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Published on March 15, 2022

Why Am I Too Tired To Sleep (And What To Do)?

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Why Am I Too Tired To Sleep (And What To Do)?

Do you struggle to keep awake during the day, and no amount of coffee can keep you alert and focused on your daily tasks at home or in the workplace? But then when it’s time to sleep at night, you find it tough to doze off to sleep.

You may have experienced this—times when you are extremely fatigued, but you’re not ready to sleep at all. And when you try to sleep, it evades you furthermore. These are times when you are too tired to sleep.

I have some feasible solutions for you in this article as I discuss the importance of sleep and why you can’t sleep even when you’re feeling tired.

Why Am I Too Tired To Sleep?

Instead of reaching for sleeping pills, which might be a tempting quick-fix solution, identify the reasons why you’re unable to sleep despite feeling tired first.

Once you identify the causes, you can take the steps to help you catch quality and adequate sleep each night. If you’re extremely tired and yet cannot sleep, then it could be a symptom of a sleep disorder or a combination of several causes.

Let’s explore the reasons why you may be too tired to sleep.

1. Overtiredness

Overtiredness leading to sleeplessness is a vicious cycle that drains you physically and mentally. You force your body to get habituated to working on lesser and lesser amounts of sleep.

It doesn’t help that we live in an overstimulated digital world. When we cross that healthy level of tiredness, we are unable to switch off and seem to derive a false sense of stimulated energy to keep going. Whether it’s drinking coffee or catching up on a web series late at night, we are unable to call it a night and go to sleep during normal sleeping time.

We live in an “always-on” mode with little to nil breaks, and it has affected our sleep patterns. We might think that we are multitasking and doing a lot of work, but it’s adding more strain to our brains.

So, when it’s actually time to sleep, our brain goes into survival mode and ramps up the adrenaline to make us look for further stimulation instead of winding down and going to sleep.

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If your mind races through the happenings of the day, past, and future events instead of sleeping, it could be a sign of overtiredness. As is when you’re finding it hard to focus on your daily tasks during the day or reaching out for comfort foods to get you through the day without being restless or irritable.

Overtiredness could also be a sign of anxiety and depression, leading to heightened arousal and sleeplessness.[1] According to a study, 90% of people with depression have reported experiencing poor sleep quality.[2] Depression can also affect your circadian rhythms.

2. Poor Lifestyle Habits

Your lifestyle could also be a cause of tiredness and sleeplessness.

If you are an addict to any stimulant like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, it could affect your sleep quality.[3]

Caffeine and nicotine can stay in your body for several hours after consumption, and various research studies have proven how it disturbs your sleep patterns and can make you feel tired.

It’s also a misconception that drinking alcohol like wine or beer aids sleep. The sedative nature of alcohol can help you catch sleep faster. But it affects your sleep quality, especially deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, thus keeping you always in the lighter phases of the sleep cycle. You wake up feeling tired during the day and having poor quality sleep at night.

Apart from fragmented sleep, consuming alcohol to induce sleep can put you at risk for chronic insomnia or other serious sleep issues.

While exercising can help you sleep better, overexercising or high-intensity workouts before bedtime can have the opposite effect.[4]

Checking your phone frequently during the day or working for too long hours on the computer can make you overtired and overstimulated.

You may also want to check your diet, as some foods can cause tiredness, leading to a state of unrest and sleeplessness.[5] For example, a carbohydrate-rich diet may cause insomnia.

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3. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder

Another likely causes that you find it difficult to fall asleep despite being tired is that your circadian rhythm may be off.

The circadian rhythm is your internal timekeeper for everything that your body does within a 24-hour window period. This system uses a combination of factors such as light, darkness, and your biological clock to regulate your metabolism, body temperature, hormones (including melatonin), and sleep.[6]

Your body’s master clock, called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which is located in the brain, controls melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep. When it’s daytime and there’s ample light, melatonin levels are low. As it grows darker, your body produces more melatonin, with the levels peaking between 2 AM and 4 AM before dipping again. Your body is best wired to fall asleep two hours after the melatonin levels rise.

If you’re unable to fall asleep despite tiredness, then your circadian rhythm may be off. It could be a case of delayed sleep phase syndrome.[7] The normal sleeping window time is 10 PM to 12 AM. But if you sleep two or more hours later than the normal window period regularly, it could affect your sleeping patterns in the short term (acute) or long term (chronic).

How Do I Get Back to Sleep?

If you have trouble sleeping or are often too tired to sleep, here are some tips that could help you:

1. Prioritize and Focus on Sleep First

We value sleep only in our babies, toddlers, and children. We are insistent on maintaining a proper sleep schedule for them as we link sleep to their physical growth and academic performance.

The fact is that sleep remains just as important for us adults, too. Few of us consider our sleep hygiene and patterns for improving our overall health and productivity when we really should give it a serious thought and its due importance.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS), adults need at least seven or more hours of sleep each night to get the highest level of optimal health.[8] However, most people are not sleeping enough.[9]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not getting meaningful, restful sleep regularly puts you at a high risk of the following conditions:[10]

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Obesity

Sleep is critical for our brains and bodies to function properly. It directly affects our memory, learning, cognitive, and physiological functions.[11]

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In a noisy digital world, we are all reduced to hyperactive toddlers irrespective of age. The key is to go back in time and inculcate a slow lifestyle.

While it’s not entirely possible given the technological world we live in, we can surely shift our mindset for optimal health.

In an overambitious world, we have reversed the “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid. We’ve made self-actualization goals such as happiness and multiplying our talents at the top of the pyramid as our broad basic goals and give our basic goals the least preference. While we can’t get away without having food, shelter, and clothing, we seem to have sacrificed sleep to pursue our self-actualization goals.

When we give sleep its due importance, we will realize that unless we spend enough time on the broader primal needs of humankind, such as food and sleep, we cannot truly live at our optimal best in all areas of our life.

2. Inculcate Slow Living

We are attuned to working for long hours, sometimes without having balanced meals, sufficient water, sleep, and even proper breaks during the day.

It’s when you feel the most rushed that you should take a break from your work. An afternoon nap for 20-30 minutes is more energizing than browsing on social media.[12] A quick run up and down the stairs is more stimulating than a cup of coffee.[13]

Schedule built-in downtimes in your daily routine so you don’t feel overtired and restless at night, leading to sleeplessness.

Sneak in leisure time without the temptation of doing multiple things at once to maximize your time. Sometimes, doing nothing, sitting still, or meditating can be relaxing and calming to your nerves.

Think about it! We have all the best tools to aid sleep, from ergonomic mattresses to pillows and other sleep mechanics, but we cannot wind down as a collective and sleep peacefully.

So, it’s how you schedule your day by taking proactive measures for downtime that can help you catch quality sleep at night.

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3. Make Smart Lifestyle Choices

Simple lifestyle changes may be all that you need to get your sleep back on track. Some of these changes are:[14]

  • Limit screen time, especially before bedtime as the blue light from these devices decreases melatonin and interferes with sleep.
  • Have a proper sleep schedule where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Schedule time for regular exercise daily preferably in the morning and afternoon.
  • Have a balanced diet and drink sufficient water daily.
  • Don’t have heavy meals before bedtime.
  • Have a wind-down routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading, or meditating before going to bed.
  • Limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption and also consume several hours before bedtime. It’s best to avoid it completely though or go on regular detox breaks from the habit.

If you’re anxious about the next day’s happenings, take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything will be okay and you can worry about it tomorrow. Now it’s time to let go and have a good night’s sleep.

If it helps relieve your anxious mind, then journal or make a plan for the next day before you sleep.

4. Consult Your Doctor

Sometimes you may have a chronic sleep disorder, and you can only find solutions by consulting your doctor.[15]

If you’re unable to sleep despite implementing the above-suggested tips, the problem could be more severe, such as a chronic health condition, stress, depression, sleep disorder, or a combination of several causes.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may suggest a few simple solutions, prescribe medications, or ask for further evaluations and tests to know the underlying cause of your sleep problem.

Make Sleep Your Topmost Priority

If you can make one simple change for the year, make it “sleep better.” There’s tremendous wisdom in the adage, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

If you’ve fallen back on your sleep routine in the last few months or years, it’s time to take action and get back into your natural sleep rhythms.

Featured photo credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Arun Villivalam

General Practitioner and Primary Care Doctor

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