One question that seems to regularly plague people is “why am I always tired?”. One factor is that we are constantly putting our bodies in ‘work-mode’ even when we’re not at work! Whether you work late from home, have early-morning childcare duties, or sometimes have to travel across time zones, chances are your work schedule is not always the traditional “9 to 5.” We’re going to talk about science-backed tips on how to get higher quality sleep when you have irregular and inconsistent schedules to beat that ‘always tired’ feeling.
Our tips come from our team of experienced researchers and scientists that have combed through hundreds of articles in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine. Our focus is providing you the best way to be mentally and physically healthy so you can always be at your best.
Our sleep tips for irregular schedules and knocking the ‘always tired’ feeling are:
- Knowing and adapting your Sleep Cycle
- Creating the right sleep environment
- Managing your energy throughout the day
Before we get into our tips, we’ll briefly talk about how and what to look for to know if your life schedule is interfering with your sleep, and some common situations that cause sleep problems. We want to empower you to understand how your body works and how to find the sleep aid tactics that will work best for you.
You probably work more than 9-5
Our sleep can be affected by both irregular work schedules, and by the rest of our work beyond our time in the office. You might feel like you’re always tired not because of time in the office, but because of time outside of the office.
Irregular schedules. There have been several studies that show that people with irregular schedules tend to have issues with insomnia and other sleep issues, but what about individuals that have standard work hours?
More professions are moving away from a standard 9-5 work day. Some companies are moving to flexible/employee determined schedules, keeping work hours for another timezone, or digital nomad work. This can make your days less predictable and are probably one factor that makes you feel like you’re always tired.
Working outside of “work.” The research shows it’s not just about when you’re working at your paid job, but the amount of time that you are active and putting your brain and body to work. When you keep your body and brain going, it doesn’t have the time to rest! Our brain doesn’t get a break or time off, and it can contribute to that ‘always tired’ mentality. Maybe you do keep a 9-5 job, but if you wake up early and workout or take care of kids, or stay-up late to catch up on personal affairs, your body is treating it like a 12 hour work day.
It’s a cliche to say that we all have complicated and complex lives, but understanding that thinking about the future stresses and knowing that it’s more than just work hours that drains you is key to understanding your body and how it affects your sleep. The sleep aid tips we are talking about here are particularly for those that have long, active days when you are most likely to feel always tired throughout the day.
Sleep aid tip 1: Know your sleep cycle
Unlike our lives, our bodies are constantly trying to keep a regular schedule. When it comes to sleep, we have a specified sleep cycle that governs our body. When we get that ‘always tired’ feeling, we are usually not sleeping in the appropriate cycle path.
We have 4 general stages of sleep which are indicated by our brain waves, body movements, and other physical attributes.
Our sleep cycles are broken up into 4 general stages, Stage 1 (awake or nearly awake), stages 2-4, levels of deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (or REM). It takes approximately 90 minutes to complete a sleep cycle.
One thing you don’t want to do is wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Jolting your body and brain from stage 4 to being awake can cause serious issues with your alertness and your ability to function.
For example, it’s similar to when you go from a hot tub to the cold pool water. Your body gets a shock and isn’t able to adjust immediately. You eventually get normal functioning, but it takes a bit longer for your body to get accustomed to its new environment. The same is true with sleep! A key way to get over being always tired is to change the way we try to sleep into sleep cycles.
If you have to reduce your sleep because of a hectic day, don’t be afraid to schedule and budget your sleep! Sleeping in those 90 minute sleep cycles is a great way to help your body adjust easier. As you can see in the chart above, the end of the sleep cycle is closer to the awake line, which means it takes less effort and time to get your body in a fully alert and awake state. While it may sound strange, knowing your sleep cycles can help a lot, for example, if you have 4 hours off, it might be better to sleep for 3 hours rather than the full 4 hours.
So try setting a time or alarm for 1.5 hour intervals (ie, 1.5 hours, 3 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours), so your body can try to adjust to those sleep cycles. It should be noted that this is going to be a temporary solution! You should try to get 7-10 hours of sleep whenever you can, but if life or work get in the way, this is a way to adapt your sleep cycle to get you through a hectic schedule.
Sleep aid tip 2: Create the right sleep environment
Creating the right sleep environment can help you get better quality of sleep whether you’re sleeping the recommended or reduced amount. High quality sleep is a key factor for helping you feel more energized. If your environment isn’t right, it might even make breathing more difficult, create extra pressure on your muscles and joints, or increase dehydration. These are all tasks that make our body work hard during sleep, when we are supposed to be resting. When our body has to keep working during sleep, it makes our body like it’s always tired.
The basics of a good sleep environment
Here are some environmental sleep aid tips. They are part of growing evidence about the importance of good sleep hygiene.:
- Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature
- Recommended between 60-66 degrees F or 15-18 degrees C.
- Minimize loud, intense, and up-beat noise when trying to fall asleep
- Such as music or non-relaxing conversations
- Put electronic devices in sleep mode
- Keep light sources blocked
- Our bodies use natural and artificial light to regulate our circadian rhythms. Not exposing your body and eyes to light can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
- If you don’t have the option to block out the light with blinds or can’t alter your environment, sleep masks might be a good way to regain control of your environment.
- Create a comfortable, relaxed sleeping position
- We’ll talk more about this below
Deepening your knowledge: Neck support and weighted blankets
Your sleep posture and comfort has a lot to do with your sleep quality and how you feel when you wake up.
Neck Support. As we mentioned, sleep posture can cause some other issues. When we are talking about posture, we don’t just mean if you sleep on your side or you back, but whether your neck and spine are supported.
Your neck is an extremely important area of your body. It’s the key area of your body that connects the brain to the rest of the body. It’s the essential supporting role of the Central Nervous System (CNS). When you sleep your pillow should directly support your neck. This is done so your spine, neck, and brainstem are in their natural alignment. If you sleep on your back or side, take a look at the diagram below based on the Cleveland Clinics research and medical expertise.
Because your neck is so important for the communication happening within your body, it’s an essential way to stop that ‘always tired’ message from getting to the rest of your body.
Properly supporting your neck is key to prevent developing back or neck pain, and can even help subdue the effects of chronic neck pain.
Weighted Blankets. Have you ever gotten to Sunday night and realized that the next week was going to be a long and grueling one? Well, the anticipation of having stress can cause your body to react by releasing stress-related or excitatory hormones into your body before you even start the work! This anticipatory stress has a huge effect on our ability to sleep.
This compounds the stress you might have during the week to cause issues such as insomnia, sleeping lightly, shortened sleep, low quality sleep, and can start making you feel tired before you realize it. Another common symptom of stress is hypersomnia, or sleeping too much and having that lingering ‘always tired’ feeling.
Using a weighted blanket is one way to reduce anticipatory or even regular stress and anxiety. Recent research has shown that weighted blankets help increase sleep quality and reduce stress in pediatric patients with autism spectrum disorder and healthy adults.
Sleep aid tip 3: Managing your energy throughout the day
Think of your daily activity and energy levels like a prepaid debit card. You have a limit to spend, and have to fill it up every time you run out, or you can’t spend any more. That’s how our bodies work with sleep and energy. Sleep is our body’s natural way of replacing our energy. During sleep our digestive system is more active, our neurotransmitters are being replenished, and our hormones are being balanced. Now, just like that pre-paid debit card, you don’t have to wait until you’re completely on 0 to charge it up!
Power naps. One way to beat that ‘always tired’ feeling have that you can implement during the day is taking 20-40 minute power naps! These power naps allow your body to ‘top-up’ on energy and keep you going through the day. These naps are great because they give the body a little rest. Think about when you take a break after working on a project for a few hours. You come back with fresh eyes and you feel like you can tackle the project a bit better. This is similar, except it’s a reset for your WHOLE body and brain.
These naps are good because they allow you to rest a bit, but don’t allow your body to go into deep sleep stages. In addition, if you find yourself with a bit more time, say 90 minutes or so, you can try to get a full sleep cycle in!
Food for energy. Because it’s our body that needs energy, another great way to keep going during the day is to eat small, high energy snacks. Dried or fresh fruits and berries are high in natural sugars and protein that can help keep your body energized. Sports drinks can also help hydrate you and replenish electrolytes or salts that keep our muscles going.
If you’re not a fan of the sweet fruits, try things like snap peas, nuts, carrots, or even pickles. These natural foods help stimulate your digestive system which makes your body go to work and help keep you awake. We’ve also discussed how food can help improve your concentration and focus during the day.
Bonus sleep aid tip on the go: Jet lag
Flying is one of those times when that ‘always tired’ feeling starts to creep up. If you’re flying for work, for vacation, or going straight to work from a vacation flight, your body will be more taxed because of travel.
If you can find the time to take a nap, that is ideal, but we know that’s not always possible. Here are a few ways to beat jet-lag, especially if you are crossing time zones like goring from Tronoto to Los Angeles, New York to London, or Sydney to Hong Kong!
Tips for long stays:
- Expose yourself to natural light and fresh air
- This can be done by walking outside for a little bit, or keeping the blinds or windows open while you’re commuting, or even in your office.
- Stretch your arms and legs
- Traveling in any way, but especially flying, is often done is small, cramped spaces. Giving a stretch to your arms and legs is a good way to get the blood flowing in your body and re-energize your blood circulation.
- Listen to up-beat music
- As we said before, up-beat music can prevent you from going to sleep and night, but it can also be a way to fight jet lag and keep you from feeling drowsy during the day.
- Stay Hydrated
- Travel takes a toll on our bodies, and staying hydrated is key to beating jet lag. Refraining from drinking alcohol and consistently drinking water is a great way to beat jetlag.
Recap of beating that ‘always tired’ feeling
Sleep is an important way to keep our body and staying alert to beat that ‘always tired’ feeling is important when you have a busy life. There is no doubt that sleep can be hard to come by, so we’ve provided some sleep aid tips to help you beat the busy schedule and keep your body and brain at its best.
- Know and sleep in sleep cycles:
- be intentional about getting in those 90 minute cycles can help you wake up faster and be alert quicker.
- Creating the right sleep environment
- keeping your room cool, dark, and noise-free, and your body well-supported and comfortable to ensure that your sleep quality is up and your drowsiness is down.
- Manage your energy throughout the day
- taking 20-30 minute power naps, and
- stimulating your body with natural sugars and proteins to engage your digestive system and keep your body going through the day
We even talked about a bonus sleep aid tip to beat Jet Lag! You can do this by getting your body exposed to natural light and fresh air, listening to up-beat music, and getting some light stretching in.
We know that while our bodies crave consistency and predictability, our schedules might constantly be irregular. Our sleep aid tips should help you battle those tough schedules so you can stay at your peak performance and beat those long, hard days.