours
- Infants (up to 1 years old): 12 to 16 hours, napping hours included.
- Children (1 to 5 years old): 10 to 14 hours, napping hours included.
- School aged children (6 to 12 years old): 9 to 12 hours
- Teenagers (13 to 18 years old): 8 to 10 hours
- Adults (18 years and up): 7 to 9 hours
What is making me sleepy?
Let’s discuss a few of reasons as to why you might be feeling sleepy, even after a ‘full’ night’s sleep.
You don’t sleep as much as you think you do!
Let’s be honest, how often do you tell yourself you are having an early night and actually go to sleep later than you normally would. Everybody can be guilty of getting into bed early and thinking you have enough time to procrastinate or mindlessly scroll through your smartphone. This results in staying awake later and perhaps trouble in actually falling asleep.
Therefore you could be thinking because you are going to bed at 10:00 PM and wake up at 6:00 AM that you actually are getting a ‘good eight hours sleep’. This isn’t the healthy rest our body and brain are after.
What we need to focus on is sleep efficiency. This is where we are calculating the amount of sleeping hours we actually have. Even the smartest smart watch can record inaccurate sleeping time because it includes the time you are lying in bed on your phone, and not actually asleep.
Calculating the exact amount of sleep you actually get isn’t an easy job, which is why even the best technology and the latest smart watch, cannot always be completely relied on when it comes to accuracy.
Whilst tracking your sleep isn’t a bad idea with one of these devices, if you are suffering with feeling sleepy throughout the day but your watch is telling you, you had 8 hours – be mindful that it may not be revealing the full truth.
You’re not meeting your personal sleep needs
As with all things in life we are all unique and individual. We are all determined by our genes with our own genetic DNA codes. Therefore when we’re following rules and guidelines such as how much sleep we need per night, it might be that you are someone that needs more than the average 8 hours.
As the guidelines state above; an adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. As with any averages there will be people that need the minimum requirement and others that need the maximum requirement – and then even some outliers beyond the two extremes.
What an average does is give us a good baseline to start with if you are perhaps trying something new.
For example, if you are someone who has poor sleep hygiene meaning that you perhaps have put your sleep at the bottom of your priority list and you are now trying to improve your sleeping habits, aiming for 8 hours of sleep is a good goal to start with.
We also need to take into account that there will be certain times in our lives when our bodies need more rest usual. This could be due to recovering from a period of illness, a time of high stress or you may have completed an intense activity such as a marathon or triathlon.
You’re body clock is out of sync
When we are talking about sleep, the body clock we are referring to is your circadian rhythm. This is basically your body’s internal clock.
It tells your body to sleep and wake over a 24 hour period. Our circadian rhythm goes in cycles of sleepiness and alertness, which respond to changes with the light around us. It also controls the production of certain hormones and the fluctuations of your body’s core temperature.
If you are not in sync with your circadian rhythm, you will feel like your energy levels are depleted. Even if you think you are getting enough of the recommended hours, if this sleep is not happening when it should you will experience low energy. This can be quite common for people who work night shifts or have irregular sleeping patterns.
When you sleep in sync with your circadian rhythm you will find that your energy levels are high and that you feel alert. Whereas the opposite not only gives you that ‘sleepy’ feeling, but you might also begin to experience insomnia symptoms.
You’re in a Sleep Debt
Is sleep debt a real thing? The answer to that is yes! If you are not getting adequate sleep over a set amount of time this can cause sleep debt to build up one day at a time until you accrue so much that it has a real detrimental impact on your daily life.
If you are someone who needs 8 hours sleep at night, but for some reason you’ve only been getting around six hours of sleep a night over the course of a few days, you will be building up a sleep debt of several hours. The sleep debt that has built up will not be restored with just one good night’s sleep, your body will want to make up for the sleep that it has lost out on over several days.
Experiencing sleep debt will not just leave you feeling sleepy. It has a huge impact on your health and can cause conditions such as; diabetes, risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity. As sleep debt increases, our body and brain functions deteriorate and sleep is what is needed to repay this debt.
When you have built up a sleep debt you will need to make extra time to allow that sleep to be repaid. If you haven’t had enough sleep over a few days, for example from a holiday, you will need to make sure you get several nights of high quality sleep.
There are some medical conditions and sleep disorders such as insomnia, depression, anxiety and menopause which can cause people to build a sleep debt.
If you think you have a sleep debt here are some helpful tips to help pay that debt back;
- Take a nap; however do not allow these naps to be too long that they then affect your circadian rhythm and ability to fall asleep well that evening.
- Go to bed earlier than you normally would; if on a good night sleep you would go to bed at 10:00 PM, whilst you are paying back some sleep debt had to beds half an hour earlier.
- Wake up a little later; same as above if you normally would wake at 6:00 AM, whilst you are paying back your sleep debt allow yourself to wake up at 6:30 AM.
- Good sleep hygiene habits; improving your sleep hygiene will help you fall asleep faster and have undisturbed sleep throughout the night.
How can I find out how much sleep I need?
Now that we’ve spoken about all the reasons as to why you might be sleepy you are probably thinking ‘how do I know how much sleep I need’?
There are obviously many apps and smart devices out there that help you track your sleep, and there is definitely a place for these and they can be very useful in tracking your sleep. The best device for sleep that I have come across is the Oura ring – but even this can have limitations and inaccuracies.
What you do need to make sure is that you understand that these can be to some degree accurate about how much sleep you have had, but they’re not telling you what it is that your body actually wants and needs.
One way to try to find out how much sleep your body needs is to track it, however this way requires no interference. The interference being an alarm clock! The idea here is to let your body wake up naturally over a period of time such as 10 days (you can try this for as little as one week, or longer for as much as two weeks to be more accurate).
If you can manage to do this, you will be able to see how long your body does rest for. You’ll be able to track over a period of time; what time you have fallen asleep and the time that you awake, giving you a good idea of how many hours of sleep your body needs.
Some could argue that this isn’t completely accurate either, for instance how do we know what stages of sleep we reached and the amount we had in each one, as well as our bodies could be paying off a sleep debt and sleeping longer than they normally would.
A good recommendation is to combine a bit of both. Meaning that you could use a smart device with a good quality sleep app and track your sleep and don’t use an alarm clock to wake you up. Easier said than done when we have to get up for work and other commitments though.
How can I stop feeling sleepy?
The feeling of being sleepy in a nutshell is down to your low energy levels and there are lots of things you can do to boost your energy. However, if you’re sleepy even after getting what you believe is your adequate sleeping hours then you need to look at your sleeping habits first.
A few ways to improve your energy levels each day are:
- Make sure you are meeting your sleep need
- Repay your sleep debt
- Get in sync with your circadian rhythm
- Improve your sleep hygiene
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Healthy sleep and sleeping habits are referred to as your sleep hygiene, and there are various things that you can do to make sure you have good sleep hygiene. Sleep Hygiene is when you look at your behaviors and the environment in relation to your sleep.
The behaviors that we refer to when we talk about sleep hygiene aren’t always about what we do just as we are trying to get to sleep in bed. It is referring to a collection of behaviors throughout your wakeful day that contribute to positive sleep consequences.
Ultimately, it involves your daily habits from what you eat and drink, to your physical activity throughout the day which can promote high quality and restful sleep.
When we have good sleep hygiene, it increases the chance of you getting the restful and restorative sleep. The impact of this improves your mental and physical well-being, quality of life and better productivity. It also enhances your level of immunity and your cognitive function.
Making sure you have a good level of sleep hygiene is good for people who are shift workers and can’t follow the natural circadian rhythm with going to sleep in the evening and night time.
Tips to improve Sleep Hygiene:
Create a calm sleep environment: to fall asleep easily you want to create a tranquil sleeping environment. Whilst your taste in how it is decorated with colours and patterns will vary from person to person, the aim of your bedroom should be to make it calm and disruption free. For example:
- Have a comfortable bed
- Use soft bedding
- Set the temperature to be cool yet comfortable (it is always best to be on the cooler side than the hotter side)
- Keep it dark, use heavy curtains or get yourself an eye mask to prevent light from interrupting your sleep
- Use calming scents such as lavender
Have a sleep schedule: following a schedule and sticking to it as best you can helps your brain and body get used to the amount of sleep that it needs:
- Try to set yourself a regular alarm time each morning
- Make your sleep is your priority, where you can avoid staying out late
- Keep any naps to a minimum, where you do need a nap keep it short
- Where you perhaps want to change your schedule, make sure you change it over a period of time rather than sudden change
Follow a bedtime routine: similar to the sleep schedule, following a bedtime routine can impact how easy you will be able to fall asleep. When we give ourselves the time to wind down it supports our body in knowing that it is coming to a time of rest:
- Find ways to relax such as; meditation, reading, breathwork
- Allow yourself a 30 minute window for winding down
- Create an environment away from bright lights, keep them dim
- Try to keep off electronical devices that generate blue light
- Stick to a consistent routine
Have healthy daily habits: having positive daily habits can help you be In Sync with your circadian rhythm and support you in getting a good sleep:
- Stay away from your bed unless it is for sleep (or sex!), this this helps our brain link the environment to going to sleep.
- Make sure you get exposure to natural light particularly first thing in the morning, this helps kick start our circadian rhythm.
- Move your body daily, we know regular exercise is good for us but it also impacts our quality of sleep.
- Limit your intake on caffeine, particularly in the afternoon and evening.
- The same for alcohol, drink it in moderation and avoid drinking it late in the evening
- Avoid eating late, just as our bodies rest when we sleep, so does our digestive system and when we eat late into the evening it doesn’t allow this to happen.
- Try supplements that can help promote good sleep such as magnesium or melatonin and take them an hour or so before bed.
When is Sleepiness a concern?
For some people improving their sleep hygiene or repaying sleep debt Isn’t the answer to the constant sleepiness. It is possible that you feel sleepy after a full night’s sleep because of a health condition.
There are various health conditions and sleep disorders which can make you feel excessively tired such as:
- Iron deficiency
- Depression and anxiety
- Heart disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Thyroid disorders
It is also possible that you may be deficient in certain nutrients, or you might be experiencing sleepiness as a side effect of a medication or a health condition already known to you.
For women, lifestyle changes such as; becoming pregnant, late pregnancy, menopause or at certain stages through your menstrual cycle, all cause problems with sleep.
If you feel that any of these may be something that you need further support with then you must contact your healthcare provider.
When it comes to sleep, most people can make lifestyle changes or habitual changes to improve the quality or amount that they have.
If you have never prioritized sleep or seen it as a huge part of your health, then it may well be that you have poor sleep hygiene and bad habits. These can be changed following the tips and information included in this article.
However, if you think that it could be a medical condition that is causing you excessive sleepiness then you should speak with your healthcare provider so that they can run tests and provide you with the appropriate help.