Your alarm clock goes off after a seemingly decent night of sleep and you reluctantly leave the comfy confines of your bed to tackle the day. But even after you’ve had your cup of coffee and settled into your morning routine, you somehow feel utterly exhausted. Again. What gives?
“If you wake up from a full night’s rest feeling groggy, anxious, depressed, moody or unable to concentrate, your sleep environment and habits may be to blame,” says certified health coach, Beth Krumbein. “But, in some cases, there may be an underlying reason why you feel tired all the time.” Fortunately, she adds, simple shifts can make all the difference in promoting better sleep.
Here, we’ve outlined the most common reasons why you can’t seem to shake the grog. Better yet, we’re equipping you with the expert advice to make whatever changes are necessary for sound sleep.
The Reason: Your schedule is all over the place
Your circadian rhythm — aka your internal clock — craves consistency. “If your schedule is all over the place, it doesn’t know where to start and stop,” says Thanuja Hamilton, MD, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist. For example, she explains that if you stay up late on Friday and Saturday night, you might get insomnia come Sunday night (aka the Sunday Scaries).
To remedy the issue, keep your bedtime and wake time as consistent as possible – even on the weekend – and try to avoid straying from your schedule by more than an hour. “You set a morning alarm so you won’t be late to work, but you may want to set a bedtime alarm, too,” Dr. Hamilton suggest. “Do it thirty minutes before your usual bedtime so it triggers your nighttime ritual and reminds you to turn off all electronics, since the blue wavelength light they emit can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.”
The Reason: Your late-night snack is disrupting your sleep
While a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s sounds like the perfect nightcap, what you eat could be messing with your ability to get good sleep. And that late-night dinner with friends? Also a recipe for next-day grog. “Eating large meals or fatty snacks before bed can cause indigestion and nightmares,” says Dr. Hamilton. She adds, “Drinking alcohol before bed might help you fall asleep, but can wake you up as [your body] processes it. Plus, it has diuretic properties causing increased urination at night.”
Addressing this is really a matter of resetting eating habits. It’s not the end of the world to indulge in that hearty lasagna and red wine, but it’s best to do so earlier in the evening. “Avoid eating dinner or drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime," says Dr. Hamilton, adding, “We really need the most fuel during the day, so make breakfast your big meal." If you still crave a late-night snack, try tart cherries or kiwi, which have sleep-promoting properties, she says.
The Reason: You are relying on coffee to fuel your day
By now, you know that too much coffee can sabotage your sleep. Caffeine, the stimulant found in coffee beans, works by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. Once consumed, it persists in the body for several hours, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, it takes up to six hours for one half of the caffeine consumed to be eliminated.
That's why Dr. Hamilton says it’s best to avoid caffeine (including coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda) within six hours of bedtime. Try swapping out your afternoon caffeine fix for a protein smoothie, which can help boost your energy levels, or a calming herbal tea, like chamomile or valerian, to help you focus. Also key? Up your water intake to avoid fatigue caused by dehydration.
The Reason: You have a food intolerance
While your pre-bedtime diet matters, it’s also important to pay attention to the way your body reacts to the food you eat throughout the day. “If you are experiencing fatigue or mysterious symptoms, often cutting out common irritants like gluten or dairy can be absolutely life changing,” says Krumbein.
In addition to gluten and dairy, other common food intolerances are processed foods, soy, alcohol, added sugars, and legumes. “Testing for food intolerances or doing an elimination diet can be helpful in this navigating this process,” Krumbein advises. Aside from fatigue, signs that your body is reacting negatively to food include foggy brain, inconsistent bowel movements, migraines and headaches, bloating, stomach pains, and even feeling like you have a cold.
The Reason: Your sleep environment is no good
If you feel like you’re doing everything right but still feel tired all the time, the culprit could be your bedroom. This can range from high levels of allergens in the air that make it harder to breath to subpar bedding you can’t fully relax in.
To combat allergens in your bedroom, wash your bedding, sweep your floors, and dust all surfaces at least once a week. You may also want to consider investing in an air purifier and dust mite cover. If you suspect your actual bed is the culprit, start saving for an upgrade. Mattresses should be replaced once every eight years; standard polyester pillows should be replaced every six months and memory foam pillows should be replaced after two years.
The reason: You have a sleep disorder
There are a number of sleep disorders, ranging from restless leg syndrome to sleep apnea to parasomnias, that result in daytime sleepiness. If your partner is constantly nudging you over your snoring or loud breathing, that could be a sign of sleep apnea, while other behaviors such as night terrors, startled arousal, and sleep walking point to parasomnias. “If you wake up with headaches and jaw pain, it could be a sign that you’re grinding your teeth at night,” adds Dr. Hamilton.
Bring up any unusual behaviors with your doctor, who will likely start with a home sleep test to help you recognize your symptoms and better manage your condition. Most sleep disorders can be treated by making lifestyle changes, such as exercising more, managing stress or quitting smoking, but in some cases, serious treatments or surgeries are necessary. In the meantime, try taking a warm bath or giving yourself a facial massage before bedtime to help relax.
The Reason: There’s an underlying medical issue at play
If you can’t pinpoint the cause of ongoing fatigue, it’s possible that there’s an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. The best way to figure this out is to speak with your doctor, who can assess your symptoms and run the right tests. It might be something as straightforward as a deficiency — vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, folate, and magnesium deficiencies are common causes for fatigue — or a thyroid issue.
Krumbein notes, “A decrease in thyroid hormone production is a common cause of fatigue and can be frustrating to uncover. Depression and unexplained weight gain are also signs that your thyroid may need some extra love.” Other underlying medical triggers include Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, mononucleosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety and depression. Your doctor is your BFF as you navigate potential issues.