Quality of sleep is important but there are so many other lifestyle factors that might be causing you to feel tired all the time. Here, an expert explains the most common issues and what to do about them.
Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.
Feeling tired can have a huge effect on your quality of life life. It can dictate your mood, how well you perform at work, your ability to exercise and do all of the other things that you enjoy too. If you’ve exhausted every pillow spray, white noise playlist and lavender candle out there, perhaps it’s time to consider whether you’re really getting what you need out of sleep.
Research shows that the average British person spends seven-and-a-half years of their life feeling tired, which is more than 20 hours per week. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that even more people are struggling with their sleep and studies show that women now have more trouble getting to sleep each night than men.
You may also like
8 easy ways to start sleeping better, according to science
“Sleep is very personal,” says Dr Lindsay Browning, a chartered psychologist, sleep expert and the founder of Trouble Sleeping. “We’re often told that we need eight hours but that isn’t true for a lot of people – many people will need much more or much less than that.”
One of the most reasons people feel tired is that they’re not getting enough sleep so figuring out how much you really need is essential. But your tiredness might also be down to a number of other lifestyle factors.
Here, Dr Browning outlines eight common reasons that might explain why you feel tired and how to deal with them.
1. You’re not getting the right amount of sleep
According to Dr Browning, most people need between seven and nine hours sleep each night, although a small percentage of people will need more or less than this. “If you’re not getting the amount of sleep you need, you’re going to be sleep-deprived,” says Dr Browning.
In order to figure out if you’re getting the right amount of sleep, Dr Browning recommends taking note of how you feel around 15-20 minutes after waking up. “If you’re getting between seven and nine hours and you feel refreshed after you wake up and as though you have enough energy throughout the day, then that’s the right amount of sleep for you,” she advises. You can trial different amounts of sleep to see which quantity allows you to feel most refreshed.
However, the way you feel when you first wake up is not a good indicator of whether you have slept well or if you’ve gotten enough sleep, Dr Browning stresses. “This is all dependent on which point during your sleep cycle you’ve woken up,” she explains, which shouldn’t affect your sleep quality or tiredness levels in the long term.
If you’re getting significantly less than seven hours sleep or significantly more than nine hours sleep each night, Dr Browning suggests making sure that this amount is actually right for you and trialling getting between seven and nine hours sleep to see how you feel. “If you do need 10-11 hours sleep, maybe there is something else going on like bad sleep quality or a health issue,” she says. “And if you’re getting a lot less than seven hours sleep, look at your lifestyle and make sure that you’re not just running on adrenaline.”
2. Your lifestyle doesn’t suit your chronotype
“Strictly speaking, the hours of the day in which you sleep don’t really matter,” Dr Browning says, explaining that our bodies are able to adapt to different time zones fairly easily so, as long as you’re sleep pattern is consistent, the hours which it takes place are not that important.
However, your chronotype may be having an effect on your sleep. Your chronotype dictates whether you are a lark (someone who tends to prefer going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier) or an owl (people who tend to get more alert as the day goes and want to go to bed later and wake up later).
Unfortunately, lifestyle factors, like work and family commitments, often mean you can’t be guided by your chronotype as much as you’d like to be. “The most beneficial thing you can do, in this case, is have a regular bedtime and a regular wake time,” Dr Browning says, adding that larks and owls tend to change their sleeping routines significantly on the weekends which can make them feel more tired during the week.
3. You’re not getting outside enough
“Exposure to daylight is really important for our circadian rhythm,” Dr Browning says, adding, “when we see the sun, it helps our brain know what time it is.”
Particularly with the pandemic and various lockdown restrictions, a lot of people aren’t getting out the house enough, which could be affecting how tired you feel. “Sitting by a window is good but getting outside is far more effective – try and get outside every day for a walk,” Dr Browning recommends.
4. You’re consuming too much caffeine
It’s probably not what you want to hear but drinking too much caffeine can negatively impact your sleep and cause you to feel more tired during the day. “You’ll also have regular dips that will make you feel extra sluggish when caffeine wears off,” Dr Browning says.
You don’t have to cut out caffeine altogether but Dr Browning recommends not drinking it after 3pm apart from in exceptional circumstances and, also, that you significantly reduce your intake to see if this helps you feel more energised.
5. You’re not getting what you need from your diet
Diet has a huge effect on sleep and what you’re eating could be making you feel more tired. “Things like low iron levels and vitamin D deficiencies can cause tiredness,” Dr Browning says, explaining that it’s a good idea to get tested for deficiencies if you think you’re getting enough sleep but you still feel tired.
“Eating less fatty, starchy foods can help generally,” Dr Browning says, explaining that a balanced diet that suits you is one of the things that will boost your energy the most. “Foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat, especially those that are processed, tend to make you feel sluggish,” she adds.
6. You’re not exercising enough
“You might think exercise would make you feel more tired but, actually, it helps to increase your stamina and makes you feel healthier and happier,” Dr Browning says.
Implementing a regular exercise routine will help you feel more energised which will improve your sleep quality and the release of endorphins will also help, generally, with energy levels.
7. You’re struggling with your mental health
People struggling with their mental health often feel tired and exhausted, according to Dr Browning. “You might not have a lot of motivation to be awake, which might make you feel sluggish and sleepy,” she explains.
“Emotional health is really important so you need to make sure you’re feeling okay mentally and, if you’re not, speak to a professional,” Dr Browning recommends.
8. You have an undiagnosed health issue that is affecting your sleep
If your tiredness is severe and none of the above explanations feel relevant for you, you may be struggling with a sleep-specific health issue. There are many health issues that are specific to sleep, like sleep apnea and chronic fatigue, and if you’re concerned, your first port of call should be to visit your GP.
Long Covid has also been known to cause increased tiredness, so if you have been diagnosed with Covid-19 at any point since the pandemic began, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about how this might have impacted your tiredness levels, Dr Browning advises.
Dr Lindsay Browning
Dr Lindsay Browning, a chartered psychologist, neuroscientist, author and sleep expert. She is the founder of Trouble Sleeping and she has written a book, Navigating Sleeplessness: How to Sleep Deeper and Better for Longer (A Mental Health Handbook).
Images: Getty and Dr Lindsay Browning