Why you are waking up tired (and what you can do about it)

Post by Open Colleges on August 6th, 2016

Do you envy those rare people who spring out of bed full of energy and ready to embrace the day? Or do you find yourself watching the clock at 10am wondering if three coffees in two hours is really all that bad for you? Perhaps you have to drag yourself through your day, tired, cranky and desperate for even a 15 minute nap? Do you wonder why you are waking up tired?

If you found yourself relating to any of these statements, then keep reading! Below we’ll examine why you may be spending so much of your time feeling tired and how you can fix the problem.

Find your perfect number

For the longest time we have been told that the optimum amount of sleep for every person is eight hours.

But lately the experts are coming around to the idea that sleep needs are individual. To be well rested, some people will need more sleep and some people will need less.

If you get too much or too little sleep for your individual needs, you will end up exhausted throughout the day.

Generally, most people will need between 7 and 9 hours sleep. But within that range, individuals need to work out what’s best for them.

Fix the problem

Test out how much sleep you need by playing around with the amount of hours that you are getting every night. Start with the smallest amount of recommended sleep hours, and work your way up to the highest.

Whichever number makes you feel the most rested, is your perfect sleep number!

Below you will find the latest U.S. National Sleep Foundation guidelines for optimal sleep hours.

  • Newborns 14 – 17 hours (over a 24 hour period)
  • Infants 12 – 15 hours (over a 24 hour period)
  • Toddlers 11 – 14 hours (over a 24 hour period)
  • Pre-preschoolers 10 – 14 hours
  • Kids (6 – 13 years) 9 – 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14 – 17 years) 8 – 10 hours
  • Young adults (18 – 25 years) 7 – 9 hours
  • Adults (25 – 64 years) 7 – 9 hours
  • Adults (65 years and older) 7 – 8 hours


Waking during deep sleep

Your sleep cycles have a massive impact on whether you wake up feeling refreshed, or whether you wake fatigued and dreading the day.

What is a sleep cycle?

Basically, a sleep cycle is a 90 minute cycle which starts with light sleep, moves into deep sleep, and then into REM sleep (which is when you dream), and then back out to light sleep.

You will go through this cycle four to five times every night when you sleep.

Waking up during the deep sleep or REM stages of your cycle can leave you fatigued all day. The best time to wake up is when you are in light sleep.

When you wake-up during the light sleep stage you feel more refreshed and energised.

Fix the problem

There are a lot of apps out there which can help you work out your sleep rhythms, and can wake you in the morning while you are in light sleep.

Two of these include:


Beat the jet-lag

Who doesn’t love a big sleep-in on the weekend? Especially if you didn’t get enough sleep during the week.

When you don’t get enough sleep for your individual needs, you go into what’s called “sleep debt”. What this means is that you owe your body rest. Over the course of a late-night week, you can end up with a really big sleep debt to pay your body back over the weekend.

But the problem with sleeping in is that it throws your sleep patterns out of whack. You sleep later, so you go to bed later. Then when Monday morning rolls around, you are out of routine and it takes a while to get back into sync.

When you change up your sleep and rising routine throughout the seven day week, you can experience jet-lag style symptoms of fatigue, mental fogginess and confusion.

Fix the problem

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, seven days a week. It doesn’t have to be on the minute, but just within the same hour.

If you have a sleep debt or are tired, try having a 20 minute afternoon nap, but don’t change your sleep times.

Close that mouth

If you wake up tired and with a dry mouth, terrible breath or drool on your pillow, the chances are that your fatigue may be caused by sleeping with your mouth open.

This mouth breathing may cause you to snore, gasp or snort during your sleep, and it depletes your oxygen supplies over the course of your sleep.

Low oxygen levels can lead to fatigue, as well as other medical problems.

Fix the problem

Try to train yourself to sleep breathing through your nose. You can do this in several ways:

  • Buy nasal strips from your local chemist and wear them at bed time.
  • Experiment with different sleeping positions until you find one where you can comfortably sleep with your mouth closed (if you sleep on your back, it’s more likely that you will sleep with your mouth open).

Mind your stomach

What you eat in the hours leading up to your sleep can have a huge effect on the quality of your sleep.

High sugar foods, alcohol and drinks with caffeine are serious sleep thieves, while spicy foods can wreak havoc on your digestion and keep you up at night.

Meanwhile, some people have their sleep disturbed by heartburn and indigestion and they may not even realise this is happening.

Fix the problem

Don’t eat three to four hours before you sleep. That way your digestive system is not hugely active, and you will have less chance of heartburn or indigestion disturbing your sleep.

Don’t eat a spicy or onion-filled meal for dinner if you are sensitive to these foods. They can keep you up and rob you of sweet sleep time.

Avoid sugar and caffeine several hours before bedtime.

While a glass of wine or spirits in the evening may make you drowsy, it’s not necessarily the best for good quality sleep. In fact, drinking alcohol before bedtime can make your sleep restless, and make you tired the next morning. So the solution is, don’t drink alcohol before bed.

Kick Snowball out

While it’s nice to have your dog or cat snuggled in the bed with you, the truth is, they may actually be disturbing your sleep.

Just like humans, animals have sleep patterns and cycles, and they won’t necessarily match up with yours. At 3am your cat may be swiping at you to wake you up for a game, whereas at 1am your dog may be shifting in her sleep and stealing the blankets.

You may not even be aware of the impact that they are having on your sleep, because they disturb, rather than fully wake you up.

Fix the problem

Try sleeping without your pet in the bed for a week or so and see if you wake up less tired in the mornings. If you find that you are not fatigued when you sleep without your pet in the bed, then it is likely that your fur baby is the reason for your fatigue.

You don’t have to kick your pet out of your bedroom altogether, you could make them their very own bed in your room – as long as they don’t sneak into yours during the night!

Light and dark

Our bodies and minds look for light and dark cues to help regulate sleep and waking hours. To sleep you need darkness and to wake you need light.

If your room is too light, or if you use laptops or watch TV right before bedtime, you are getting too many light signals and these are telling your brain that it’s not time to sleep.

Meanwhile, if your room is too dark in the morning, it is signalling to your brain that it is not time to wake-up and get going.

Fix the problem

Don’t use your phone, computer or TV in the hour before you go to bed. Have your bedroom dim before you go to sleep, and try to create a dark environment for when you drift off to sleep.

Invest in curtains that provide enough darkness to keep your bedroom dark during the night, but let in enough light so you wake to a lightened room.

If this is not possible, block out the light from your room in the evening, then as soon as you wake, open your curtains/blinds.

Don’t snooze

Hitting the snooze button may feel incredibly good in the morning, but it isn’t actually doing you any favours.

When you hit snooze, you have been woken up. Those minutes between when you go back to sleep and when the alarm goes off again, don’t actually give you any quality sleep.

Fix the problem

Instead of hitting snooze and getting a few minutes of interrupted sleep, set your alarm to go off later and get up when it goes off.

You will give yourself longer, good quality sleep, rather than shorter, broken sleep.

Get out of your bedroom

It is not a good sleep practice to use your bedroom as the entertainment and eating centre of your home.

Your brain picks up cues from your behaviour, so if you eat, watch TV and do work in bed, then your brain will associate bed with these things.

As you can imagine, this is not very helpful for your sleep and you may find it very hard to drift off.

Fix the problem

Keep your bedroom for sleep. Eat in the kitchen, watch television in your lounge-room, workout in your backyard.

If you need to wind-down before sleep, read a book in bed. Don’t take your laptop to bed, and don’t read your phone.

It may be more than meets the eye

If, using the above suggestions, you have changed your sleep patterns for at least two weeks, and you have not noticed any improvement in your fatigue levels, your issue may be a medical one.

There are a whole raft of medical conditions that can steal your sleep and make you tired. Often you won’t even know that there is something wrong, you will just feel the fatigue that they create.

Just some of the medical issues that cause fatigue and disrupt sleep include:

  • Anaemia
  • Asymptomatic heartburn
  • Nocturia
  • Teeth grinding
  • Restless legs
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Thyroid disease
  • Depression
  • Hormonal changes
  • Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Parasites
  • Lupis
  • Heart valve problems

If, after making healthy changes to your sleeping rituals, and you are still tired every day, it is best you visit your GP to see if any of the above conditions may be the cause.

Sleepy time

You don’t have to walk through your life exhausted, you don’t have to expect ‘tired’ as your normal. Correcting your sleep may take a bit of time, but the benefits that you are going to get from it are well worth the effort!

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