Night comes and one goes to bed with the intention of getting a good night’s sleep. However, despite sleeping many hours, those recommended by specialists and some more, when he wakes up in the morning he feels tired. Or he takes a nap and wakes up more drowsy and confused than before.
Almost all of us have experienced this kind of situation at some point. For some people, in fact, it happens very often. What happens in those cases? What is going wrong so that sleep is not having the beneficial effect that it should?
The first thing to say is that, although sleeping the recommended number of hours is essential, it is not a guarantee that the sleep will be restful. And it is not only a question of quantity, but -above all- of quality.
The recommended amount of sleep varies depending on age. In the first stage of life we sleep a lot: newborn babies need to do so for about 17 hours a day. And in some cases, up to twenty. That amount is reduced until, in adolescence, what is indicated is about nine or ten hours.
For adults, seven to nine hours of sleep a night is generally ideal, while for older adults it’s a little less: seven to eight hours. This is specified by a report from the National Sleep Foundation of the United States.
But, to know why in certain cases we wake up tired, in addition to knowing how many hours it is convenient to sleep, we must also investigate what happens while we sleep.
Sleep phases and cycles
The studies most recent coincide in establishing that the dream has four phases: light sleep, intermediate sleep, deep sleep, and the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. It is during this last phase that dreams happen.
Those four phases make up what is called a sleep cycle, which lasts – in healthy adults – around 90 minutes. Normally, five of these cycles are completed in one night, although it can also be four or six. The appropriate amount of sleep for each particular person depends on these variables.
The problem arises when a sleep cycle is not completed correctly. If the person wakes up before a cycle comes to an end, sleep cannot do its “job” effectively. Therefore, even if the person goes back to sleep later, the quality of sleep is impaired, and this is not as restorative as it should be.
If this premature awakening and subsequent interruption of the sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night, the effect is that, in the morning, that person feels not only fatigued, but also drowsy and irritable, as if he had slept. less than necessary. What he lacked is not quantity, but quality.
Why are sleep cycles interrupted?
The reasons why a person can wake up before completing a cycle are very varied. One of the most common and problematic is sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which a person stops breathing for several seconds.
They also produce this effect movement and behavior disorders during sleep, such as restless legs syndrome, periodic leg movements, and parasomnias.
Keep in mind that the awakenings they cause can be very brief, to the point that they are not remembered later. For this reason, the person who suffers from them wakes up feeling tired and does not understand why, since he does not keep a record that his night’s sleep has been interrupted.
On the other hand, factors such as stress, anxiety and depression also contribute to poor sleep and, therefore, to sleep cycles not being fulfilled. The same happens with circumstantial situations -and of course much less serious- such as having eaten or drunk too much.
And certain environmental elements, of course, can negatively affect sleep: noise, light, inappropriate temperature or clothing, the movements of the person with whom you share the bed or, of course, the raising of a baby .
The “sleep hangover”
At other times, what happens is that you haven’t just slept long enough, but a little longer. And sleeping in excess also has negative consequences. In the first place, because the so-called “sleep hangover” occurs.
This name is due to the fact that the sensations when waking up after having slept more than what the body “asked for” are similar to those of the day after a drunken spree: fatigue, malaise, confusion, irritability, headache and moodiness.
“Quality sleep” begins two hours after the start of the melatonin productionwhich generally coincides with the decrease in natural light, and ends “spontaneously about two hours after the onset of the rising phase of core body temperature.
José Antonio Madrid Pérez, professor of physiology at the University of Murcia, explains it in these terms in an article on the importance of sleep schedules. This text is part of an official document of the Spanish Dream Societypublished in 2016.
For the half of the population that -it is estimated- forms the intermediate chronotype, the hours of that quality sleep occur approximately between midnight and eight in the morning. The other half of people are divided into diurnal or “larks”, who prefer to go to bed and get up a little earlier, and nocturnal or “owls”, who feel better if they do it a little later.
In any case, as Madrid Pérez explains, “the further the sleep schedule is from this time window, the worse its quality will be.” This includes not continuing to sleep when you wake up spontaneously: that extra sleep causes a “hangover” and, therefore, discomfort.
How to avoid feeling tired after sleeping
What to do, then, to avoid waking up feeling tired, as if the dream had caused the opposite effect to the desired one?
On the one hand, try to avoid sleep interruptions, trying to reduce bothersome environmental factors as much as possible and avoiding excessively copious intakes. On the other hand, identify possible problems, such as apneas or other sleep disorders, and act on them through specific treatments.
It is also important to respect more or less regular sleep schedules. Madrid Pérez recommends that there be no “more than two hours of difference between work days and days off” at the time of waking up. As much as the temptation is to stay in bed much longer, remember that the result will be counterproductive.
Regarding the nap, the specialist advises limiting it to a maximum of 20 or 30 minutes. If you get to that “very sleep deprived” moment, the recommendation is to try to sleep “for about 90 minutes at a time, waking up at the end of a complete sleep cycle.” And thus avoid getting up feeling tired.
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