Alarm clock
Photo: Adam Voorhes
"I'm tired." It's the catchall lament uttered daily by the overworked, chronically fatigued, harried, and stressed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of all adult Americans are sleep deprived. But having a case of the yawns doesn't automatically mean you're not getting enough rest. To feel truly recharged, you first have to sort out what brand of beat you are.

Just Plain Sleepy

Feels like...your brain's in a fog and it's nearly impossible to keep your eyelids at full mast.

The Cause: You're generally getting less than seven hours of sleep. While everyone requires a different amount, most people need seven to nine hours to feel fully awake, according to the National Sleep Foundation. "When you deprive yourself of rest—particularly after 9 P.M., when the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is naturally released—your body switches to a slower survival mode," explains Michael Breus, PhD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Your metabolism slows down to conserve energy, and your alertness takes a nosedive."

The Cure: Reset your sleep clock. It's not enough to get more sleep on the nights you're exhausted, says Breus. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day is the best way to get your sleep cycle to match up with your natural circadian rhythm. This will regulate melatonin production and train your brain to be alert when you need it to be, so you'll feel less groggy during the day.

Emotionally Spent

Feels overall sense of weariness that's distinct from sleepiness but still leaves you wiped out.

The Cause: Stress. When the stress hormone cortisol is released, it interferes with the functioning of relaxing neurotransmitters like serotonin. As a result, you're left dragging. "When you're chronically anxious, you're stuck in a low-level 'fight or flight' mode that will eventually exhaust your entire body, from your brain to your muscles—which are often knotted from tension," says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

The Cure: Resist the urge to crawl under the covers; instead, do something fun to counteract your anxiety, says Katz. When you call a friend, go for a walk, or engage in any other activity you enjoy, you divert your mental focus, which can reverse the influx of stress hormones. Your cortisol level should normalize, and you'll slowly begin to feel refreshed. And when you do finally get into bed, your serotonin levels will have been restored, and you'll sleep more soundly.

Next: How to boost your energy, end physical exhaustion and more...

Energy Zapped

Feels're inexplicably drained of vigor despite getting enough sleep.

The Cause: You may be suffering from a form of sleep apnea, in which your airway becomes temporarily blocked while you're sleeping, leading to pauses between breaths, a disrupted sleep cycle, and less time in deep sleep. But you may have a more serious condition such as thyroid dysfunction (women are more likely than men to have thyroid problems). The thyroid controls everything from metabolism to body temperature, so misfires of the gland have wide-reaching effects, including fatigue. Another potential trigger: anemia, a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin (which carries oxygen in your blood), that affects more than three million people. When body tissue doesn't get enough oxygen, you can feel light-headed, tired, and drained of energy.

The Cure: Schedule a checkup with your doctor if you feel bone-tired even after getting sufficient sleep and sticking to a decent diet. "So many people write off fatigue as simply a by-product of working too much, but it can be a symptom of larger, more serious health issues that can usually be resolved quickly once diagnosed," says Breus.

Physically Exhausted

Feels like...full-body fatigue.

The Cause: Working your body in ways it's not used to. Overexerting yourself at the gym, doing heavy lifting around the house, even walking all day on vacation may cause microscopic tears in your muscles, and as they repair, you can feel a reduction of strength for days.

The Cure: Give your body the break it needs to recover. Put off any activity that may be physically taxing for at least 24 hours or until muscle soreness eases.

Next: Why you're tired after lunch

After-Lunch Slumped

Feels like...a sudden onset of grogginess.

The Cause: Your body may be dealing with the effects of an oversize, carb-heavy meal. Carbs are more likely than fat or protein to prompt swings in insulin and blood sugar levels, as well as a spike in serotonin.

The Cure: Make sure your midday meal isn't too big, and avoid added sugars and simple carbs. Aim to fill your plate with vegetables, lean protein, and a bit of healthy fat, says nutritionist Keri Glassman, author of the recent book The New You (and Improved!) Diet. "If you want something more carb heavy, opt for a starchy veggie like a sweet potato."

Too Wired to Sleep

Feels're jittery with exhaustion.

The Cause: Stress, coupled with fatigue. At a certain point, you can get so stimulated—by the very sensations of being tired and anxious—that your brain heads into overdrive. "This turns on a complex flurry of neurotransmitters involving several areas of the brain," explains Hilary Tindle, MD, an internist at the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center. "Your mind buzzes with activity, making it nearly impossible to fall asleep."

The Cure: Instead of lying in bed replaying scenes from the day, distract yourself. Concentrating on a nonemotional task can decrease activity in the brain. Here's one diversion: Count backward from 300 by threes. "When you're doing basic math, your brain can't focus on anything else," says Breus. "It's a way to force yourself to stop ruminating and wind down."

More Sleep Solutions


Next Story