Quick Fixes for Poor Sleep Quality

Learn why some sleep disorders might be ruining your shut eye

A good night of sleep should have you feeling well rested and awake the next day. If you are feeling tired upon waking up, or throughout the day, you may be experiencing some underlying issues that are impacting your night’s rest. Discover more on the differences between feelings of tiredness and sleepiness, what may be causing unrefreshing sleep, and how to relieve tiredness.

Symptoms of tiredness
Verywell / Cindy Chung 

Sleepiness vs. Tiredness

Feeling tired and feeling sleepy are phrases that are often used interchangeably. While there are some similarities between the two, these experiences are different by nature. What are some differences between feeling tired and feeling sleepy?

Sleepiness

Sleepiness, or drowsiness, is characterized by the desire to sleep. Imagine you just finished enjoying a big lunch, accompanied with an alcoholic beverage. You are feeling relaxed, sitting in a warm room, on a comfortable chair, and begin to doze off while watching television. This is a perfect example of the feeling of sleepiness. A feeling of sleepiness is distinct from fatigue.

Fatigue gives a person the feeling of heaviness felt deep in the bones and the muscles. People with fatigue will often find it necessary to pause and rest, but it does not always cause a person to fall asleep, and it may not resolve in sleep.

For those experiencing sleepiness, the best way to relieve the feeling is by consistently getting adequate hours of sleep at night.

Overall, sleep is driven by two processes: the homeostatic sleep drive and the circadian alerting signal. Sleep drive is demonstrated by the fact that the longer a person is awake, the more the desire to sleep increases. This increase in sleepiness is caused by the build-up of a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, called adenosine.

Adenosine accumulates among nerve cells and in the reticular activating system of the brainstem. Sleep, in part, is the process of flushing this neurotransmitter (and other metabolic byproducts) from the brain’s tissues.

Feelings of sleepiness are normal, but if persistent or excessive, they can indicate a more serious issue associated with a variety of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation.

Tiredness

Tiredness can be distinguished as a symptom. Similar to describing fatigue, the feeling of tiredness is felt deep in the bones and muscles. Tiredness can be identified by some of the following traits:

  • Heavy head
  • Sore eyes
  • Watering eyes
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Heavy legs
  • General weakness
  • Feeling cold
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Yawning
  • Loss of interest
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Little desire to speak with others
  • Urge to move around

While feeling tired can be normal, especially after a long day, persistent tiredness after waking may suggest sleep issues.

Reasons for Feeling Tired When Waking

Dealing With Sleep Inertia

Sleep inertia refers to the desire to go back to sleep almost immediately after waking up. It causes feelings of grogginess and tiredness, making it difficult to function.

Sleep inertia can also cause cognitive and psychomotor impairment, making activities like driving potentially dangerous after waking.

The cause of sleep inertia is not fully understood. One hypothesis suggests that adenosine builds up in the brain during non-REM sleep, making it difficult to feel fully awake after waking up.

Dealing With Sleep Disorders

There are a variety of sleep disorders that cause disrupted sleep and increase feelings of tiredness throughout the day and after waking up. Sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, circadian disorders, and narcolepsy are specifically associated with symptoms of tiredness upon awakening.

Sleep Apnea   

Sleep apnea causes chronic pauses in breathing during sleep that lead to recurrent awakenings and poor sleep quality. Sleep apnea is divided into two main types: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. A common symptom of sleep apnea is excessive sleepiness.

When patients dealing with sleep apnea assessed their most prominent symptoms, 22 percent chose sleepiness while 40 percent chose a lack of energy. Fatigue and tiredness are closely linked to sleep apnea and are important symptoms to consider in association with the diagnosis.

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is a condition affecting the nervous system that causes involuntary jerking of limbs, especially legs, during sleep. A person experiencing periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) does not remember the movements that occur during sleep.

Tiredness is considered a phenomenon of PLMD. Among individuals dealing with PLMS, a sense of exhaustion or fatigue is often associated with the disorder, more so than feelings of sleepiness or poor sleep quality. PLMS cause fatigue and can reduce physical and mental fitness while awake. People dealing with PLMD also may experience symptoms like depression and diminished concentration.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

There are six categories of circadian rhythm disorders:

  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome
  • Advanced sleep phase syndrome
  • Non-entrained (non-24) circadian rhythm sleep disorder
  • Irregular sleep-wake rhythm
  • Jet lag
  • Shift work sleep disorder

These disorders may cause excessive difficulty falling asleep and waking up at the appropriate times. This is due to the misalignment of the internal biological clock, which controls several processes including the desire to sleep, with the natural light-dark cycle. This may impair functioning in normal life. In delayed sleep phase syndrome, the difficulty falling asleep and waking up may result in extreme sleepiness, contributing to feelings of tiredness and fatigue upon awakening and throughout the day.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy occurs when an individual is unable to stabilize states of sleep and wakefulness. Even after what may seem like a refreshing night of sleep, a person dealing with narcolepsy experiences abrupt transitions in consciousness. There are four characteristics of narcolepsy:

  • Sudden excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations (while falling asleep)
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Cataplexy (sudden weakness in response to emotion)

Beyond these findings, fatigue may be a symptom experienced by those dealing with narcolepsy.

Dealing with Inadequate Sleep

In general, not obtaining an adequate amount of sleep to meet sleep needs will lead to symptoms of tiredness and fatigue. Sleep debt, or the accumulated loss of sleep due to insufficient sleep based on sleep needs, causes sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation results in sleepiness and in other symptoms associated with tiredness and fatigue, like memory and thinking problems, impaired function, and even body aches and discomfort.

How to Relieve Morning Tiredness

Ultimately, the best way to relieve tiredness is to obtain an adequate amount of sleep to feel rested and treat any underlying sleep disorders that may affect sleep quality.

Meet Sleep Needs

For a healthy adult, seven to nine hours of sleep (averaging eight hours), is recommended per night. Some people may be fine with as little as seven hours while others may need well over eight hours. As long as sleep needs are met, feelings of tiredness should decrease.

In addition, to make waking up easier and counter the effects of tiredness, caffeine and sunlight can be helpful tools.

Caffeine

Caffeine consumed upon waking in the morning is a great way to help clear any residual sleepiness. Caffeine increases alertness and improves mental processing, which are difficult to maintain when feeling tired or fatigued. While caffeine is a helpful chemical, it can provoke anxiety and impact sleep quality, which may in turn not help in relieving tiredness. Avoid caffeine after 12 pm for a better night’s sleep as it takes four to six hours for half of it to clear from the body.

Morning Sunlight

Getting some sunlight in the morning can help adjust our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Spending 15 to 30 minutes in direct sunlight immediately after waking up, without wearing a hat or sunglasses, can be helpful to fully wake up and relieve tiredness. If direct sunlight is unavailable due to the season or geographical location, sunrise alarm clocks or light boxes could be resourceful alternatives.

These devices are artificial light sources, sometimes integrated with alarm clocks that steadily increase the intensity of light over the course of 30 to 40 minutes. Light at the appropriate time can help adjust the patterns of sleep and wakefulness.

Other countermeasures, like avoiding sleeping pills, getting active in the morning, or showering immediately after waking are also helpful to initiate wakefulness.

A Word From Verywell

Although sleepiness and tiredness are often words that are used interchangeably, these experiences have distinct differences and potential resolutions. Dealing with sleep inertia, sleep disorders, and inadequate amounts of sleep can cause you to wake up tired. Addressing the reasons why you may be waking up tired, and implementing countermeasures like sunlight and caffeine into your routine may be very helpful to relieve tiredness.

If you continue to have difficulties with tiredness and fatigue, speak with your doctor about getting a further evaluation for possible sleep disorders from a board-certified sleep specialist.

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Article Sources

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