The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that among the adults in the U.S., more than a third of the population is not getting enough regular sleep. So, what does it mean when you ask yourself "why am I so tired all the time?" It means that you could be suffering from fragmented sleep caused by a sleep disorder.
Chances are, if you’re spending several hours during the night in bed lying awake or are tired more often than not during the day, you could have one of the many sleep disorders that fragment sleep.
Some common signs that you aren't getting the sleep you need include:
You lack energy all day long and always feel tired.
You can't pay attention during important functions like a meeting.
You can't seem to 'get going' and are unmotivated.
You are grouchy, easily lose your temper and are irritable.
To need an alarm clock to get you up each morning.
You fall asleep while driving.
The consequence of waking up several times during the night is the same as if you stayed up all night long. And, science tells us that, among other repercussions, when you get no more than four hours of sleep each night, the consequences are poor moods, lack of focus and negative cognitive impact.
If you’re concerned with the sleep you’re getting and feel as if you might have a sleep disorder, it's essential that you speak with a sleep specialist or your physician to get their opinion. They might suggest you do a facility-based sleep study or some home sleep testing to get to the underlying root of the problem.
Reasons and Causes of Being Tired All the Time
At one time or another, most of us have problems sleeping. Typically, it's because of an illness, stress, or some type of distraction from your regular routine.
What’s more, often when you think you are getting enough sleep, you aren't. Certain sleep conditions such as sleep apnea may be disrupting or fragmenting your sleep, without you realizing it. When this occurs, over the course of one night, you find that you wake up and fall back to sleep over and over without even being aware you’re doing so in some cases. In fact, UCLA Health, says that most men aren’t even aware they have a sleep disorder.
Not only does the quantity of sleep you’re getting matter, but the quality of sleep you get does as well. When you are getting low-quality sleep that leaves you exhausted and tired the next day, it's not healthy. To restore your mind and body, you require restorative sleep. Not to mention, poor-quality sleep can contribute to a whole range of health, issues including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and depression.
You should be waking up each morning feeling fully rested. You don't necessarily have to be full of vigor or energetic upon waking, but you should at least feel like you slept well, at least most of the time.
Also, a “one-size-fits-all” sleep regimen doesn't apply to all people. Sleep specialists separate sleeping patterns into a couple categories: long and short. Some people do well on a short sleep pattern which is less than six hours of sleep a night, according to doctors. Others, however, typically require long periods of sleep, which is between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
If you’re suffering with fragmented sleep and are waking up periodically throughout the night, it takes away from your restful, deep sleep. This can lead to daytime fatigue and lethargy. If, however, your fragmented sleep problems are a regular nighttime occurrence which interferes with your functioning the next day, it could mean you are suffering from a sleep disorder.
Now, that we talked about the reasons and causes of being tired all of the time, let’s discuss in more detail what both fragmented sleep is and how it can be related to a sleep disorder.
What is Fragmented Sleep?
When your sleeping cycle is continuously short and with constant interruptions during sleep that leaves you feeling unrefreshed the next day, this is known as fragmented sleep. The amount of time you spend in sleep is usually less than normal as well. It can be really frustrating when you struggle with fragmented sleep. It can leave you lying in bed awake when you know that you shouldn't be awake or you could be experiencing fragmented sleep without being fully aware that you are.
Sleep fragmentation tends to increase when you get older. Although it's common, not many people are clear on why it happens. There is a question on whether an increase in sleep fragmentation is normal for people who are aging or if it indicates an underlying problem.
There are theories behind this. Perhaps children's brains need to go back to sleeping quicker than adult brains since they are more malleable. Or, maybe both younger and older people awaken at night the same number of times, but younger people get back to sleep quicker not even remembering they woke up. Either way, fragmented sleep is unpleasant and frustrating and is a huge contributor to daytime sleepiness.
Signs and Symptoms of Fragmented Sleep
Fragmented sleep signs and symptoms to look for include:
Feeling sleepy and irritable throughout the day
Not being able to stay awake while you sit still, read or watch TV
Feeling tired or fall asleep while you drive
Having trouble concentrating
Others frequently tell you that you look tired
Frequently asking yourself what the reasons why i am so tired all the time are
Difficulty controlling emotions
Need to nap during the day
Need coffee or other caffeinated drinks to keep going
If you experience any of these symptoms on a daily basis, it could be due to a sleep disorder, and it might be time to get a sleep study to know for sure.
Consequences of Fragmented Sleep
While you sleep at night, your brain consolidates memories and determines the ones that should be taken from your short-term storage to your long-term memory storage. This process is interrupted by sleep fragmentation. When you are experiencing fragmented sleep, you are not able to learn as readily.
Also, if you are struggling with sleep apnea, sleep fragmentation makes it worse. You also can experience intensive daytime sleepiness, vigilance, reduced response time, and poor mood, just to name some.
When asked what “a good night's sleep” means, you might consider it unfragmented sleep or when you sleep with only a couple or no awakenings. Therefore, good sleep quality usually refers to sleep that is unfragmented and continuous.
Scientific studies are beginning to show a connection between different diseases and insufficient or poor-quality sleep. Blood pressure can shift during a normal sleep cycle. However, when you have interrupted sleep, it can affect this variability negatively and lead to cardiovascular and hypertension problems. Also, it's been shown through research that how your body uses insulin can be impaired by insufficient sleep as well and can contribute to developing diabetes. Sleep fragmentation can lead to increased cortisol hormone levels and a lowered metabolism. When you have high cortisol levels, it increases your appetite and affects how you are able to burn calories.
What is a Sleep Disorder?
Sleep disorders affect your body's ability to sleep well. Although having occasional bouts of sleep difficulty is normal, having chronic problems being able to get to sleep, waking up feeling lethargic and exhausted and experiencing sleepiness throughout the day is not normal.
So, when you have a bad night's sleep, you’re left feeling exhausted and dead-tired each morning and any energy you might have had gets drained quickly. However, even though this can leave you feeling extremely tired at night, you still can't sleep. This is a vicious cycle that you go through over and over which can negatively impact your energy, mood, ability to deal with stress and efficiency.
Daytime sleepiness is not the only symptom of sleep disorders. Your physical and mental health can be affected negatively as well causing high blood pressure, memory problems, weight gain and impact your heart health, immune system, mood and energy levels.
Sleep Disorders that Can Result in Fragmented Sleep
Research shows there are more than 100 various sleep disorders that range from nighttime sleeping difficulty to sleepiness during the day. Because of this, receiving an accurate diagnosis and coming up with a treatment plan by working with a qualified physician or sleep specialist is imperative. Some common types of sleep disorders that involve fragmented sleep include:
This is a common condition where you experience shallow breathing or pause in-between breaths while you sleep. These pauses may last anywhere from a couple seconds to a few minutes and can happen over 30 times an hour after which you begin breathing normally again. These pauses are often followed with a choking or loud snorting sound.
This condition is chronic, typically that is notorious for disrupting your sleep. When you pause in breathing or experience shallow breathing, it can often move you from a deep sleep to a lighter one. When this happens, it can reduce your quality of sleep making you tired and fatigued all day.
There are a few types of sleep apnea which include:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) - the most common type of apnea that happens when you relax your throat muscles
Central Sleep Apnea - when your brain isn't sending the right signals to your breathing muscles
Complex Sleep Apnea - when you have both central and obstructive sleep apnea
There are multiple signs of sleep apnea which include:
Fatigue or sleepiness during the day
Sore throat or dry mouth upon waking up
Restlessness while you sleep
Forgetfulness, irritability, depression and trouble concentrating
Waking up to choking or gasping
Not being able to get up in the morning
If you sleep with another person, chances are they will notice some of these symptoms before you do. Call your doctor if you present any of these symptoms of sleep apnea.
Periodic Limb Movements
This disorder is characterized by repetitive limb movement that happens while you sleep and can disrupt your sleep. These movements of your limbs typically involve your lower extremities and consist of flexion of your ankle, hip and knee and extension of your big toe. In some cases, your upper extremities are involved as well.
It is usually during your non-REM sleep that these limb movements happen. They are repetitive motions that are divided by more regular intervals of up to nine seconds. Periodic limb movement disorder symptoms can lead to fragmented sleep and usually, you are not even aware of these movements.
This is a neurological condition that is caused by the inability of your brain to regulate normal sleep-wake cycles. With this condition, you can experience severe and overwhelming daytime sleepiness that may happen in places and times that are not appropriate. This severe symptom can happen without any warning and can happen repeatedly throughout the day. When you have this condition, it is not uncommon for you to also struggle with fragmented sleep at night.
Other symptoms of narcolepsy include:
Sudden sleep attacks
This condition can affect your daily activities tremendously. It can cause you to fall asleep unwillingly and unknowingly while you are in the middle of a conversation, eating a meal, working, playing a game or operating machinery or driving (the most dangerous).
If you have been unsuccessful at conquering sleep fragmentation with self-help remedies, it's time to schedule your appointment with your family doctor or sleep specialist. They will be able to determine what and how severe your sleep problem through a sleep study as well as prescribe you treatments and therapies that can help you sleep better at night. By identifying the root of the problem and receiving treatment, you can improve your chances of sleeping much more soundly at night, and enhancing your quality of life and health.