Is someone in your bed getting in the way of a good night’s sleep? That someone could be you or your partner. Trying to share a bed with a loved one whose sleep is all over the place can be a nightmare. Being that person is even worse.
If you find yourself asking, “Why am I so tired all the time?” you should know that you are not alone. This information might provide you the keys to your snoring and daytime sleepiness, so that you can get rid of them for good.
Reasons Why You Are Tired All the Time
Handling an occasional day on little sleep might not seem like a big deal. Once it starts to become the norm, you need to start figuring out what is going on.
The truth is that there are a lot of reasons to feel tired all the time. Some of them are easy to fix and others are more complicated. Some can be a sign of other health problems, while others are more of an inconvenience.
Common causes of daytime sleepiness include:
- Sleep-related movement disorders
Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Daytime Sleepiness
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can turn your dreams into a nightmare, and it may be more common than you think. OSA describes a condition in which you aren’t getting enough air at night. Sleep medicine experts estimate about half of the people who snore may have OSA to some degree.
Not everyone with OSA has a full sleep apnea, where the airway is completely obstructed. Some people have a partial airway obstruction known as hypopnea, which means that their airway is limited but not totally closed. People with OSA might have one or the other, or a combination of the two.
In both cases, your airway is shutting down as often as once a minute. The lack of oxygen makes your brain force you awake to breathe more clearly. Imagine setting yourself an important task and then interrupting it for 10 seconds every minute. Good sleep is so important it is literally a matter of life and death. If you have untreated OSA, you’re not getting it.
The worst part is that you may not even realize that this is happening. It’s often a sleeping partner who points it out. Snoring and daytime sleepiness are the most common symptoms.
One way you can identify OSA is through the snore. If you share a bed with someone, you can ask them to pay attention to the quality of your snoring. Snoring caused by an obstructed airway often sounds like gasping or rattling. If you sleep alone, you can set up a recording device to hear it when you are awake.
OSA in either form can contribute to other serious health problems such as heart disease. If you suspect that you might have OSA, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Some conditions just force you to get more sleep, whether you want to or not. It can be hard to tell if you just aren’t getting enough good quality sleep or if your body has an imbalance that is causing the problem. Here’s a few conditions associated with needing a lot of sleep:
- Narcolepsy: an uncontrollable need to sleep, which may or may not be associated with a loss of muscle tone
- Kleine-Levin Syndrome: a sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and can last up to a few weeks at a time
- Idiopathic Hypersomnia: needing to sleep 12-14 hours per day, without other obvious symptoms
With hypersomnia and OSA, getting the right diagnosis is key. The Narcolepsy Network claims that it takes most people seven years between the time they first notice symptoms and getting a diagnosis. Meantime, they may be struggling to get through every day. That’s why paying attention to your sleep is so important.
Sleep-Related Movement Disorders
Do you feel like your body cannot stop moving, even while you are asleep? Sleep-related movement disorders can make it harder for you to get to sleep, stay asleep, or reach a deeper level of rest. You’ve probably heard of at least a few of these:
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): an unpleasant feeling (often numbness or tingling) that forces you to move your legs
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: involuntary movements or jerking while sleeping, common to people with RLS
- Sleep Leg Cramps: tightening of the muscles that causes periodic cramping and discomfort
- Bruxism: clenching or grinding of the teeth, which often causes jaw pain
If you don’t have one of these concerns, you know someone who does. About 10% of American adults have RLS. It can be caused by certain medications or other medical issues, but many people have a genetic predisposition for it.
Treatment for sleep-related movement disorders depends on the cause. Some are able to manage their conditions by exercising and keeping a better diet, or evaluating their current medications. Bruxism often requires the use of a mouthpiece for sleep, to protect the teeth and jaw.
Other Causes of Snoring and Daytime Sleepiness
The sheer number of coffee shops all over the place should indicate that being sleepy in the morning or afternoon is a very common complaint. If you are overly reliant on that morning cup of joe or afternoon latté, you might also consider these causes:
- Insomnia: Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep is often a sign of anxiety or a similar condition. After identifying the causes, people can improve it through better sleep hygiene, therapy or medications.
- Poor sleep hygiene: You need a comfortable space that promotes sleep to get it. Spending excessive awake time in bed, bright lighting at night or a cluttered bedroom can make it harder.
- Eating large meals before bed: If you’re a late-night snacker, try to eat a balance of meals and snacks throughout the day. That way, you are not so ravenous in the hour or two before bedtime.
- Not getting enough exercise: Experts suggest that 30 minutes of daily activity can improve muscles and joints, and increase sleep quality.
- Medications: Drugs you take before bed can take hours to wear off. Most people develop a tolerance that makes it easier, but this isn’t guaranteed. If you know one of your meds is the culprit, you might want to ask your doctor about other options.
Sleep Duration vs. Sleep Quality
The undercurrent to all of these conditions and concerns is that no matter how much sleep you’re getting, it is not enough to relieve exhaustion. Sleep that is broken into small increments can make you need hours more, without the same benefit of a solid block.
Your body goes through a number of stages of sleep, and you repeat the cycle several times throughout the night. These stages, which last about 1.5-2 hours for a complete cycle, include:
- Stage 1: light, drowsy sleep from which you can be easily disrupted
- Stage 2: your brain waves start to slow, and it is harder to wake you up
- Stage 3: the deepest, most restorative sleep
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM): a period of movement in which your brain can process information for learning and memory
Reaching those last stages is really important to feel rested and alert the next day. If you are waking up constantly because you can’t breathe or your legs hurt, you might not be able to get past the early parts.
This is why you should pay close attention to the quality of sleep as well as quantity of sleep. If you have been happy with 7-8 hours a night for years and that’s suddenly not enough, there is usually a reason for it.
How to Get Better Sleep Despite OSA or Other Conditions
Once you get a diagnosis for one of these common issues, you might think that you’ll never get a good night’s rest again. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do:
- Set up your bedroom for sleep
- Maintain a moderate diet
- Exercise regularly
- Get checkups at least once a year, or more often if you have ongoing health concerns
People who have OSA may benefit from the use of an oral appliance. This is a simple but clever device that you place into your mouth at night. It holds your tongue and jaw in place so that they cannot slip into your airway. It can help you get longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep, and dramatically cut down on your snoring.
Feeling tired all the time may be your present, but you can prevent it from becoming your future. Better sleep awaits you if you take the initiative to start today. Schedule an appointment with a dental sleep medicine expert at Premier Sleep Associates by calling (425) 698-1732.