We’ve all had nights when we just couldn’t fall asleep. After what feels like an eternity of lying in bed miserable, you either fall asleep eventually or wait until daybreak. We are usually able to reset our internal clocks by staying awake the following day and going to bed at an appropriate time the next night. The issue usually fixes itself, and we can get right back to getting good sleep, 8 hours at a time.
Then there are nights when we go to bed, fall asleep, and sleep for a full 8 hours, but wake up feeling tired. Those are the nights when we say, “I feel like I didn’t sleep at all, I’m constantly waking up tired after 8 hours of sleep” Some people describe it as feeling like you closed your eyes at night, opened them again a moment later, and it was morning.
We don’t feel refreshed or rested, and our performance at home, school, and work suffers for it. Waking up tired makes for a very long day. This article will explain why sleep is important, how sleep works, how much sleep is needed to function well, and the possible causes of being tired even after a full eight hours of sleep. We’ll also discuss what you can do about it.
Why We Need Sleep
Abraham Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs to graph what humans need to survive and lead a happy and fulfilling life. When illustrated, it looks like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid lists physiological needs. These are the most basic needs for human survival. If these needs are not met, humans cannot survive. Along with food, shelter, and air, sleep is an essential necessity for human survival.
Sleep acts as a reset button for your body and mind. The stresses of the day dissipate while you are sleeping. Aches and pains, along with the tension in your body, diminish when you get a good night’s sleep. This is because when you sleep well, your body is relaxed. You are lying down in a position that takes the pressure off of your feet and joints, and you can recharge.
Think of a mobile phone. When you charge it overnight, it’s ready to go with a full battery in the morning. We start the day with the faith that the phone will not die and shut down during the day because we gave it plenty of time to charge.
As the day goes on, the battery dwindles. If we continue to use the phone when the battery is low, it drains faster. Eventually, if we don’t plug the phone back into its charger and allow the battery to refill, it will shut down, and we can no longer use it.
Our bodies are like a phone. If we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we cannot recharge for the next day. Our “battery” dwindles, and our ability to function well is diminished as our energy and focus subside. Eventually, with no time to charge or with a bad connection to the charger, we will not be able to function at all. We are like the phone, and the charger is sleep.
To Fight Illness
When we are sick, we need more sleep. Our bodies can better fight infection when we are asleep. Illness makes us tired because it depletes our energy. Our bodies have to work harder when we are sick. We may just look a little pale or unwell on the outside, but internally, our antibodies are waging war against whatever virus or bacteria is making us sick. It takes a lot of energy to fight a war. Sleeping helps to assist our body in producing more antibodies to defeat and annihilate the illness.
For Our Mental Health
Throughout the day, we encounter stress and anxiety. Without giving our mind a chance to rest, those stresses, worries, and tensions grow. This is why things seem to bother us more when we are tired. We get cranky, things make us more anxious than usual, and we tend to overreact to something that would typically have minimal impact on our psyches.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Not getting enough quality sleep can affect brain function, which in turn affects our mental health. The small things that bother us when we are well-rested seem a lot bigger when we are tired. Sadness can escalate into depression.
Anxiety can bloom into panic attacks, and squabbles can escalate into fights. Our minds need time to “turn off” every night so that we can put our worries to rest. When we get a good night’s sleep, we wake up the next day without some of the concerns we had the day before. Our mind stores them or throws them out while we are sleeping, and we have less to worry about the next day.
How Sleep Works
Sleep is a complex process. We often don’t just go to bed, fall into an immediate deep sleep, and wake up rejuvenated eight hours later. Many things happen involving the brain and the body when we go to sleep at night.
The Stages of Sleep
When sleep occurs, our body begins a fascinating process that goes through stages. Each of these stages takes us into a deeper state of sleep. It is in the deepest stage of sleep where we see the most crucial benefits of the process. To get to that deep sleep stage, we have to go through the other, lighter stages. Each part of the process is essential and leads to the next to result in a good night of restful sleep.
The first stage of sleep is the actual process of falling asleep. It usually only takes a few minutes, and it starts the process of restful sleep. This is when we lie down, close our eyes, and begin to drift off to sleep. We can still wake up easily at this point because this is light sleep.
A loud noise, uncomfortable sleeping position, unfavorable room temperature, or other external factors can rouse us easily and require us to restart the process. During this stage, our body begins to relax. Breathing slows down, as does heart rate.
This is the longest stage of sleep. Still a light sleep, your body relaxes more. Your breathing slows further, and the tension in your muscles disappears because your body is totally relaxed. Your brain slows its functions down, but there are still sporadic bursts of activity.
Usually, you can still wake up fairly easily in this stage. You’ve been asleep for a while but are not yet in a deep sleep. You can cycle in and out of this stage several times in a night.
This is the stage in which you are completely asleep. It is deep sleep, and this is when most of the recharging for the next day occurs. It may be difficult for an external force to wake you up in this state. Your breathing slows to the slowest rate it will reach during sleep.
You are totally relaxed. This stage of sleep is essential to waking up and feeling well-rested and recharged for the next day. This is the stage in which your body is doing the work of fighting illness, storing energy, and resetting itself.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement)
REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is the stage of sleep in which most of us dream. It is called REM because your eyes move rapidly beneath your eyelids. Your breathing and heart rate become irregular, and your body is functioning almost like it would when you’re awake.
If you remember the dream you had last night, then you can be confident that you entered the REM stage. REM is crucial for dispelling mental stress, emotional stress, and maintaining cognitive memory.
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
The CDC suggests that for optimal health and wellness, we need different amounts of sleep by age. Most of us know that babies seem to sleep all the time. This is because they are growing and learning rapidly, and sleep is absolutely crucial to their development. In fact, up until about age five, children should be spending half the day (12 hours) or more sleeping.
Children display the effects of poor sleep and lack of sleep in obvious ways. They look tired, tend to be cranky, are prone to emotional outbursts, and have a lot of trouble concentrating. Their eating habits are often affected by lack of length and/or quality of sleep.
As we grow up, we require less sleep. By the time we reach adulthood, we need around eight hours of sound sleep each night to feel rested and get the full benefits that sleep can offer. Adults often find it more challenging to turn off at night and get to sleep and maintain good sleep because they are more aware of outside stimuli and often train themselves to wake up to them.
Babies crying, a vehicle idling, sirens, smoke alarms, dogs barking, and many other noises wake us up, usually long before children or babies wake up. This is because as we mature, we associate these noises with danger or emergency, and our brain brings us out of sleep when we hear these noises.
You can get a full eight hours of sleep and not feel rested if the quality of your sleep is poor. If your sleep is interrupted by outside stimuli and you wake up and get out of bed, you have to start the process of sleepover again. So if you wake up from stage three sleep and then go back to bed, you have to start over at stage one.
If you don’t have the time to devote to this, you may not get through all of the cycles before your day has to start, leaving you feeling drained because you never got all the way through stage 3 or REM sleep.
Having to start the sleep cycle from the beginning even one time per night can have detrimental effects on us. We may be getting a total of eight hours of sleep, but the quality of that sleep was poor. We wake up feeling drained. We’re still tired, we don’t want to get out of bed, and we feel foggy and out of it all day.
Sometimes we don’t wake up in the middle of the night, but we still get poor quality sleep. Some issues can lead to a disturbance in the sleep cycle, even when we’re sleeping the entire time. We may spend longer in the early stages of sleep or not reach a deep sleep at all.
If you don’t wake up in the night but still feel drained, how can you tell your sleep quality was poor? According to the Sleep Foundation, there are several signs that your sleep quality needs improvement. If it takes longer than half an hour to fall asleep, you probably aren’t getting good sleep. If you feel abnormally stressed or exhausted throughout the day, you need better sleep. This and many other signs can tell us that we aren’t getting the best sleep possible to perform each day optimally.
Causes of Poor Sleep Quality
There are many reasons you may not be getting good sleep, even if you’re sleeping for eight hours a night. The things going on in our lives and with our bodies can have an adverse effect on our sleep cycle and this cause us to lose out on the restful sleep we need to function properly. Sometimes things we think may help us sleep are actually causing us to suffer from poor quality sleep.
If a little does a little good, then a lot does a lot of good, right? Not true. Excess in anything is often a bad thing, and this includes sleep. Many of us look forward to the weekend because we get time off from work to relax and spend with friends and family. We also look forward to sleeping in. While it feels great to get some extra sleep, there’s no real way to “catch up” on sleep. You either get enough sleep each night, or you don’t.
Sleeping twelve hours one night because you only slept five the night before won’t make up for the sleep lost. We may think we are doing ourselves a favor by getting extra sleep. What we are really doing is throwing off our normal sleep patterns. Sleeping too much one night may mean that we can’t fall asleep properly the next. When we throw off our regular sleep pattern by oversleeping, we force ourselves to re-regulate, which can take several nights to achieve.
Caffeine keeps us awake. Most of us know this. We drink coffee or soda when we need to stay awake. What we may not realize, though, is that consuming caffeine in the hours leading up to bed can cause our sleep quality to suffer.
We may feel tired, but caffeine stays in our system for a long time, making it difficult for our brain activity to slow down when we fall asleep. We may be able to fall asleep, but caffeine consumption in the hours before we go to bed can keep us out of the deep sleep needed to feel rested the next day.
Illness or Stress
When we are sick or stressed, we tend to either sleep a lot or not be able to sleep at all. As previously discussed, sleep helps us to recover from illness. Sometimes, though, when we are sick, our body has to work hard to fight the infection, and we wake up tired and exhausted the next day.
We slept, but our body didn’t really have a chance to relax and rest because our immune system was hard at work all night. It can leave us feeling groggy and sluggish the next day, even if we feel less ill. It can take a few days to get back to a restful and full sleep cycle after we are sick.
When we are stressed we may stay up at night tossing and turning, ruminating situations in our head and wondering how to fix or improve a certain situation. This may mean that it takes us longer to initially fall to sleep because we can’t stop thinking and causes our sleep to be disrupted.
Sometimes when we don’t get good sleep, the culprit is a sleep disorder. When we have eliminated the other factors that can cause restless sleep from our routine and still notice that we’re waking up tired after a whole night of sleep, it’s time to explore the realm of sleep disorders.
What is a Sleep Disorder?
A sleep disorder is a disturbance in the natural and necessary sleep cycle to maintain optimal function. They are usually diagnosed by a doctor after a sleep study is performed. Sleep studies take place in a sleep lab, which is a controlled environment.
Your brainwaves, heart rate, and oxygen are measured throughout the time you are sleeping to detect any problems in your sleep patterns. There are several sleep disorders, and they are all able to be treated through either lifestyle changes, medications, or medical intervention.
Insomnia is the inability to get to sleep. Our bodies require sleep during specific periods of the day, and when you have insomnia, you may get 8 hours of sleep, but not all at once, and not all at night.
Some people with insomnia are awake all night and sleep during the day. We’ve heard this described as “getting your days and nights mixed up.” This is not healthy because it throws off a person’s circadian rhythm (sleep cycle). The intervention of therapies and medication can help to correct this disorder.
When we sleep, our respiration slows down, and our body relaxes. When you have sleep apnea, your respiration slows too much. Many people with apnea stop breathing altogether for durations of up to ten seconds. When they begin to breathe again, it is usually accompanied by gasping or coughing fits, most people who have sleep apnea snore.
Loud snoring is a sign of possible apnea. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines worn over the mouth and nose to provide a continuous supply of oxygen can alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea and help you get a good night of restful sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Also referred to as RLS, this sleep disorder is characterized by a tingling or buzzing sensation in the legs. Your legs either twitch or feel like they need to move. This feeling keeps us from falling asleep quickly, and once we are asleep, the movement associated with the disorder can prevent us from achieving the deep sleep needed to feel rested the next day. Medication can be prescribed to help prevent RLS from disturbing your sleep.
Other sleep disorders are less common but are still essential to investigate if you are having trouble getting restful sleep. Diagnosis and treatment begin with an appointment at your regular doctor’s office. From there, a sleep study can be performed to help pinpoint the exact disorder.
Solutions to Waking up Tired After 8 Hours of Sleep
Aside from medications prescribed by a doctor, we can do things ourselves to help assure that we get good sleep each night. Changing our habits can go a long way towards getting a better night of sleep. Things we can do to end the battle of sleepiness and get better rest include:
- Abstain from caffeine before bed
- Don’t exercise right before bed
- Meditate or relax in the hours leading up to bedtime
- Use blackout curtains in the bedroom
- Use a white noise machine
- Use a weighted blanket
Good sleep is imperative to your health. Sleep is a basic need for survival and should be a priority to each of us. When we’re getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night and still wake up exhausted, we need to investigate the cause and work to correct it.
Once you have discovered the cause, you can focus on eliminating the things that could cause these sleep disturbances, and getting medical help when necessary can reverse the issue and help you get a better night of sleep.