We all know the feeling. You wake up after a seemingly perfect night’s sleep, yet somehow, you still feel exhausted.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. We dive into the psychological and scientific reasons behind this phenomenon and explore the research that helps us understand why we sometimes feel tired despite a full night’s rest.
Sleep Quality Matters More Than Quantity
Although you might think that getting eight hours of sleep is enough, research shows that sleep quality matters more. A study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that sleep quality significantly impacts our mood and cognitive performance. Factors affecting sleep quality include sleep efficiency, sleep architecture, and sleep continuity.
Our sleep cycles consist of four stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and three non-REM stages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, we need to cycle through these stages multiple times per night for optimal rest. If our sleep is fragmented, we might not experience the restorative benefits of deep sleep.
What is a sleep disorder?
We spoke with Clinical Psychologist and Juris Doctor student, Novie Duquilla, who shared some insights into sleep disorders.
Sleep disorders are now categorized as sleep-wake disorders. Currently, there are ten types of sleep-wake disorders under the DSM 5-TR. To name a few: insomnia disorder, hypersomnolence disorder, narcolepsy, and nightmare disorder. The most common is insomnia disorder, which is marked by difficulty initiating sleep or maintaining sleep, or early-morning awakening with difficulty going back to sleep for at least 3 nights per week for a minimum period of 3 months.
Environmental Factors Affect Sleep
Even if you get a full night’s rest, your environment might be impacting your sleep quality. The Journal of Sleep Research indicates that factors such as room temperature, noise, and light can influence how well we sleep. An overly warm or cold room can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
In addition, exposure to artificial light before bedtime can interfere with our circadian rhythm. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that exposure to blue light from electronic devices can suppress melatonin production, delaying sleep onset and causing poor sleep quality.
Sleep Disorders Can Cause Fatigue
There are various sleep disorders that can lead to persistent tiredness despite getting enough sleep. Sleep apnea, a condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, can fragment your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. A study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that sleep apnea affects up to 14% of men and 5% of women.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), another sleep disorder, causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs, leading to an irresistible urge to move them. Research published in Sleep Medicine found that RLS impacts around 5-10% of the population, causing disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue.
If you suspect a sleep disorder might be causing your tiredness, consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and appropriate treatment. Novie Duquilla offered further insights on how individuals can differentiate between normal tiredness and a potential sleep disorder that requires medical attention:
With normal tiredness, the person usually recovers after resting. The cause of tiredness is also evident. Normal tiredness doesn’t cause significant distress or dysfunction to the person. On the other hand, a potential sleep disorder causes significant distress or dysfunction to the person. This refers to feelings of frustration or the inability to cope with day-to-day responsibilities due to sleep problems. With a sleep disorder, causes vary from biological, psychological, to environmental reasons. Referral to a specialist for further assessment and treatment is necessary when the person is already experiencing significant distress or dysfunction.
Lifestyle Factors Impact Sleep Quality
Several lifestyle factors can impact sleep quality, including diet, exercise, and stress. Consuming caffeine, alcohol, or heavy meals too close to bedtime can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Research published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that caffeine consumption within six hours of bedtime can significantly reduce sleep quality.
Exercise has a direct impact on sleep quality, with the National Sleep Foundation noting that regular physical activity can improve sleep quality and duration. However, exercising too close to bedtime can stimulate the body, making it difficult to fall asleep. Chronic stress can also interfere with sleep quality. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that high levels of stress can lead to sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
Practising Good Sleep Hygiene
To improve sleep quality and combat daytime tiredness, practice good sleep hygiene, as recommended by Novie Duquilla, Clinical Psychologist and Juris Doctor student. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and make your sleep environment comfortable and conducive to rest. The Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet for optimal sleep.
Limit your exposure to screens and blue light before bedtime. Consider using a blue light filter on your devices or wearing blue light-blocking glasses in the evening. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Manage stress through mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation can help improve sleep quality by reducing insomnia, fatigue, and depression symptoms.
Incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine, but try to schedule it earlier in the day. The National Sleep Foundation suggests finishing any vigorous exercise at least three hours before bedtime to allow your body time to wind down.
Feeling tired despite a full night’s rest can be frustrating, but by understanding the psychological and scientific factors at play, you can take steps to improve your sleep quality.
Pay attention to your sleep environment, address any potential sleep disorders, and adjust your lifestyle habits to promote better rest. Remember that achieving quality sleep is an ongoing process that requires patience and consistency. By practicing good sleep hygiene and making necessary changes, you can pave the way for more restful nights and more energetic days.