Always Tired? Why You're Fatigued Even If You Get Enough Sleep

Feeling the neverending weight of fatigue is a common complaint. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published results from a survey showing that nearly 16 percent of women and 9 percent of men were tired all the time.

A woman sleeping on in a train car in February 2018. Although many don't get enough sleep each night, other factors, including disturbed circadian clocks, could explain why people always feel tired. MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images

About one-third of Americans don't sleep enough, according to CDC estimates. But lack of sleep isn't always the reason for feeling tired. One possibility is a faulty circadian clock, the internal timer that tells our bodies how they should act depending on the time of day by producing circadian rhythms. These rhythms are essentially all of the bodily processes we go through in a day, e.g., eating and sleeping.

A master clock made up of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) controls this entire process. Neuroscientist Mary Harrington of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, explained to New Scientist that when the SCN functions properly, you will feel alert in the morning, experience an afternoon slump, and grow tired in the evening. According to Harrington, how much you sleep doesn't interfere with the cycle, but the amount of light in your environment does.The constant barrage of artificial lights from cell phones, laptops and TVs, could prevent the SCN from working properly.

"I think circadian rhythm disruption is quite common in our society and is getting worse with increased use of light at night," Harrington told the magazine.

This is because light from our surrounding environment tells the SCN when we need to be alert or sleepy. When it's dark, the SCN tells our brain to release melatonin, a hormone that causes drowsiness. If you receive too much light in the evenings, or not enough during the day, Harrington believes this confuses the SCN and throws off our internal clocks.


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Another way to fight fatigue? Find a good source of stress as the adrenaline rush will increase alertness. Harrington recommends pairing stress and enjoyment together, like watching a scary movie or going on a thrilling ride. Of course, you do want to exercise some caution when it comes to watching horror movies before bed or else zombie-fueled nightmares could create a whole new reason for why you're tired all the time.