Sleep and tiredness: key facts
One or two bad nights will make you tired the
next day, but won't harm you. If you don't sleep well for weeks or
months, if can affect your health.
- feel tired all the time
- drop off during the day
- can't concentrate
- can't make decisions
- start to feel depressed
- can be dangerous if you are driving or operating heavy
Poor sleep makes you more likely to get high
blood pressure, diabetes and to be overweight.
To sleep better, make sure that you:
- Have a comfortable bedroom - not too hot, not too cold, not too
- Have a mattress that supports you properly.
- Get some exercise. Start slowly with some regular swimming or
walking, best in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Take some time to relax before going to bed.
- Don't take alcohol, slimming tablets, or street drugs like
Ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines
- Try writing any worries down before going to bed and then tell
yourself to deal with them tomorrow.
- Get up if you can't sleep, and do something you find relaxing.
Read, watch television or listen to quiet music. After a while you
should feel tired enough to go to get back to sleep.
- If your sleep routine has been disrupted by shift work, jet
lag, or having a small baby, try to wake up quite early, at
the same time every morning, whatever time you fell asleep the
night before. Make sure that you don't go to bed again before about
10 pm that night. After a few nights you should start to fall
asleep naturally at the right time.
If you try these tips and still can't
sleep, see your doctor.
- Sleeping tablets don't
work for very long. They can make you tired and irritable the next
day and lose their effect quite quickly. They can be addictive
and should only be used for short periods (less than two
weeks). Antidepressants can be
helpful, but have their own side-effects.
- Over the counter medicines
often contain an anti-histamine. These do work but can make you
sleepy well into the next morning. You also tend to need to
take more and more to get the same effect. It is best not to take
anti-histamines continuously for a long time.
Herbal remedies (eg Valerian) work best if you take them every
night for two to three weeks or more rather than just taking them
behavioural therapy can help. It involves looking at
unhelpful ways of thinking that can make you more anxious.
At any given time, one in every five people
feel unusually tired and one in 10 have prolonged fatigue. It
is often due to poor sleep, but not always. The reasons can be:
- Being overweight - your body has to work harder just to do
- Being underweight - your muscles aren't strong enough to do
- Doing too little and getting unfit
- Doing too much and tiring yourself out - If you carry on doing
things, whether physical or mental, even when you feel tired, you
may find it harder to recover, and get even more tired.
- Any illness can make you tired. They include:
- chronic infections
- liver, heart or long-term chest problems
- diabetes or thyroid problems: hypothyroidism
- muscular: Myositis; Multiple sclerosis
- narcolepsy or sleep apnoea.
- Treatments - serious operations, medications like beta-blockers
and strong painkillers and radiotherapy and
- Pregnancy and breast feeding.
- Worry or stress, especially if you can't see a way out of your
- Depression tends to
make you feel tired all the time, especially if you are waking too
early in the morning.
- Everyday difficulties – but even positive events, like moving
home or getting married, can be exhausting.
- Emotional shock such as bad news, bereavement or the break up of
- Expecting too much of yourself – you find yourself repeatedly
failing, feeling frustrated and tired.
- Habits – you sleep during the day, sleep too much or do too
much then rest too much.
- If your child doesn't sleep through the night, it can be really
hard work just to keep going with the daily routine.
- Night work will often make you tired, especially if shifts are
- Try the sleeping tips listed above.
- Try and be more physically active, cut out caffeine and get
back to a normal weight
- Plan your week and spread your chores so that you don’t get
- Have realistic expectations for yourself.
- If you have been tired for a long time, don't expect to be back
to normal overnight. Take small steps and don't expect too much too
soon. Any progress is good, however small it may seem at the
Other reasons for tiredness
A small number of people suffer from severe
and disabling tiredness that goes on for a long time and for which
there is no clear cause. This is called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
(ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
This leaflet is made available through the
generosity of the Charitable Monies Allocation Committee of the
mental health charity St Andrew's, Northampton.
© November 2012. Due for review:
November 2014. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This is an abridged version of our main
leaflet. Due for
review: April 2011
You can link to, download, print, photocopy and distribute this
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