How To Know If You Need More Sleep — Or If Your Circadian Rhythm Is Off
Everyone experiences fatigue once in a while, but if you're constantly tired, there could be a couple of different culprits at play. For one thing, you may simply not be getting enough quality sleep—but on the other hand, your circadian rhythm might just be, well, out of rhythm.
Here's how to tell the difference, plus what to do about it, according to a sleep expert.
Is the problem lack of sleep or your circadian rhythm?
One of the best ways to tell if your sleep issues are circadian-rhythm-related is to look at how you're sleeping on workdays versus your days off. According to Nishi Bhopal, M.D., who's board-certified in psychiatry, sleep medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, significant variability between the two can indicate a circadian rhythm problem.
"People with delayed circadian rhythms, or delayed sleep phase, tend to have trouble falling asleep when they have to get up early the next day, and then have trouble waking up on time," she says, adding, "They often feel sleepy and tired during the day, but on weekends when they can go to bed later and sleep in, they tend to sleep well and feel more refreshed."
People with advanced sleep phase, on the other hand, experience the opposite. These people "fall asleep early, sometimes as early as 6 to 8 p.m., and then wake up too early, sometimes around 3 to 4 a.m., then can't get back to sleep," Bhopal explains, noting that this tends to get more common with age.
Whether you're dealing with a delayed or advanced sleep phase, if your daily schedule isn't aligned with your circadian rhythm, you're going to feel regularly fatigued.
Meanwhile, when we talk about sleep deprivation, Bhopal says, it comes down to simply not getting enough rest each night. Let's say you need eight hours of sleep per night to feel totally rejuvenated, for example. Even if you get just one hour less than that, Bhopal tells mindbodygreen, that's one hour of sleep deprivation. And when this happens frequently, she says, those hours add up.
What to do about it.
So, if you've been feeling fatigued and you want to get a handle on it, the first thing to do is figure out whether it's because of your circadian rhythm versus sleep deprivation. You can do some self-experimentation to figure out both how much sleep you need per night to feel rested, along with which "sleep chronotype" you are. (Here's a quick quiz to find out!)
Perhaps you realize your circadian rhythm is totally fine, and you actually just need an extra hour or two of sleep each night. If that's the case, do your due diligence to get all those hours as much as you can—because again, it will add up when you don't get enough.
And in terms of the four chronotypes, they relate to your optimal daily schedule based on circadian rhythm, and once you know which one you are, you can make adjustments to your schedule to accommodate your type.
Beyond that, regardless of what's causing your sleep issues, it's never a bad idea to follow the basic fundamentals of sleep hygiene: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, get natural light first thing in the morning to stimulate your circadian rhythm, create a solid wind-down routine, and incorporate a reputable sleep supplement into your routine to help you get more quality sleep each night. Here are nine of the most effective options.
Whether your fatigue is stemming from sleep deprivation or an out-of-whack circadian rhythm, your best bets are to figure out your sleep chronotype, plus how much sleep you need to feel truly rested. With both things in check—and a top-tier sleep hygiene routine—your sleep quality is very likely to improve and, subsequently, so will your energy levels.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.