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Why Am I Always Sleepy No Matter How Much Sleep I Get?

Feeling tired all the time? The culprit is likely sleep debt and/or circadian misalignment. Read on to understand why and learn the solution.
Published
2022-02-15
Updated
2022-10-17
9 MINS
Woman at work in front of computer yawning and feeling sleepy

The latest ad for the world's comfiest mattress is at it again. You stare enviously at the screen as the ad model bounds out of bed perkily when the alarm clock goes off. You can't help but wonder, "Why am I always sleepy no matter how much sleep I get?"

Before the guilt train over not being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed goes full steam ahead, we're going to put on the brakes and tell you this: Feeling groggy when you wake up is a completely normal phenomenon called sleep inertia. What's not natural is when you constantly feel tired throughout the day.

Maybe you think you've had enough sleep and the lingering drowsiness is a foreshadowing of a medical condition. But hold up on the health scare. Did you actually have a full night of sleep, or did your mid-afternoon cup of coffee lead to frequent middle-of-the-night awakenings? Perhaps it isn't a lack of sleep behind your low energy levels, but rather an out-of-tune body clock inciting circadian misalignment. Whatever the case may be, your sleep problems are most likely a byproduct of undersleeping rather than oversleeping.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. While the RISE app supports natural sleep patterns and boosts sleep hygiene, it does not treat medical conditions.

So, Why Am I Always Sleepy No Matter How Much Sleep I Get?

Anyone struggling with excessive daytime sleepiness knows how much of a drag it can be on their everyday life. Cue the impaired cognitive skills, slower reflexes, weakened immune system, and poorer mood the next day. It's also a recipe for chronic diseases further down the road.

You feel like you’re sleeping a lot, so you don’t understand why you’re still tired. The reality is, you’re likely not sleeping as much as you think you are, leading to high sleep debt and/or you’re suffering from circadian misalignment.

In the next few sections, we'll talk about these two factors in detail.

Culprit No. 1: High Sleep Debt

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE apps shows how much sleep debt you carry on a daily basis.

High sleep debt dampens your energy levels. To understand how that happens, let's clarify a few key terms:

  • Sleep need: Your sleep need is as genetically unique as your height or eye color. You most likely need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep to feel and function at your best the next day (but some people need more than 9 hours). If you're perpetually sleepy even though you think you had a good night's sleep, chances are you don't know your exact sleep need. This is a problem confounded by sleep apps that don't peg your sleep score to your individual need. That's why we created RISE to correct this glaring oversight — it calculates your sleep need right down to the exact hour and minute.
  • Acute sleep debt: When you don't meet your sleep need, you rack up sleep debt. This is the amount of sleep you've missed out on in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need. You can view your sleep debt on the Sleep screen in the RISE app.
  • Chronic sleep deprivation: If you're consistently sleep-deprived over months and years, you will suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. When you’re chronically sleep-deprived, you’re likely suffering from acute sleep debt too.
  • Sleep homeostasis: The sleep homeostat is like a seesaw that wants to be balanced. During wakefulness, a drowsiness-inducing compound called adenosine builds up in your brain, tilting the homeostat to one side. Adenosine then subsides when you sleep, rebalancing the sleep homeostat. If you don't meet your sleep need, leftover adenosine stays in your system, leaving the seesaw unbalanced and making you feel groggier than usual.

The reason you're sleepy all the time boils down to these three things:

  • You (most likely) don't know your sleep need, so chances are you aren't meeting that need.
  • You underestimate your sleep duration because you don't know how long you take to fall asleep and how frequently you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • To recoup the sleep you've lost, you have to out-sleep your sleep need, hence the constant fatigue that besieges you.

It's fine to be sleepy at certain times of the day. As part of your circadian rhythm, you naturally have daily energy peaks and dips. (You can view the timing of yours on the Energy Schedule in the RISE app.)

But when there's sleep debt looming over your head, your energy peaks won't feel as peaky, and your dips will be a real trough. That's because your body is urging you to pay off your sleep debt and reach sleep homeostasis again so that you can feel and function at your best.

Of course, there are solutions to help you get there as quickly as you can: well-timed naps, an earlier bedtime (that's still within your Melatonin Window on the RISE app), and sleeping in up to an hour past your usual wake time.

But ultimately, to keep sleep debt at bay, you need to cultivate bulletproof sleep hygiene through positive lifestyle changes and tweaks to your sleep environment.

Culprit No. 2: Circadian Misalignment

Another reason you might feel bone-weary tired is circadian misalignment.

Your circadian rhythm is the internal body clock that regulates vital biological processes like your sleep cycle and energy fluctuations. Going against the flow of your circadian rhythm — a later-than-usual bedtime, working the graveyard shift, etc. — incites circadian misalignment.

Daylight savings time (DST) perfectly exemplifies how a mere one-hour fast-forward/fall-back of your sleep schedule has massive repercussions on your sleep and health. Below, we share three other scenarios that regularly trigger circadian misalignment to a much greater degree in most people.

Scenario 1: Chronotype Mismatch

Always sleepy no matter how much sleep I get: man working alone late at night

The timing of your circadian rhythm is, in part, dictated by your chronotype. From sleeping to waking, eating to exercising, there’s a right time to carry out your daily activities if you want to be in top form. Your chronotype is why you might identify as a “night owl” or an “early bird” — with a good number of us somewhere in between these two extremes.

For many night owls, it’s likely your current lifestyle is at odds with your chronotype because we live in an early-bird world. When you’re biologically inclined to a later sleep-wake schedule, it feels excruciatingly impossible to drag yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn and fulfill work or school duties. No wonder you constantly think to yourself, "I'm always sleepy no matter how much sleep I get!"

The Solution

Your best bet is to align your lifestyle with your chronotype. If that isn't possible, say, you're an evening chronotype with a 9-5 job, try actively shifting your circadian rhythm to match your life demands. While it's doable, take note that it requires time, effort, and consistency.

Scenario 2: Social Jetlag

You’ve heard of (and probably have experienced) travel jet lag. But there’s another form of jetlag you may not know: social jetlag, when your social and biological clocks are out of sync.

In the past, the epitome of social jetlag was a late-to-bed, late-to-rise timetable on the weekends (or days off), only to strong-arm your internal clock into an early sleep-wake schedule during the workweek. Nowadays, with a work-from-home schedule that doesn't necessitate a consistently timed morning commute, social jetlag is a much more frequent occurrence.

Unfortunately, this form of jetlag doesn't just take a toll on your body the next day. Its backlash extends far into the future — animal models confirmed the close relationship between circadian disruption and metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity.

The Solution

Consistency is the antidote to social jetlag. If some deviation from your sleep-wake times is non-negotiable, maintain a semblance of regularity in other aspects of your daily routine.

For example, regular meal times are a solid tactic to steady your circadian rhythm. In a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis, scientists recommended time-restricted eating (TRE), which "emphasizes the timing of eating within a limited duration" to minimize and prevent the ill effects of circadian misalignment. The paper concluded that TRE improved several metabolic metrics — such as weight gain, blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol levels — for better overall health.

Scenario 3: Shift Work

Shift work is one of the most prevalent triggers of circadian misalignment in modern society. Research explains the side effects that a shift worker can experience from circadian misalignment alone as well as circadian misalignment coupled with sleep debt:

  • Stand-alone circadian misalignment: A 2005 study discovered that women working the night shift are more vulnerable to breast cancer. Another 2019 study highlighted that circadian disruption is linked to a greater risk of sarcopenia (progressive muscle loss).
  • Circadian misalignment plus high sleep debt: One study in the Journal of Policing notes that police officers who worked the night shift and had substantial sleep debt were "four times more likely than other officers to have metabolic syndrome."

The Solution

Healthy sleep hygiene tamps down the worst of SWSD. You can also leverage certain circadian cues to bring forward or delay your sleep schedule for better circadian alignment.

For instance, light is the most potent circadian cue to start, stop, and reset your internal clock. Expose yourself to bright light (preferably sunlight) when you wake up and avoid artificial light (especially blue light) in the few hours before bed.

If possible, request rotating shifts that move forward in time. Forward shifts push your bedtime backward so you experience less circadian disruption and need less adjustment to your sleep schedule.

When Tiredness Is a Cause for Medical Concern

Doctor writing on a form attached to a clipboard

If high sleep debt and circadian misalignment aren't to blame for your persistent tiredness, there may be a chance a health condition is at work.

The tendency to sleep longer than the average person is medically known as hypersomnia or oversleeping. It's a common symptom in various medical conditions and sleep disorders such as:

  • Narcolepsy
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Thyroid disorders, like hypothyroidism
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Mental health issues, like depression

Take note that symptoms, like joint pain or backaches, can also affect the amount and quality of your sleep, so you end up perpetually sleepy. The same goes for certain medications and stimulants, like antihistamines and alcohol.

Stop Feeling Sleepy All the Time With RISE

For the most part, the answer to "Why am I always sleepy no matter how much sleep I get?" is most likely hefty sleep debt and/or circadian misalignment. Very rarely would it be a chronic illness triggering hypersomnia.

But you can stop feeling sleepy all the time with RISE, which will help you get the sleep you need and stay aligned with your body clock. Download the RISE app today so you can feel and function at your best.

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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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