Why am I so tired all the time? All the reasons you could be feeling so exhausted when you wake up

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  • Do you often wake up, wondering 'why am I so tired?' - even after lots of sleep? We've listed some reasons why, along with some advice on how to stop feeling so tired all the time.

    Ever wake up in the morning and just think, why am I always so tired? Well, you’re not alone.

    It’s been discovered that actually 3 in 4 of us wake up feeling exhausted more often than not and women are more likely to suffer than men, with 60% of women left feeling tired all the time.

    Now as winter is closing in and the UK is on the verge of going into more sets of lockdowns, it’s thought that more of us than ever before will be suffering with our sleep over the next few months.

    According to the NHS, as adults we should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you’re struggling to get that amount without disturbance, then you could be left feeling groggy and sleepy during the day. However as many have found, even if you are getting the recommended amount, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll wake up feeling like it.

    We all know the damage a bad night’s sleep can have on us, but more of us than ever are struggling to find the cause of it as there there are a whole number of reasons why you might wake up feeling tired, from waking up too early in the morning to TV habits or even the food you’re eating.

    Check out these other common reasons why many of us are feeling so tired all the time and what to do about it…

    Why am I always tired?

    You could be waking up a lot in the night

    A lot of us wake up in the night so briefly that we can’t remember doing it, making us think we’ve slept right through but in the end, waking up more than five times a night can be the equivalent of losing an hour’s sleep. So while there might be plenty of reasons for waking up in the middle of the night, including the symptoms of menopause and insomnia, there are other more natural reasons like noises in the house or outside.

    So if you fit into the latter category, check out this simple technique used by registered nutritionist and army veteran, Rob Hobson.

    How to fall asleep in 2 minutes:

    Rob Hobson shared the following trick with us that has reportedly used by the US military in the past to get to sleep in difficult circumstances.

    “This technique is said to work for around 96 per cent of people after practising for around six weeks,” he said.

    • Relax the muscles in your face, such as tongue, jaw and around the eyes.
    • Drop shoulders as low as they will go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time.
    • Breathe out, relaxing your chest then legs, working downwards from the thighs to the feet.
    • Say ‘Don’t think, don’t think’ for 10 seconds to clear your mind.

    By setting a proper routine for yourself, it’s also possible that your body will adapt better to times when it should be asleep and awake so you’ll feel less tired. To do this, it’s important to fix your sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night, then wake up at the same time every morning.

    You could be too hot or too cold in bed

    If you’re too hot or too cold to get to sleep, this is going to affect the quality of the shut eye you do manage to get overnight. It’s also going to leave you feeling less than refreshed come the morning.

    “Getting a comfortable night’s sleep can be more challenging during the hottest months” says Thom Hemelryk founder of the Drowsy sleep company. “Increased temperatures make it harder for us to drift off and mean we toss and turn more than the usual. But then sleeping with the windows open also increases outside light and noises that can keep us up.”

    Thom says the key to how to sleep in the heat is all about regulating your body temperature, “Your body temperature naturally peaks in the evening and then drops when you are asleep. Even slight changes to your normal patterns can be disruptive. So, it’s important to be aware of your temperature patterns and prepare accordingly.”

    He suggests these 3 hacks for summer temperature control:
    • Invest in a good fan, it keeps the temperature down and blocks out external noise.
    • Sleep with a light cotton sheet instead of a quilt. If temperatures really soar, try rinsing it in water to keep you cool.
    • Don’t sleep naked as this could actually make you hotter.
    • Have your own bedding! In the winter it might be great to cuddle up to your partner to keep warm, but in the summer the heat from your two bodies can make you more uncomfortable. Regulate things by having separate bedding for both of you.

    A messy bed with duvet and pillows

    While keeping your bed cool or warm is vitally important for good sleep, it’s also a good idea to make sure that you keep your house cool to ensure proper temperature regulation.

    You need more of a balanced diet

    We know we harp on about the benefits of eating well but it’s really important to have a balanced diet. Eating foods with high antioxidant levels (also known as superfoods) are great for improving your immune system and will help stop you feeling run down and tired, and getting ill. Fruit and vegetables, dairy products, melons, berries, dark greens, whole grains, and meat are all superfoods. Try these healthy energy foods to give you a boost!

    Antioxidants are vitamins in your diet that can reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases and can give your immune system a boost. Also try to cut down your sugar intake. Eating a lot of sugar can actually make you more sleepy, as after the initial energy or ‘sugar high’ you’ll have a slump and feel tired. If you can’t resist your mid-afternoon craving, have a low-calorie hot chocolate or a few squares of dark chocolate instead.

    Lack of sleep could even be down to a nutritional deficiency according to nutritionist Kim Pearson.“Common deficiencies that can lead to tiredness include iron and vitamin d,” says Kim. “Opt for iron-rich foods such as spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas or grass-fed red meat, and take a daily vitamin d supplement. Vegans and vegetarians may lack iron and B12, two key nutrients for energy.

    “Vegans should take B12 and iron supplements, as well as vitamin D, while fussy eaters should consider a good quality multivitamin and mineral,” advises Kim.

    Additionally, a lack of magnesium could be to blame. “Low energy levels have been linked to low magnesium levels, as it’s needed to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for energy,” nutritionist Rick Hay explains. When magnesium levels are low, it’s harder to stay asleep too. So, up your intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and dark chocolate.

    You might need a new pillow or mattress

    A woman trying to sleep in a bed in a light room

    Credit: Getty

    Be honest, when was the last time you changed your mattress? It’s one of the most used items in your house but we can often ignore when it needs to be replaced – or scrimp on the cost when buying a new one.

    A new mattress should be purchased every 7-10 years. Before buying a new one, it’s important to understand your own preference and the different options available when you shop.

    Even if you go to bed early and think you’re sleeping through until morning your pillow could be undoing all this good work.

    The right pillow will support your neck and spine and prevent back pain. An old or uncomfortable pillow means that you’ll toss and turn all night which stops your body getting the rest it needs, making you feel tired.

    Pillow test: Place the middle of the pillow over your arm, if the sides hang down it’s time to buy a new one!

    Do you smoke or drink wine before bed?

    We often feel sleepy after drinking a lot of alcohol, so you’re fooled into thinking it aids sleep. Think again – our quality of sleep is affected after having a few drinks, and you’ll feel tired the next day. Similarly, smoking last thing at night can mean your quality of sleep suffers – even though you think you’ve had enough sleep. This is because like alcohol, nicotine is a stimulant.

    Tom Hemelryk explains, “Stimulants like alcohol, tobacco and heavy foods in the run up to bed will disrupt the chemical balance in your brain needed for restful sleep.”

    If you do smoke, try to have your last cigarette at least four hours before bedtime. Nicotine patches or chewing gum can also affect your sleep. It’s also best to avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol close to bedtime if you are feeling tired or having sleep problems.

    You might be watching too much TV before bed

    You’re tired, it’s been a long day, and you’re looking forward to some down time in front of the telly tonight. But did you know that the blue light the screen emits can stop your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone?

    Young woman holding TV remote

    It can also make your mind too active for bedtime. Rebecca Small, assistant medical director at Bupa says, “Television, laptop and computer games can all stimulate the mind and therefore can prevent a good night’s sleep. Reading, meditation and exercise such as yoga can have a relaxing affect, helping prepare your body for sleep.”

    Even having the light from street lamps come through your windows can disrupt your sleep, as the high-intensity LED light emits the same blue light as a screen, although it’s a smaller quantity. The American Medical Association have even issued a warning about street lights.

    “The blue light emitted from phones, laptops and TVs can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin by up to three hours,” says Dr Vishal Shah, medical director at Thriva.

    To avoid this blue light from screens, try limiting your TV watching and texting to an hour a night, and don’t let it be the last thing you do before you go to bed and don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping. It’s not a good idea to watch TV in bed, or anything else like sorting out bills, make shopping lists or arguing. Let your body recognise that when you get into bed it’s time for sleep.

    As for the street lights, make sure to use black-out curtains to ensure that no light creeps through!

    Do you suffer from heavy periods?

    If you regularly have heavy and painful periods you could also be suffering from a lack of iron, or anaemia. Not having enough iron in your blood can make you feel drowsy and sleepy. In the same way that being overweight makes it harder for your heart to work properly, not having enough iron can have a similar effect.

    You can also suffer from anaemia all month long, not just when you’re on your period. Try eating foods that have a lot of iron in them like liver, baked beans and curly kale or taking supplements. Talk to your doctor or health provider if you are concerned.

    Are you on medication?

    There are a lot of tablets and pills that can make you drowsy, like some antihistamines for example.

    Many of us don’t automatically link the two, even if it does say so in the side effects, so if you’re on medication this could be making you tired. Or it might be a mixture of tablets which on their own wouldn’t affect you but together they might.

    Have another look at the leaflets you get with tablets to check and if you’re worried have a chat with your doctor, who might be able to suggest a solution.

    Do you spend a lot of time indoors?

    If your day is made up of waking up, getting in the car, working in an office or staying at home all day and then going to bed, you probably don’t get enough fresh air or sunshine.

    Woman looking out of a window in her apartment at the view.

    Fresh air gives you a burst of oxygen and sunshine gives you vitamin D, both elements which boost your energy levels and wake you up. They also boost your immune system, so you’re less likely to get colds, bugs and other illnesses which make you feel run down.

    Try getting out of the office at lunchtime or taking the kids for a walk. When it’s warm enough open windows and doors too to let the air and sunshine go through your house.

    Do you do more than 30 minutes exercise a day?

    It might seem a bit backwards to suggest that the more exercise you do the less tired you’ll feel, but it’s true. Although you might feel a bit worn out after the exercise itself, raising your heart rate for 30 minutes a day releases feel good hormones which boost your energy and immune system.

    If you’ve ever noticed that you feel just as tired, if not more, when you’ve spent all day lazing about than if you’re busy, you’ll see that raising your heart rate does actually make it easier to stay awake. If you’re having an extra tired day, take it easy by going for a swim or a short walk. Any exercise is good exercise and the more you do the more you’ll feel like doing.

    “Fresh air and brisk walks are effective ways to boost your energy, as they get the heart pumping and increase your blood flow,” says Dr Roger Henderson.

    Do you have work or money worries?

    A tired man sitting at his desk at work wondering why am I always tired?

    Credit: Getty

    Overworked? It’s not new to us that worrying about our jobs and our finances makes us feel exhausted. But a study has confirmed that work and money worries can also cause sleep problems, saying that nearly 1 in 3 of us are having problems sleeping more than once a week. And those who took part said work and money worries were the biggest problem when it comes to nodding off.

    Try setting some time aside with your boss or manager to talk through your concerns if you’re stressed about work. If you’re feeling overworked or not supported, and they should be able to help you. Even a small step like this will make you feel like you are doing something about it and you’ll feel better.

    Are you sleeping too much?

    It’s easy to get distressed when you feel you’re not getting a good night’s sleep. This in turn can make it harder to get off to sleep. A vicious cycle!

    But what is a normal amount of sleep? And how much sleep do we actually need? The answer is that people vary greatly in their need for sleep. Many studies have shown that people range between needing 4 hours a night up to needing 10 hours or more.

    Also the amount of sleep a person needs varies throughout their life and as you get older you’ll need less sleep. So actually, you may be oversleeping, not under sleeping. If you’re sleeping too much, it can make you feel tired and out of sorts.

    Generally speaking, if you’re regularly sleeping for more than 9 hours night but still feeling tired and fatigued in the morning, that’s an indication you’re oversleeping.

    Aim to get the same amount of sleep every night if you can. That means going to bed at roughly the same time every night and waking up at the same time, kids permitting (even at weekends). This should help you regulate your body clock and you’ll start to notice that you feel less tired.

    Shot of a young woman sleeping with a mask on in bed

    Sleep expert James Wilson (aka The Sleep Geek) also recommends including natural light in your morning routine to help you feel more alert in the mornings:

    “Having natural light earlier in the day helps your body to understand it is now daytime. It will reduce your lethargy and improve your alertness. This can be done by getting outside earlier in the day and using a sunshine alarm clock which has a light that rises like the sun and pulls your body out of sleep.”

    Are you feeling unwell?

    At this time of year lots of us get ill or feel under the weather. Feeling unwell makes us feel tired as our immune system is weakened. If you feel a cold coming on, then it’s important to look after yourself and keep warm. Sometimes just a relaxing bath, plenty of liquids (thank goodness for Lemsip!) and some decongesting Olbas Oil can work wonders.

    Could there be an underlying health problem?

    Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and going through the menopause can all make you feel tired, fed up and sluggish as well as messing up your sleep pattern.

    People who have SAD need a lot of sunshine to boost their mood and energy levels, so much so that many buy light boxes to simulate sunshine during the winter. And if you suffer from depression or are struggling with the symptoms of the menopause there are natural ways you can boost your energy levels which will make you feel happier, more awake and help you cope with all that the menopause might throw at you!

    There are other health problems which can make you tired too. These include hypothyroidism, diabetes, high and low blood pressure and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Talk to your doctor or health provider if you are concerned.

    “If you’re feeling tired for longer than a couple of weeks, see your GP,” says Dr Shah.

    “As soon as you notice any change in your appetite, you feel pain, notice blood in your stools or urine, or are worried about any other symptoms, go and see your doctor.”

    Do you drink a lot of tea and coffee?

    A cup of coffee with sleep zzz's inside.

    Do you rely on tea breaks to get you through the day? Caffeine is a quick pick-me-up, but it can stay in your body for five to six hours.

    “This means any consumption in the afternoon and evenings will still affect your brain when you’re trying to sleep at night,” says Dr Alison Bentley.

    Ideally, you want to have your last cup at 3pm, but if you can’t, swap to green tea. “Green tea has caffeine but also l-theanine, which mutes the excess stimulating effect of caffeine,” says nutritionist Dana James. She also recommends avoiding non-organic drinks (ie teabags treated with pesticides, genetically modified organisms or synthetic fertilisers) to beat the afternoon slump. “Pesticide residue ends up in your coffee and that makes you feel tired,” she says. Instead of coffee, try these foods to keep you awake.

    Do you drink enough water?

    A woman looking out of the window drinking a glass of water

    Credit: Getty

    Make sure you drink plenty of water. If you’re feeling tired, you could be dehydrated. Drinking enough water will help flush the body of toxins and keeps you hydrated.

    There are loads of health benefits of drinking more water. Making you feel less tired is one of them.

    Drinking more water will boost your immune system and energy levels. This is because your body uses it as fuel to do everyday things.

    Drinking enough water also prevents headaches and mood swings. It’s particularly good for helping you digest the food you eat and helping your body break down fibre. If fibre builds up inside you it can make you bloated, lethargic and feel ‘heavy’. All of these things will make you sleepy.

    If you up your fibre intake you have to drink more water for it to pass through your system properly.

    Sleeping through the pandemic

    Since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, many of our sleeping schedules have been broken. A new study by Kings College London and Ipsos MORI found that significant numbers of people have experienced changes to their sleep patterns since lockdown was first announced in the UK on 23 March.

    The research showed that half the population has had more disturbed sleep than usual, while three in 10 people say they’ve slept for longer but feel less rested than they normally would.

    Professor Bobby Duffy, who is the director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London has outlined the negative effect that lockdown is having on our sleep. “Nearly two-thirds of the UK public report some negative impact on their sleep from the Covid-19 crisis, clearly showing just how unsettling the pandemic and lockdown measures have been for a very large proportion us.

    “And this is clearly tied to both how stressful we’ve found the virus itself, and how much we fear the impact of the lockdown on our employment and finances.”

    He says it’s actually young people who have experienced the biggest change to their sleep – both for positive and negative reasons. “They are more likely than older people to say they’ve experienced negative impacts on their sleep, but also more likely to say they’ve slept better. As with so much about Covid-19, the crisis is affecting people very differently depending on their circumstances, and that includes the most fundamental aspects of life, such as sleep.”

    One of the ways that our sleep has been impacted is with our dreams. In fact, picking out dream meanings during the pandemic has never been easier as hoards more people are experiencing strange dreams, relating to stress for the most part.

    “Our dreams stem from our daily reality, meaning when something scary happens, we are more likely to carry that anxiety into our dreams. And let’s face it: today’s world of don’t-go-anywhere-without-a-mask-and-social-distance-everything can be the reason you’re having unusual dreams.” People Who Sleep explain, “Our heightened anxiety (externally coping or not) and lack of activity we are currently facing will also likely affect our sleep quality and encourage weird dreams.”

    “Practising pre-bedtime relaxation techniques like guided sleep meditation can help keep anxiety-driven thoughts out of your sweet dreams.”