a woman curls up in bed with a pillow because she's been feeling sleepy all the time
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Feeling Sleepy All the Time? It Might Be Your Mental Health

Do you find yourself dozing off or struggling to stay awake during the day? Are your thoughts keeping you awake at night? It might not be a hectic schedule or lack of caffeine driving your exhaustion. Feeling sleeping all the time can be a common, if overlooked, symptom of poor mental health.


How anxiety, depression affect sleep

Mental health struggles can significantly disturb sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or, conversely, excessive sleepiness. These effects play out in a tug-of-war between your mind and body. Often, neither side wins, and you’re just left feeling sleepy all the time.


Depression, anxiety, and stress tend to disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night. These mental health struggles can also have the reverse effect: making some individuals sleep excessively as a way to escape their emotional or psychological discomfort.


For example, individuals struggling with depression often experience disrupted sleep patterns as a core symptom. This could manifest as insomnia, when our thoughts about past (even recent past) experiences spin non-stop, keeping us awake, or excess sleeping, when we want to escape these thoughts.


Similarly, anxiety can cause a racing mind, excessive worrying, of a feeling like there’s a never-ending to-do list in the back of your mind. Any of that can make it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep, fall back to sleep once awakened, or achieve deep sleep.


Either way, we’re left trying to solve a puzzle without all of the pieces, and that leaves us exhausted.


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Some evidence suggests that people from collectivist cultures, like India’s, may be more likely to experience symptoms of poor mental health as physical sensations, such as unexplained pain or feeling sleepy all the time. This is because in such societies, poor mental health is often taboo, and people who are struggling may not want to challenge community norms.


Therefore, they may be less likely to recognise or acknowledge their mental or emotional symptoms. These symptoms then manifest as physical troubles, kind of like how despite someone’s best efforts to keep a balloon underwater, it keeps popping back up.


How sleep affects mental health

Think of sleep as the brain’s clean-up time. Just as you tidy up your house to function efficiently, your brain needs sleep to clear away the mental clutter accumulated throughout the day.


While you sleep, your brain consolidates memories, processes emotions, and repairs cell damage. In other words, sleep is like hitting the reboot button on your computer after a long day of use – essential for optimal performance.


So, while poor mental health can disrupt sleep patterns, the reverse is true, too: poor sleep can disrupt mental health.


You’ve felt it before, after staying up to crib for a test or in anticipation of an event – sleep deprivation leads to emotional imbalance, irritability, and increased stress. It can exacerbate symptoms of existing mental health struggles and even prompt new issues.


Sleep is crucial for the brain to process emotional information. Without enough sleep, the brain struggles to regulate emotions and react appropriately to daily stressors. This can create a vicious cycle: poor sleep worsens mental health symptoms, which in turn, makes it harder to sleep, which leaves us feeling sleepy all the time – continuing to worsen mental health symptoms.


Feeling sleepy – but is it mental or physical?

Feeling tired can have many causes, both physical and mental. To determine whether your tiredness is due to mental rather than physical factors, consider the following:


Is your mood consistently low or disinterested? Feeling low, hopeless, or experiencing a lack of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed can indicate that depression is the underlying cause of you feeling sleepy all the time.


Are you overthinking or worrying when you can’t sleep? If you notice your mind is constantly racing with thoughts, especially at night, or if you’re preoccupied with worries, your sleep problems may be linked to anxiety.


Do you feel emotionally exhausted? Feeling overwhelmed emotionally but not necessarily physically can suggest that mental strain is impacting your sleep.


If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it might be worth undergoing some tests to rule out a physical cause for your exhaustion. Physical health issues that can cause similar symptoms include thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, and other chronic conditions. Talk to your family doctor before pursuing these tests.


What to do about feeling sleepy all the time

If you conclude that your constant tiredness is linked to your mental health, here are several strategies to help manage and mitigate this exhaustion:


Establish a sleep routine: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate your sleep cycle. Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep—quiet, dark, and cool—and avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.


Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices like meditation, deep breathing, or gentle yoga before bed can help calm the mind and prepare your body for sleep.


Limit caffeine and sugar after noon: Both can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep, particularly if consumed later in the day.


Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms, improving sleep quality. However, try to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it may have the opposite effect.


Seek professional help: Therapy, whether a digital self-therapy program or conventional one-on-one sessions, can be effective in addressing the root causes of mental health issues impacting sleep. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), for instance, is a specific type of therapy designed to address habits and behaviors around sleep. And it’s been found to be as effective as sleep medication.


By understanding the interplay between sleep and mental health and taking proactive steps to manage both, you can significantly improve your quality of life. Remember, if you’re feeling sleepy all the time, feeling exhausted, or persistently tired, it’s important to address not just the symptoms but the underlying causes. With the right support and strategies, you can achieve better sleep,  better mental health, and stop feeling sleepy all the time.




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