3 Reasons Why You’re Still Tired After 7-9 Hours of Sleep

woman falling asleep on train next to window

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This week we’re going to be diving into a question I get nearly daily, and one you may be asking yourself: why am I still tired after a full night of sleep?

Chances are you’ve heard the standard advice: get seven to eight hours of sleep per night for optimal health. It’s bad enough that for some of us that’s hard to achieve. First of all, most of us don’t know where to start–something as simple as a sleep calculator and taking my chronotype quiz can be helpful.

But something that’s frustrating? Making every effort to get those seven to eight hours of sleep and still waking up exhausted and relying on caffeine to combat daytime sleepiness.

I’ll explain why the seven to eight hours of sleep guidelines doesn’t work for everyone; the reasons behind why you’re always tired, and some natural sleep remedies to boost your energy.

Where Do Sleep Guidelines Come From?

The first thing we need to tackle is the 7-9 hours of sleep. Chances are someone’s recommended this to you, whether it’s your primary care physician, a friend, or just advice you’ve come across after battling daytime fatigue.

The guidelines were established by the National Sleep Council, which routinely revisits sleep recommendation guidelines for everyone from babies to teenagers and adults.  The latest guidelines came out in 2015.

But it’s more complex than that: while these are guidelines, sleep experts such as myself have continued to see, time and time again, that those recommendations don’t fit everyone.

Why 7-9 Hours of Sleep Doesn’t Work For Everyone

Sometimes I wish one set of guidelines, one sleep aid, or a single tip could help all clients fight insomnia, wake up refreshed, and enjoy optimal health. That isn’t the case: for some, a drug free cooling band like my favorite from EBB is helpful for calming racing thoughts at night. Others might benefit from this Remzy weighted blanket for comfort and relaxation

68 percent of us have sleep issues at least once a week, according to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey of 4,000 Americans. So it makes sense that, while seven to nine hours of sleep may work for the average adult, it doesn’t work for everyone.

A narrative review of sleep guidelines published in The Nature of Science and Sleep found that observational and self reporting biases made it difficult to truly know how long people were sleeping. The 2018 recommendation was that more in depth, controlled and longitudinal studies will be needed to better understand how much sleep is associated with the most health benefits.

Finally, individuals are…individuals. We all have different sleep patterns, based on an internal biological clock, or what I call a chronotype. Our chronotypes affect the time of day we perform our best work, get our best workout in, and sleep. Because of this, a standard seven to nine hours doesn’t ensure waking up feeling rested.

Why More Sleep Isn’t Always the Answer

Of course, while you may find that you can get by with one less hour of sleep, or need one more, most adults will need within an hour of those professional sleep guidelines. So when a client asks why they’re still tired after 12 hours of sleep, I start becoming concerned, sleeping too much can have its own serious side effects.

The truth is, while up to 35 percent of Americans are considered chronically sleep deprived (less than seven hours of sleep per night),that isn’t the only problem. Many of us are getting seven to nine hours of sleep, and even more, but especially for those suffering from a true sleep disorder, your risk for depression and other life issues is still high.

3 Common Reasons Why You’re Always Tired (And What To Do)

If seven to nine hours of sleep isn’t working (and then some) here are the most common reasons why you’re still feeling tired:

Problem: You’re Not Sleeping as Much as You Think.

This is a common problem, not unlike going on a diet: unless you’re tracking your sleep, it can be easy to lose track of just how many hours you’re getting.

You can have the best intentions and end up staying up late looking at emails instead of going to bed when you planned (if you do look at electronics at night, I recommend using blue light blocking glasses so you won’t disrupt your body’s production of melatonin).

Another reason you may not be getting as much quality sleep as you think is ambient light. Consider using an eye mask so that all light is blocked, especially if you have a bed partner who uses a light in bed or if your work requires sleeping during daylight hours. This is the eye mask I use and recommend for my patients. I also love the Dep Slep sleep hoodie with a built in eye mask.

Solution: Track Your Sleep

You don’t have to be a sleep expert like me to track your sleep. While sleep centers can monitor your sleep, you can also opt for the lower cost solution of a sleep tracker (my go to is the SleepScore Max ).

For many people I recommend a sleep tracking device because you’ll get information not only how many hours you sleep, but how much of that is deep sleep. Research has shown that lack of deep sleep is tied to everything from obesity and diabetes to disorders, heart problems, and impedes sleep’s benefits for brain health.

Problem: You Have Sleep Apnea

This sleep issue is directly related to not being aware of how much sleep you’re getting, and why a sleep tracker can be helpful. If you or your partner snores, there’s a high probability that you may be suffering from sleep apnea.

I’ve written extensively on sleep apnea and its negative impact on your health, and that’s because it’s so prevalent: more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by obstructed breathing at night.

If you do have undiagnosed sleep apnea, one of the most common symptoms is daytime sleepiness, no matter how many hours you’re logging. That’s because sleep apnea regularly disrupts deep sleep, which is vital for tissue growth and repair.

Solution: Seek Sleep Apnea Treatment

Suspect you might have sleep apnea? Take my Snore Score Quiz to get started. If you snore at all, it’s worth getting checked because undiagnosed sleep apnea can not only cause you to always feel tired, but also lead to serious cardiovascular conditions, like high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, and even heart attacks.

The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable. The most effective treatment is a CPAP machine. For some, oral mouthpieces can be used to open up airways at night.  Lifestyle changes such as losing weight and reducing alcohol consumption; and, in rare cases, surgery can also be helpful.

Always consult a medical professional and avoid self diagnosing.

Problem: You’re Fighting Your Chronotype

The third reason why you’re always tired after a full night’s sleep deserves a whole article, but for now I’ll leave it to this: you’re fighting your chronotype.

There are many things we do throughout our days–from when we get up to what we eat and our stress levels–that drain our energy even after a night of restorative sleep. While we all have days where we struggle to stay awake, sleep deprivation causes chronic lack of concentration and harms both our physical and mental health.

From drinking caffeine at the wrong time to eating dinner too early (or too late), little habits that fight our biological clock make it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, and power through our day.

Solution: Adjust Your Routine For Your Unique Needs

This is in some ways the hardest solution to follow, because it takes time, patience, and trial and error.

Your first step to optimizing your energy is to find out when exactly your body thrives when it comes to eating, sleeping, and even exercising and socializing. To do that, take my Chronotype Quiz.

From there, you can learn ways to reorient your day. By doing so, you’re making the very most out of those seven to nine hours of sleep and you’ll start feeling more energized as your body adjusts.

As a send off, I’ll leave you with this: feeling tired all the time is something we seem to have accepted as a society, but it shouldn’t be. You deserve to live your best life possible. And you don’t need to succumb to the dangers of relying on energy drinks to get through your day.

Until next week, sweet dreams.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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