Why You’re Always Tired
Being tired all the time usually (though not always) means you are suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation simply means you are not getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours a day) resulting in a “sleep debt.” A sleep debt means that you will need to compensate by getting more and more consistent sleep in the future in order to relieve your sleep deprivation.
Being tired all the time is the hallmark symptom of sleep deprivation, and it usually comes with a number of unsavory side effects as well:
- Abnormal irritability
- Short temper
- Reduced physical performance
- Reduced cognitive performance
- Chronic brain fog
- Worse memory
- Getting sick more often
- Worse pain management
- Safety issues
In short, being tired all the time makes you feel like a worse version of yourself. It can have safety issues as well, and persons working in high risk industries – like fishing, piloting, boating – that are common in Alaska should pay extra attention to getting enough sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea as Cause of Always Being Tired
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing for about 20 seconds many times throughout the night – anywhere from 40-240+ times per night. Every time you stop breathing your body has to wake up to force you to start breathing again. Either way, the result is moderate to severe sleep deprivation because your body constantly has to arouse itself, whether you're aware of it or not.
These stop-start breathing cycles are called apnea events. On the lower end of the spectrum, “mild” sleep apnea cases will result in at least 40 times per night (about 5 per hour). “Severe” sleep apnea will result in at least 240 apnea events per night (about 1 every couple of minutes).
OSA is a serious medical condition, but fortunately it can be fully treated with CPAP therapy, such as this CPAP machine
The hallmark symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are [WebMD]:
- You repeatedly stop breathing throughout night, and rouse waking/gasping
- You suffer from loud, chronic snoring – sometimes humorously referred to as “socially unacceptable snoring”
- You feel tired all the time throughout the day
- You wake up exhausted in the morning
- You wake up with headaches
- You suffer from sleep attacks during the day
If you are experiencing the above symptoms and are often tired in the middle of the day, you should consider reaching out to your doctor or a sleep specialist. If you're unsure of whether or not you're experiencing these issues, then please ask your bed partner or someone else to observe you while you sleep to see if that's the case.
Insomnia as Cause of Excessive Sleepiness
Insomnia can make you extremely tired throughout the day due to sleep deprivation. Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes you to:
- Be unable to easily fall asleep – you might spend hours trying to fall asleep – even when you’re tired
- Only be able to sleep for short periods of time, such as waking up after 3 hours of sleep wide awake
- Have trouble sleeping in to a “normal” hour, such by waking up at 3am wide awake
Insomnia can be especially frustrating in that you might be really tired but simply can’t sleep. Often times, insomnia is caused by stress/anxiety, chronic pain, and natural biological changes over time. Common stressors are:
- Loss of parent, spouse, or child
- Stressful job
- Chronic financial stress
In a study done on sleep and pain, the study concluded that [2015 Sleep in AmericaTM Poll] people with chronic pain had an average nightly sleep debt of 42 minutes and were diagnosed with sleep disorders nearly 4 times as much as people without chronic pain.
Natural biological changes as we get older can also cause insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. As we age, our sleep patterns usually change, causing us to get less and less restful sleep at night, having different circadian rhythms (earlier to bed and rise), and requiring naps to make up the requisite sleep.
Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Shift work is a big deal in Alaska and if you are chronically tired during the day, look first at your job: do you work hours outside of the typical 8-5 work hours or work many days on and then many days off? If so, then shift work may be a major contributing factor to your sleepiness.
Alaska in particular has many shift workers because of the jobs that are popular here:
- Pilots, who typically work odd hours
- Construction workers, who may work all night long in the midnight sun
- Workers on the Slope, who tend to work a couple weeks on and a couple weeks off
- Fishing industry, where during the fishing seasons people often work 14-16 hour days for weeks or months at a time
While these provide steady jobs for Alaskans, they can also lead to something called shift work sleeping disorder which is where you develop irregular sleep patterns and sleep deprivation due to your shift work, causing you to feel tired all the time.
Narcolepsy as Cause of Excessive Sleepiness
Unlike our previous examples, being sleepy all the time during the day isn’t necessarily caused by sleep deprivation. Narcolepsy is a sleeping disorder that will make you feeling you feel very tired all day, including causing sleep attacks that result in sudden onset of extreme sleepiness. With narcolepsy, the excessive sleepiness is caused by narcolepsy and not necessarily because of sleep deprivation.
Narcolepsy might cause someone to develop a highly irregular circadian rhythm that is completely out of sync with your normal day to day functioning, which will cause you to feel tired all the time. Sleep attacks can make this worse.
Hallmark symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Sleep attacks (strong enough to make you severely sleep all of a sudden)
- Sleep paralysis
- Feeling tired all the time
Narcolepsy is a serious sleep disorder and medical condition, and if you are experience the above symptoms contact us or your doctor right away.
Non Sleep Disorder Causes
Feeling tired all the time is not always caused by a sleep disorder. Other, common conditions and causes that lead feeling chronic tiredness are:
- Drinking too much coffee throughout the day
- Drinking coffee to late in the day
- Drinking alcohol before bed
- Using electronics and screens before bed (blue light inhibits sleep)
- Foregoing sleep in order to play video games, party, etc.
- Keeping a loud, messy, or lit room
- Skimping on good sheets, pillows, or mattress
- Surgery and operations
- The medications used to treat disease can also cause sleep problems
Here in Alaska, our lifestyle choices have to be particularly geared for sleep because the extreme lighting conditions in the summer and winter can greatly affect our ability to sleep well. If you are feeling tired all the time one of the best things you can is reach out to one of our sleep specialists, starting by taking this free online sleep test: