10 Reasons You're Tired That Have Nothing To Do With How Much You're Sleeping

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
By now, we’ve all heard the secrets to good sleep: Avoid caffeine and TV too close to bedtime, keep the room cool and dark, sleep at least seven hours per night, blah blah blah. But, what if you are getting a full night’s sleep — responsibly resisting the temptation to binge-watch House of Cards until 2 a.m. — and you still wake up tired? It turns out there may be sneakier, lesser-known reasons for your fatigue. Click through for 10 surprising culprits that might be draining your energy. 
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
That Nightcap
A cocktail or glass of wine may be a soothing end to a stressful day, but sipping spirits too close to bedtime can rob you of your ZZZs. While alcohol does help you doze off faster, it also shortens rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — a crucial phase of your sleep cycle for dreaming, learning, and memory. This means the second half of your slumber is more disrupted and less restful, causing you to wake up during the night and feel more tired the next day.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Too Much Clutter
Battling the afternoon energy slump? It may be time to clean your desk. Too much stimulation in your visual space (like a cluttered work area) restricts your ability to concentrate and process information, research at Princeton University shows. “Multiple unrelated objects in close proximity to each other compete for your brain’s resources,” says Stephanie McMains, PhD, study author and staff scientist at the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. Keep clutter to a minimum to avoid sapping your mental energy, and try to group items in a meaningful way. “Individual objects that form part a larger group will not compete with each other as much,” says Dr. McMains. “You can also try spreading items out, so objects in the left versus right visual field don't compete as much as things right next to each other.”
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Skipping Your Workout
Feeling wiped is a common excuse for cutting spin class, but skipping your workouts may be why you’re so drained in the first place. A 2006 study from the University of Georgia found that light exercise reduced feelings of fatigue by as much as 65% and boosted energy levels by 20%. “We believe exercise may alter neurotransmitters in the brain that promote feelings of energy,” says Patrick O’Connor, PhD, study author and professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia. Pack your gym bag the night before, so you’ll be less likely to bail.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Thyroid Problems
Chronic feelings of fatigue could signal a thyroid problem. The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, secretes hormones that regulate a variety of functions, from your body temperature to metabolism and heartbeat. But, sometimes, the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, leading to a condition called hypothyroidism. “Thyroid hormones stimulate the brain, accelerating focus and awareness,” says Antonio Bianco, MD, PhD, division chief of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “If levels of these hormones in the blood decrease, it causes body functions to slow down, and you feel fatigued.” Women are three to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. If you have unexplained fatigue coupled with unexpected weight gain, menstrual irregularity, cold intolerance, constipation, or other unusual symptoms, see your MD for an evaluation. “Your doctor can give you a blood test to measure your thyroid hormone levels and determine if treatment is necessary,” Dr. Bianco says.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dehydration
Even mild dehydration can alter your mood and make you feel mentally sluggish, two studies from the University of Connecticut reveal. “If we don't drink enough fluids, it makes it difficult for our cells to function properly,” says Jenna Bell, PhD, RD, a sports dietitian and the author of Energy to Burn: The Ultimate Food & Nutrition Guide to Fuel Your Active Lifestyle. Blood volume drops, forcing your heart and the rest of your body to work harder," she adds. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Keep a water bottle or pitcher on your desk or kitchen counter to remind you to sip regularly.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Low Iron
“Iron deficiency can lead to acute or chronic fatigue, because your body isn’t able to make enough hemoglobin — the [protein molecule] in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to working muscles and organs,” says Dr. Bell. Think you’re iron-deficient? Make an appointment with your doc, and fill up on iron-rich foods. “Iron is best absorbed when consumed from animal sources like lean red meats, poultry, seafood, and pork,” says Dr. Bell. “Plant sources of iron, like beans and leafy greens, aren’t as easily absorbed, but still contribute to your total iron intake. You can also get iron from dried fruits, fortified cereals, breads, and beverages.”
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Allergies
All that sneezing and sniffling can sap energy levels. “Fatigue is common with both year-round and seasonal allergies,” says Mark Holbreich, MD, a board-certified allergist in Indianapolis. “Nasal congestion disrupts sleep, while the chronic symptoms that come along with allergies — like itchy eyes, sneezing, and headaches — take a toll on your body and make you feel run-down.” Suspect you could be an allergy sufferer? See a board-certified allergist for an evaluation. Newer medications and a better understanding of your allergies by an expert can help bring relief, says Dr. Holbreich.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Sleeping In On Weekends
Bad news: Sleeping late Saturday and Sunday can’t make up for shuteye lost during the week. It screws with your internal body clock, making it harder to fall asleep and more difficult to get up come Monday morning, according to a study in the journal PLOS One. Plus, regularly snoozing longer than 10 hours per night is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes, though more research is needed to understand how sleep, mental health, and weight interact to influence your risk for chronic disease. “It’s possible that different factors underlie this association, like reduced physical activity, social isolation, or undiagnosed illness,” says Kristen Knutson, PhD, a National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll Scholar. The sweet spot: Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep nightly.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Blue Light
Bought The Girl On the Train and now you can’t put your iPad down? You may be better off buying the hardcover version. People take longer to fall asleep, spend less time in REM sleep, and feel less alert the next morning after reading e-books, compared to people who read print books, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy on Sciences reveals. And, that holds true even if the e-reading folks sleep eight hours per night. “We knew light in the evening could delay your body’s circadian clock and increase alertness. But, blue short-wavelength light emitted from e-readers is even more effective at suppressing the natural sleep hormone, melatonin, and inducing these effects,” says Anne-Marie Chang, PhD, study author and associate neuroscientist in Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. Smartphone use has been shown to have similar effects. Turning down the brightness on your device may help — or try using software such as Flux to help filter out the sleep-stealing blue light. Even better: Stick with paperbacks at night, or ban the glow of tech gadgets at least an hour before bedtime.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Medications
A new Rx could be causing your yearning for a midday nap. “Many migraine meds and some antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin in the body,” says Rebecca Spencer, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Serotonin has numerous essential functions in the body, including the regulation of mood and appetite. It’s also used by the brain to help synthesize the sleep hormone, melatonin. “When serotonin levels are high, more melatonin is made, making you more sleepy,” explains Dr. Spencer. If you’ve found yourself feeling overly tired after starting a new medication, consult your doc to find out if your meds could be messing with your energy levels.
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