Why do I always feel tired?

Bad sleep habits, poor lifestyle choices, or even sleep disorders may be robbing you of sleep and making your mornings miserable

young woman yawning, tired

Is getting out of bed in the morning a Herculean feat? Would you give just about anything to sleep longer when your alarm goes off in the morning? Do you begin hitting the snooze button repeatedly, relishing every minute of extra sleep? Are you dragging yourself to the coffee maker, feeling miserable every step of the way? Is that great feeling of taking on a new day just a distant memory?

No matter your age, your job, how many children you have or how much you have to do, this shouldn’t be a description of your morning routine. You shouldn’t need an alarm to jolt you out of deep sleep. You should expect to feel restored and refreshed when you awake, ready to take on the day. And if you can’t even remember what that feels like, take heart—and take notes.

Sleep: are you getting it?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, appropriate sleep durations are as follows: Young adults [age 18 – 25] 7 – 9 hours, adults [age 26 – 64] 7 – 9 hours, older adults [age 65+] 7 – 8 hours. Due to a genetic variant, only a very few people are short sleepers—no more than five per cent of the population can get by on less than these recommended amounts.

So for the majority of us, getting the recommended amount of sleep is essential for optimum physical and psychological health, overall wellbeing and quality of life. Making a commitment to getting adequate sleep on a consistent basis will make your mornings better, your days better and your life better.

The best way to ensure sufficient sleep is to make your sleep requirement a non-negotiable part of your schedule. You may even find it helpful to extend your sleep time beyond your normal requirement if you have been accruing sleep debt. It’s also helpful to track your sleep—many apps and wearables are available—or simply keep a handwritten sleep diary [templates are available online]. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This holds true for sleep.

Since we spend a third of our lives catching those important ZZZs, high thread-count sheets, a quality mattress and comfortable pillows are a worthwhile investment that will help you look forward to getting that all-important sleep.

Own your evening

Reorganise and reprioritise your evening routines to accommodate your need for sufficient, quality sleep. For instance, make the mornings less hurried and more relaxed by packing lunches, setting out clothes, and putting briefcases and book bags by the door.

Set a consistent bedtime that starts about eight hours before you need to wake up. Avoid “bedtime procrastination”—putting off bedtime to watch TV, surf the internet or catch up on work—it’s not a good trade-off. Setting an alarm for bedtime as a reminder is quite helpful for keeping bedtime on track.

Bedtime routines are just as important for adults as they are for children because they serve to transition your mind and body from wake to sleep. Keep the lights low as you prepare for bed. Keep your bedroom cool to help you fall asleep. Turn off electronics a good hour before bedtime, and make time for a relaxing bedtime activity—yoga, meditation, reading [print only, with a low-wattage reading light], colouring, a jigsaw puzzle—something quiet, not stimulating. Consider journaling or keeping a list of things you are grateful for. Several studies have shown that gratitude helps people sleep better. Aromatherapy is another helpful sleep strategy for some. The scents of lavender and chamomile have been shown to help induce relaxation. In fact, findings from a 2012 study suggest that night-time exposure to lavender aroma actually helps relieve sleepiness upon awakening.

Own your morning

A positive wake-up routine is as important as a positive bedtime routine. It will make you look forward to waking and set the tone for the day, enhancing your mood, productivity, and energy level. Set your alarm for the absolute last minute you must get out of bed—not 20 minutes earlier so you can keep hitting the snooze button. That fragmented sleep only leaves you feeling lousy when you finally get out of bed. In fact, you should not need a morning alarm if you are getting enough sleep. If you need a conventional alarm clock, place it across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Wake up to your favourite music instead of a buzzer. Open the curtains and let the sunlight in upon awakening; bright light in the morning helps regulate your body clock. There are even alarm clocks that simulate the sun rising in the morning, or put your lights on a timer.

If you have a programmable thermostat, a warmer temperature will also help you wake up. Stretch or do a yoga pose while still in bed. Do some light exercise while the coffee brews or you’re preparing breakfast. Make your bed. An unmade bed is less conducive to sleep in the evening than a made one, so make this three-minute chore a habit.

Then plan your daily activities according to your chronotype. If you are most alert and creative in the morning, do your intellectually demanding work first instead of doing chores, running errands, or going to the gym. If you are more of an evening type, plan to do your best work then. Do you crave exercise in the evening? Recent studies show that late-day exercise does not necessarily interfere with sleep.

Do I look tired to you?

Bad sleep habits, poor lifestyle choices, or even sleep disorders may be robbing you of sleep and making your mornings miserable. Don’t ignore sleep problems. Always discuss sleep at doctor visits and seek help from a sleep specialist for any persistent sleep problems, especially feeling tired upon awakening and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Manage and track your sleep and have a daily schedule that accommodates sufficient sleep. Make getting adequate sleep a personal and family value and respect your need for sleep as well as your family member’s need for sleep. Sleep, diet and exercise comprise the very foundation of health. Give them all equal priority for the best life—and best mornings—possible.

This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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