Life

Feeling tired all the time? This could be why we’re so exhausted at the moment

Do you keep finding yourself asleep on the sofa at 7pm? Are you spending most of your days in lockdown yawning and struggling to keep your eyes open? You’re not alone. We asked a sleep expert why we’re feeling so tired at the moment.

When I first started working from home, I thought I’d have plenty of extra energy to play with on a daily basis. Instead of getting up early and jumping on the train to work, my morning routine now consisted of a quick shower and a stroll down the stairs. I’d be able to get up much later, I reasoned – and with less social activities and events to take up my evenings, I’d probably be going to bed that little bit earlier, too. All that extra sleep would leave me feeling awake and refreshed, right? 

Fast forward two months later, and my dreams of waking up full of energy are far from reality. Despite getting more sleep, lockdown has, it seems, transformed me from a “always tired but functioning” human to someone who falls asleep on the sofa at 7pm. Forget the days when I dreamed about working out every day and making myself extravagant breakfasts – now, I’m lucky if I get up in time to brush my hair.

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I’m the first to admit I’m quite a sleepy person, but lockdown has revealed a whole other beast. Gone are the days when I spent my time complaining about being tired and yawning every once in a while: now, I’m asleep before I’ve even had the chance to moan.

I know I’m not the only one experiencing this. In our daily Stylist team conference calls, reports of falling asleep on the sofa and clock watching for an “acceptable” time to go to bed are common.

“I’ve been in bed by 9 or 9:30pm at the latest most nights – and even that’s a struggle,” explains Kayleigh Dray, Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. “We start looking at our watches around 7pm thinking it must be midnight, and then have to force ourselves to stay awake until we get to a decent bedtime.”

“I have always been an early riser, early to bed person but on a ‘normal’ day early to bed means 9.30/10pm,” says Alyss Bowen, Stylist’s social media editor. “However, on a quarantined day, let’s just say my bedtime has been pushed forward to 6.45pm (my new record) and my bed is now my sofa. Many self-isolation eves have seen me sit upright on my sofa and attempt to watch Tiger King, only to fail and wake up at 9.30pm because my boyfriend is attempting to transport me to bed. It’s safe to say doing nothing has absolutely exhausted me – and I have no idea why.”

Stylist digital writer Hollie Richardson also admits she’s been feeling extra sleepy at the moment: “I’ve been finding it really hard to sleep because of constant anxiety and distress, so if I found myself falling asleep on the couch in the early evening, I welcomed it (even though this wasn’t doing me any favours in the long run). As I’m living on my own at the moment, there’s something about listening to the quite ramblings of people on TV that rocked me into zzzs.

“But in recent days, I’ve found that I’m able to sleep easier – in fact I’ve been sleeping a lot more, in bed AND on the couch. It’s like my anxiety is going away and is being replaced by laziness.”

A woman asleep on the sofa
Our new bedtime routine looks a lot like this.

So why are we feeling so exhausted at the moment? It’s not like we really have any reason to feel this tired – after all, lockdown means we’re only allowed to leave our homes for essential reasons and once a day for exercise. So why is it that we’re all struggling to keep our eyes open way earlier than we’d like to admit?

“The main reason why inactivity makes us tired is because our muscles become under-utilised and our energy stagnates,” explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Silentnight’s sleep expert. “We might think we have no energy when we actually do – it’s in the form of potential (stored) energy rather than kinetic (movement) energy. The best thing to do is to avoid sitting and staring at screens for too long and get up and move regularly – even for just a few minutes. Do this every hour or so to keep your energy moving.”

It’s clear that doing one short burst of exercise after a day sat at our desks maybe isn’t the best way to go about things. Of course it’s great to incorporate an at-home workout or run into your daily routine, but it’s the little things – such as getting up to make a cup of tea or walking around your home – that can make a difference to our energy levels. 

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According to Dr Ramlakhan, a second reason why we might be feeling so sleepy is because we’ve entered a state of “hypnagogic trance”.

“Another reason for drifting off is because your body has fallen into a daytime sleep state called a hypnagogic trance,” she explains. “By slipping into a trance-like state the brain cleverly seeks ways of going ‘offline’ in order to empty our mental filing cabinets so that we can come back to the task at hand with renewed focus.

“Hypnagogic trances are more common if you have lots of exposure to screens. Working at home by ourselves, we may fall out of our routines and forget to get up from our desks as often as we would normally. To prevent these ‘sleepy’ trances from happening, you need to take regular screen breaks, make a drink or get some fresh air.”

Waking up later (because we no longer have to face our commute) and going to sleep earlier may also be exacerbating the problem: “Oversleeping can also cause fatigue – so-called ‘sleep inertia’,” Dr Ramlakhan adds. “Set an alarm and maybe keep your curtain’s open slightly to allow some light in as the sun rises – nature’s alarm clock.”

With this in mind, should we be holding off from our earlier-than-usual bed times? Falling asleep on the sofa may feel like a luxury we can afford at the moment, but could holding ourselves off until our ‘normal’ pre-quarantine bed time help us to feel more awake in the long run?

“I think it all depends on what your ‘normal’ bedtime is,” Dr Ramlakhan points out. “Obviously it is good to keep to a normal routine as it will help with the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.

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“However, there are certain sleep times that are more beneficial for a good night’s sleep. I aim for around 9pm – the first two hours of sleep we get are vital in rebalancing metabolism and reducing stress levels, and the precious hours before midnight (9-11pm) can help rebalance feelings of hopelessness, confusion and paranoia.”

If you’re feeling tired all the time, the routine changes recommended by Dr Ramlakhan are sure to make a difference – but even she says that it’s OK to go with the flow and not put too much pressure on your sleep at the moment.

“Don’t panic about following a rule book too much at the moment,” she says. “If you are resting, that is good – there’s time to try out what works for you.”

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