Why you feel sleepy even when you've enough sleep

You may think that you're having enough sleep, but your sleep patterns could be off.
PHOTO: AFP

Have you had that experience where you wake up feeling sluggish and lethargic, in spite of getting the full eight hours of sleep at night?

We've all been through it, especially on days when our plate is full with responsibilities.

There's nothing to worry about if you occasionally experience tiredness. But chronic drowsiness during the day might be an indicator that your sleep patterns or health is off-kilter.

Getting enough sleep every night

You're puzzled over why you still feel tired even when you meet your eight-hour sleep requirement.

While everyone considers the eight-hour requirement to be the golden rule in sleep, the truth is that it is more of a guideline.

Getting eight hours of sleep has been researched thoroughly and found to be the optimum number of sleep hours for many people.

However, the sleep needs of every individual is slightly different, and if you are one of those having trouble feeling good after a night of sleep, you might need some tweaking to tune into a sleep pattern that works well for you.

Your personal body clock can tell when you've had too much or too little sleep. It's important to pay attention to your internal clock when it tells you when to sleep and when to wake.

Let's take 7.5 hours of sleep as the benchmark for most people. In that time frame, individuals go through five sleep cycles that are 90 minutes each.

During the cycle, we alternate between regular sleep and deep sleep (also known as REM).

So, in order to fine-tune your internal clock, take the time that you need to wake up in the morning and count backwards 7.5 hours. That would be the time you should prepare to go to bed.

Waking up between deep sleep cycles is more ideal than waking up in the middle of the sleep cycle.

If you wake during non-REM sleep, you're more likely to feel alert and attentive as the day progresses.

But if you wake up in the middle of REM sleep, you will feel tired during the day.

Do a test. Try getting 7.5 hours of sleep for the next three days.

A good indicator that you've found the right bedtime is when you wake up five to 10 minutes before your alarm sounds.

However, if you sleep on until your alarm goes off, move your bedtime up by 15 minutes until you reach the right time for bed.

Be consistent: once you find a rhythm that works, stick to it. You will be much more attentive during that day, and as a result, much more plugged into your life.

Improving sleep habits

We all need some getting used to sleeping earlier, especially if you enjoy being awake at night. There are a few things you can do to adjust to a new sleep time.

No electronic devices - Artificial blue light from the screens of devices like a phone or tablet can send messages to your brain that tells it to stay awake because the light is associated with daytime. This may interrupt your circadian rhythm, resulting in lower sleep quality.

Keep the light and noise out of your room - Does your bedroom feel like there might be too much light or sound distractions?

Turn all the lights out before heading to bed, or just leave a dim night light in one corner of your room. Turn off the television, radio or mp3 player instead of leaving it on through the night.

Use 'white noise' - Putting on music might appear to help lull you to sleep, but it's quite likely to be causing you uneasy sleep.

If this has been a long-term habit, programme it so that your player turns off automatically not long after you fall asleep.

Another option that actually works better is something called white noise, which is a consistent, background sound that could be emitting from a fan, or a special white noise machine that can drown out other random sounds and help you relax.

Caffeine does not help with sleep - While common wisdom states that caffeine is bad for sleep, many of us still indulge in caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime.

It acts as a stimulant and will cause you to be wide awake at a time when you should be winding down for the day.

Stay away from drinking caffeinated drinks four hours before bed if you want to be on track with your sleep pattern.

Sleep with a healthier lifestyle

Diet and exercise can go a long way towards helping you get better rest at night and being more alert during the day.

Balancing healthy eating choices with routine exercise can dramatically affect the way you perform throughout the day.

Sugar and caffeine might provide the effect of an energy boost, but the crash or drop in energy is drastic and lasts longer than the initial energy boost.

Fatty foods and processed carbs have also been connected to sleepiness during the day. Such foods are filling, but processed carbs do not have adequate minerals and vitamins to fuel your body with the right nutrition.

Late night spicy foods are well-known for being the cause of heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux. Do not lie down if you have heartburn, as acids creep into the oesophagus and create problems for the stomach lining.

Wholegrain, nutrient-rich foods boost your daily energy levels. Such foods can help you feel more alert.

You should consume foods that are high in antioxidants, amino acids, proteins and vitamins. Some examples of nutrient-rich foods are leafy greens, wholegrains, tree nuts, lean meats, eggs and fruits.

Regular exercise can really help your body adjust to a good sleep pattern and eliminate sleep fatigue.

Working out for about 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week, promotes the production of endorphins, a "happy" hormone that will improve your overall mood.

Signs of a sleep disorder

Following the guidelines that we discussed, along with a healthier diet and activity level, increases your chances of getting better quality sleep.

But if you still experience daytime drowsiness, it could be a symptom of a more serious disorder, like sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, depression, restless leg syndrome, anaemia, undiagnosed heart disease, thyroid problems, hormone imbalance, or even deficiencies in key nutrients.

If you think you might be experiencing something more than poor sleep, do visit your doctor for a discussion and for a comprehensive investigation, including testing your blood for your ageing hormone profile and key nutrients.

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