Can you be too tired to sleep?

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Qualified Life Coach
Ask Marianna

13 December 2018

Is there a difference between being tired and sleepy?

Mood swings, irritability and hyperactivity – these are all symptoms that we can easily recognise in small children when they stay up past their bedtimes. Despite the clock ticking, they just seem to resist and keep going until they eventually crash. Unsurprisingly, grown adults can also demonstrate a similar reaction when overtiredness presents itself but , before I go on to explain how overtiredness can occur; I first need to define what it is and its impact. 

First, it’s important to understand that tiredness is not the same thing as feeling sleepy. The two terms are often used interchangeably but sleepiness acts as a precursor to sleep – if you’re constantly yawning, blinking and generally struggling to stay conscious then you are definitely sleepy. However, tiredness and sleepiness aren’t mutually exclusive which means that you can feel physically, emotionally or mentally exhausted but not sleepy.

This is essentially what happens when you feel overtired – you may feel drained and mentally tired but you’re still too wired or restless to feel sleepy. When you do eventually go to bed you’ll find yourself tossing and turning, unable to tune out your own thoughts and still too awake and alert to feel relaxed enough to sleep. 

10 common symptoms of overtiredness!

  • 1. Anxiety
  • 2. Restlessness
  • 3. Mood swings
  • 4. Inability to think cohesively
  • 5. Slower reaction times
  • 6. Muscle tension
  • 7. Dizziness
  • 8. Poor Coordination 
  • 9. Blurred vision
  • 10. Insomnia

Why am I feeling overtired?

Although the phrase ‘overtired’ is often ascribed to children, it can present itself in adults for a number of reasons. If you’re unable to ‘switch off’ at night then, according to sleep expert Nerina Ramlakhan, your hectic lifestyle and society as a whole may have a big role to play.  As she cites, “we have become restless as a society1, ” and, when you consider the advent of new technology such as smartphones and tablets this does make sense.

One of the great things about these technologies is that we’re now more connected with the world around us than ever before but, this can also be a disadvantage. Whether we want them to be or not, our phones are constantly pinging with alerts and notifications so there’s no chance of switching off the same way as we used to which can create issues, particularly when it comes to our work/life balance.

In 2010, a survey found that 89% of US workers considered their work/life balance to be a problem2,  and, considering that many of us can now access our work emails from home, this definitely poses a problem. This type of connectivity can mean that many of us struggle to shift out of ‘work mode’ and often do additional hours from home long after we’ve clocked out. This not only engages our brain but can be quite stressful. However, closer to home here in the UK, it’s also believed the environment we work in could be impacting our sleep patterns too!

If your job involves a computer, the chances are you spend most of your day at a desk in an office which limits your exposure to natural light. Since your sleep /wake cycle relies on the right exposure of light at the right time, this can mean that your sleep patterns become disrupted, not to mention your production of vitamin D becomes greatly reduced!3 

It isn’t just switching off from work that’s the problem though – whenever we have a spare moment, most of us are browsing on our phones or laptops so our brains really aren’t getting a rest. Unlike thirty or even twenty years ago, they’re being constantly bombarded with stimulants whether it’s blue light or an action-packed YouTube video. 

A combination of all these different factors is the perfect recipe for overtiredness as your brain, constantly in a state of stimulation, will eventually trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, making you feel more awake and alert even at night when you’re tired. So, if you’re struggling to switch off at night because you’re still on red alert mentally and emotionally, what can you do to get some good quality sleep?

5 top tips if you’re overtired

1 – Relax your muscles, relax your mind

If you’re feeling restless and finding it difficult to relax sometimes it can cause muscle tension which can be an additional source of discomfort whilst you’re trying to get to sleep in bed. However, practicing some gentle stretches, combined with deep breathing techniques, can really help not only your muscles to relax, but your mind too! In 2015, Harvard Health Publishing highlighted a survey that found over 55% of yoga practitioners found that it helped them to achieve a better night of sleep4,  and comparable results have been found with similar exercises such as tai chi.5 

2 – Increase your intake of magnesium

In my blog, ‘Is magnesium a miracle mineral for sleep?’ I covered the benefits of this particular nutrient in more detail however, when it comes to overtiredness this mineral is definitely worth considering. Low levels of magnesium are often associated with sleep problems and, unfortunately, here in the UK low levels of magnesium are quite common.

This is a real shame as magnesium is not only pivotal for your muscles and joints (helping to relieve tension and spasms) it can also impact your nervous system too! This is because magnesium can help to increase your levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that works to reduce feelings of anxiety. Since anxiety is often associated with overtiredness, this can go a long way to helping you get to sleep. However, the benefits of magnesium don’t stop there – it’s also thought the help regulate your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone!

Now, realistically you should be able to get all the magnesium you need from your diet and you definitely don’t want to be exceeding 400mg a day! However, if you’re menopausal or suffering badly from PMS symptoms you might want to consider a magnesium supplement.

3 – Be more mindful

Mindfulness is steadily rising in popularity and here at A.Vogel Talks Sleep it’s a trend I’m definitely trying to encourage. It can especially be useful if you’re overtired and find that your thoughts are whizzing about all over the place as mindfulness encourages you to be present and aware in the moment. Instead of participating in this mad flurry of worries and anxieties, mindfulness allows you to take a step back, observing your thoughts from a distance and helping your brain to control negative emotions. Studies have found that practicing mindfulness can help to lower your blood cortisol levels which will definitely make it easier for you to get a good night’s sleep! 

4 – Switch off from the notification squad

Have you ever been woken up by a Facebook notification or an email? If you, like most of us now, sleep with your phone right next to your bed then the chances are you’re going to find it very difficult to relax. If it’s within reach it’s all too easy to start checking emails and scrolling through social media which can in turn exacerbate the symptoms of overtiredness. This isn’t just because your phones, laptops and similar devices emit blue lightwaves that can inhibit your production of melatonin; these technologies also stimulate you at a time when ideally, you should be resting. That’s why I always recommend either putting your phone on silent or switching it off once you’re in bed and, if you do find your finger fidgeting, get up and out of bed. This brings me to my next point…

5 – Don’t be afraid to get out of bed

Your bedroom should be a relaxing and comforting environment – the last thing you want to do is associate it with negative emotions such as anxiety and frustration. That’s why, rather than tossing and turning, I usually recommend getting up and out of bed. Try to move to a different room and sit quietly for a few minutes in the dark. Hopefully, your body should start to relax, in which case, move straight back to bed – sleeping on the sofa is unlikely to get you a comfortable sleep!

Are there any herbs that can help?

When it comes to sleep problems, there are a variety of herbs that can help. Chamomile tea, for example, is often used to help soothe and relax the body in the evening so, if you’re addicted to coffee or caffeinated tea, this could be a useful swap to bear in mind!

Lavender oil is another popular remedy when it comes to ensuring a good night’s sleep and this one actually has some basis in science. A small study found that in healthy sleepers, lavender oil was able to increase the amount of slow and deep wave sleep the participants experienced.6 Impressive! A couple of drops on your pillow at night is believed to help ease troubled emotions and encourage relaxation!

Finally, when it comes to tackling overtiredness I would recommend using our herbal tincture Dormeasan. This remedy contains a combination of Valerian and Hops which can help to gently relax your nervous system, easing stressful or anxiety-ridden emotions and allowing you to unwind in preparation for sleep. Dormeasan, unlike most conventional sleep medicines, also isn’t associated with any drowsy side-effects the following day so it’s ideal if you have to keep on-the-go.







Dormeasan® Valerian & Hops

Herbal sleep remedy containing organically grown valerian root and hops. Fresh herb tincture.
More info

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Here's what I recommend

As the A. Vogel Sleep advisor, I recommend Dormeasan®, a natural sleep remedy made from fresh extracts of Valerian root and Hops.

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Did you know?

The wrong sleep position can not only negatively impact the quality of your sleep, it can also have an impact your posture, your joints, your digestion and even your face by making wrinkles worse!

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