Here are 10 reasons why you feel sleepy, plus how to fix them.
If you’re regularly exhausted by mid-afternoon, you’re not getting enough sleep, according to John Garcia, MD, a sleep specialist at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minn. Lack of sleep can be dangerous: Tired people are more likely to have car accidents, and chronic tiredness can increase your chances of developing diabetes and hypertension. Surprisingly, you may be sabotaging your own efforts to get some rest. Here’s how to recognize the most common sleep thieves.
Caffeine Too Close to Bedtime
Caffeinated beverages like coffee can perk you up — though only temporarily — by blocking body chemicals that induce sleep and increasing the production of adrenaline. However, caffeine stays in the body for up to 12 hours and can cause insomnia. To avoid this effect, Dr. Garcia advises cutting caffeine out of your diet. “There’s no evidence that any amount of caffeine is good for you,” he says. If you’re a coffee addict, try switching to decaf (which still has some caffeine) or stopping as soon as the clock hits noon.
This disorder, which causes people to momentarily stop breathing during sleep, can disrupt deep sleep, resulting in a tired feeling the next day. Sleep apnea commonly occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked during sleep, called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and can result in loud snoring. If your partner tells you that you have a snoring problem, consult your doctor. For people with OSA, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may be prescribed to prevent the airway from becoming blocked.
Drinking a glass of wine may seem like a good way to get sleepy, but it can actually increase the number of times you wake overnight. Alcohol can also shorten your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the portion of sleep that is most restful. To get the deep sleep you need, don’t drink alcoholic beverages late in the evening.
Making Your Bedroom Your Office
Using your bed as a place to work or eat can cause you to associate it with these tasks, ultimately leading to sleeplessness. That’s when a treatment called “sleep restriction” can be helpful. “You cut out all those activities, and then re-associate the bed with sleep,” Garcia says. “It’s one of the most effective treatments for insomnia.” (Sex is the only other acceptable use for your bed.)
Reading interesting content on the Web or watching an engaging TV program right before bed can keep you awake by stimulating your mind. Even the bright light emitted from the television or computer can wreak havoc with your sleep. Turn off your electronics a couple of hours before bed to ensure they don’t ruin your rest. Give your brain a chance to wind down from the day.
Parents know all too well the effect a wakeful child can have on their sleep. Habits like frequent nighttime nursing and allowing your child to sleep in your bed can shortchange your own rest, Garcia says. To keep the little ones in bed, Garcia suggests putting children to bed drowsy but not asleep, so they learn to fall asleep on their own. If your children are having trouble sleeping well, consult your pediatrician.
Other Health Problems
Conditions like anxiety and allergies can also cause insomnia or lessen sleep quality. Treating the root problem is often the best way to take care of sleep difficulties, Garcia says. Anxiety can often be treated with prescription selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Treatment for allergies depends on the source of the allergic reaction. Talk to your allergist if your allergy symptoms are affecting your sleep.
Working the Night Shift
If you have a job that requires you to work overnight, you may not be getting the deep sleep that you need because the body tends to sleep more lightly during daytime hours. Barring a job change, try mimicking nighttime conditions while you sleep by making your room as dark and quiet as possible and using eye masks and ear plugs. Also, try to keep the same overnight schedule on your days off.
Sleeping In on Weekends
After a week of shortchanging yourself on sleep, taking a 12-hour snooze on the weekend may seem like the perfect antidote. But sleeping in can throw off your sleep-wake cycle, causing you to stay up until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday and Sunday nights, which means you’re tired all over again on Monday. For maximum restfulness, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Getting your exercise in the morning or early afternoon will help you sleep better at night, while working out close to bedtime may keep you awake because of the rise in body temperature that it causes. (Cooler body temps help you feel sleepier.) To avoid exercise-induced insomnia, finish up your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
Jennifer Acosta Scott