Struggling to sleep? Your circadian rhythm could be to blame
If you suffer from the dreaded 3pm slump, listen up
Ever wake up after a full eight hours of sleep and still feel exhausted, grouchy or worse: riddled with anxiety?
It can be frustrating to feel like you’re doing everything right when it comes to your shut-eye, only for your energy to wane from the moment you open your eyes. The good news is that there are a range of reasons why you might be waking up exhausted and plenty of easy ways you can fix it and increase your energy levels.
According to Dr Preeya Alexander, GP and family health expert known as The Wholesome Doctor, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula when it comes to sleep.
“We’re all different,” Preeya says. “I know I need around eight hours to feel refreshed in the morning. My husband, however, only needs six or seven and he’s ready to go. You tend to know your sleep ‘sweet spot’ as I call it. But for most adults it’s around seven to nine hours per night.”
“If you’re getting enough sleep, then you should ideally wake feeling refreshed,” says Preeya. “There are many things that can impact your ability to wake feeling like this. In most cases however, it’s lifestyle factors that are responsible for fatigue such as poor sleep quality or quantity, or poorly managed stress.”
There could be a number of reasons you’re getting enough sleep but still tired, including:
A hormonal imbalance can impact your energy levels. For example, too much cortisol, the stress hormone, can zap you of energy and disrupt sleep. Hormonal changes can affect your energy too, such as during menopause.
This is a condition where the throat gets blocked, either partially or fully, while you’re asleep. The loss of oxygen will wake you briefly, often without you even realising it. In severe cases, it can interrupt sleep hundreds of times a night, leaving you exhausted.
Conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder can lead to excessive tiredness.
Poor thyroid function can interfere with your sleep. Hypothyroidism in particular can make you feel tired more easily, even if you’re getting enough shut-eye.
A lack of certain nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D can leave you feeling fatigued.
A lack of certain nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D can leave you feeling fatigued
If you’re experiencing stress, such as an increased workload or personal issues, it’s tempting to rely on a tipple or two to help you unwind in the evening. But, warns Preeya, despite how it may make you feel in the short term, alcohol can steal your chance of a good night’s sleep.
“Drinking alcohol regularly can negatively impact sleep quality and how you wake in the morning,” she explains.
Studies show that alcohol can affect sleep quality in myriad ways, disrupting the circadian cycle, blocking restorative REM sleep, aggravating breathing problems such as snoring and even inducing sleep apnoea. And that’s on top of the extra through-the-night bathroom breaks you may need thanks to its diuretic effect.
Preeya also advises those who wake up feeling groggy to dig deeper into how they’re feeling in general. “Many people also don’t realise that mood disorders can impact how you wake in the morning,” she says. “If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety you may not wake feeling refreshed despite having ‘enough’ sleep.”
To achieve a quality night’s sleep, Preeya says having a routine is vital.
Engage in a regular wind-down ritual in the hour before bed, so the brain gets used to calming down before sleep. “I ask my patients to essentially become a toddler and prepare the brain for sleep with a regular ritual,” she says.
Preeya prescribes the following:
“This includes phones, so no Instagram scrolling, sorry!” she says. The blue light from screens blocks the production of melatonin, the hormone essential for sleep.
Related: Can blue light damage your eyes?
Skipping your afternoon coffee, particularly after 2pm, is likely to improve your sleep.
Aim for regular physical activity, ideally 30 minutes most days and in sunlight. “This helps circadian rhythms that regulate sleep,” she says.
For more tips and tricks to improve the quality (and quantity) of your sleep, check out our dedicated Sleep page on The Check Up.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.