Do you need more sleep? Sometimes you may feel like you do, or feel fine but then suddenly feel like you are exhausted. There are five subtle ways that the need for sleep shows up that most people miss.
Most American adults just don’t get enough sleep, and that’s a huge problem. Not only can sleep deprivation cause problems that can make your day-to-day life harder, but it can impact your health in some sneaky and surprising ways.
But there’s more to being sleep-deprived than just feeling tired during the day. Before we take a look at the more subtle ways sleep deprivation can affect your body, let’s examine the more obvious signs that you need more sleep.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
It can be a lot easier to tell if you’re sleeping poorly than it is to know if you are getting proper sleep each night.
I recently wrote an article about how to know if you slept well at night— you need good quality sleep in combination with the right number of hours of sleep each night. Only getting one or the other won’t help you feel rested in the morning.
If you think your sleep needs are not being met each night, keep an eye out for these signs:
- You’re experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, and feel unfocused during the day.
- You take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep each night or you fall asleep within a minute or two of laying down.
- You wake up at least once during the night and struggle to go back to sleep.
- You feel more stressed out or emotional while you are awake.
Poor sleep quality or short sleep duration can create a sleep debt and make it much harder for you to wake up feeling refreshed. However, there is such a thing as sleeping too much also.
Oversleeping vs. Undersleeping: Both are Bad
Oversleeping can be just as bad as undersleeping. The opposite of insomnia— or not getting enough sleep— is hypersomnia, or sleeping too much. This isn’t the same as getting extra sleep following a night of sleep deprivation— done rarely, this won’t harm your sleep health. Consistently oversleeping, however, is a clear sign of underlying health conditions that you should not ignore.
Some signs that you may be sleeping too much include:
- Excessive sleep duration— well beyond the recommended 7-8 hours per night.
- Difficulty waking up in the morning, and difficulty getting out of bed.
- Feeling tired and unfocused throughout the day.
Hypersomnia can also be a sign of depression, especially in teens and young adults. It may also indicate another underlying sleep disorder, such as restless legs syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It’s also possible to suffer from hypersomnia and insomnia at the same time. This is why it’s so important for short sleepers and long sleepers both to get tested for sleep disorders.
5 Signs You Need More Sleep
Just being tired isn’t the only sign that you’re experiencing sleep loss. Sleep deprivation can affect the entire body, so if you have any of the following symptoms, you probably need more sleep.
1. You Fall Asleep Almost Immediately
Taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep is a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Being able to fall asleep quickly is generally a good thing, but falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is a bad sign.
It should take you between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep each night— falling asleep any faster than that is a major red flag for chronic sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
2. You Have a Low Sex Drive
You need a good night’s sleep for good sex, and your libido can really suffer if you’re not getting the sleep you need each night. Poor sleep is associated with erectile dysfunction in men, and insufficient sleep hampers hormone production in men and women. This can decrease your sex drive and make it more difficult for you or your partner to get in the mood.
Women can be especially vulnerable to poor sleep and reduced sex drive because they tend to experience more hormonal changes throughout their lives, such as premenstrual symptoms, pregnancy, or menopause. Women are also more likely to wake up during the night to take care of babies or young children.
3. You’re Dehydrated
Drinking too much before bed can interrupt our sleep, but did you know that insufficient sleep can make you thirsty? One study found that short sleep duration was associated with an increased risk of inadequate hydration.
This may be because of the hormone vasopressin— your body produces more of it during late sleep periods to prevent dehydration, but disrupted sleep can affect when this hormone is released, making you more vulnerable to dehydration.
4. You Crave Junk Food
There is a connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain— like the above examples, it comes down to hormones again. Poor sleep can increase the production of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, and reduce the production of leptin, which tells your body when it’s full.
If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to snack throughout the day and are less likely to exercise. Combined with cravings for high-calorie/low nutrition foods, this can spell trouble for your diet!
5. You Feel Anxious
One in five American adults are living with mental illness. Sleep and mental health are closely connected, and even share a cyclical relationship. Feeling anxious or depressed can negatively affect your sleep cycle, and not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling anxious and stressed out.
Sleep disorders are also connected to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder— between 50 and 90 percent of patients with psychiatric disorders also experience insomnia. This is because your mental health and your brain’s overall health depend on you getting good sleep each night.
Sufficient REM sleep allows your brain to process emotional information, which influences your mood, your memory, and your critical thinking skills.
Your sleep health, your mental health, and your overall health are all connected. If you’re having problems with one, you’re probably having problems with at least one of the others. However, this also means that treating one can also improve your quality of life in other areas.
How To Get Better Sleep
You don’t have to live with sleep issues. You can improve your symptoms and sleep better by updating some of your sleep habits — consider giving the following a try.
- Keep a sleep diary to track your bedtime, your wake-up time, your sleep habits, and any sleep problems that occur each night.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule— go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Improve your sleep hygiene. Ideally, you want to give yourself enough time to take care of any unfinished business from the day and wind down for the evening so you can fall asleep easily. Make sure to put your devices away at least an hour before bed.
- Take a nap during the day— but not too close to your bedtime, or for longer than 90 minutes.
Healthy sleep is vital to feeling your best each day. If making some positive changes in your sleep routine doesn’t help you sleep better, then you want to get in touch with your doctor or a sleep expert as soon as possible. They can help you figure out your symptoms, and if necessary, schedule a sleep study to check for a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) don’t go away on their own. If you’re looking for an accredited sleep expert or sleep center near you, I recommend using this tool by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Not getting the quality sleep you need can not only make you feel sluggish and burnt out, but it can affect your body in some sneaky ways. Your health is directly connected to getting adequate sleep— you may be surprised at how much a good night’s sleep can treat!
Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor