6 Subtle Signs You Could Use More Sleep (Beyond Just Feeling Tired)
Deep-belly yawns, nap cravings, an unquenchable thirst for caffeine: Some signs of fatigue are obvious. But since sleep fuels so many processes in the body, tiredness can also be more subtle. Here are six lesser-known signals that you might want to start making sleep a higher priority:
1. You're always thirsty.
In one 2018 study published in the journal Sleep, data from over 25,000 adults from China and the United States showed that those who consistently slept six hours a night or less had a 16 to 59% higher chance of being dehydrated than those who regularly clocked eight hours. The researchers said a hormone called vasopressin might explain this strange side effect. Insufficient sleep seems to hinder this hormone's ability to do its job of regulating fluid levels in the body.
2. You fall asleep super quickly.
While lying awake with racing thoughts is no fun, falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow isn't the goal either. Ideally, you want to fall asleep within five to 10 minutes of closing your eyes. Dozing off within this time frame is a sign that your body and mind are ready for sleep but not completely exhausted. "If it takes you less than five to fall asleep—your body is trying to tell you that you're extremely sleep-deprived," board-certified internal medicine doctor Eva Selhub, M.D., previously told mbg.
3. You have a low sex drive.
Sex drive is largely dictated by hormones, and a lack of sleep can throw those hormones off. One study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that poor sleep can reduce the level of testosterone in particular: a sex hormone that gets both men and women in the mood. Hormonal imbalances can also make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep, potentially leading to a cycle of sleepiness (and sexlessness).
4. You easily fall into negative thought patterns.
When we get a bad night's sleep, sour moods often follow. One small study in Clinical Psychological Science found that those who were sleep-deprived experienced, on average, 50% more unwanted thoughts than those who had a normal night's sleep the next morning. Alternatively, getting enough rest seems to promote a positive mood and support our capacity for mindfulness.
5. You always crave sugar and carbs.
When we're not getting enough sleep, it can stimulate hunger for certain types of foods. "Poor (or lack of) sleep affects your hypothalamus, the master control center in your brain of hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. When these hormones are out of balance, it can trigger sugar and carb cravings, making you more likely to choose foods that create gut imbalances," board-certified internist Vincent Pedre, M.D., previously wrote of the sleep-gut connection on mbg.
"Not getting enough sleep can also lead to poor eating decisions, by messing with your hunger hormones," he writes. "Studies have shown sleep deprivation leads to cravings for high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, like candy bars, chips, chocolates, and other desserts."
Again, eating too many of these types of foods can also impair sleep quality and contribute to a cycle of overeating and undersleeping.
6. Your workouts feel more challenging than usual.
Sleep is when our bodies recover from the demands of the day so when we don't enough of it, we can't operate at our best physically. (There's a reason Tom Brady prioritizes getting nine hours of shuteye a night.) "If your workouts feel more difficult by the end of the week, it could be a sign that you are sleep deprived," says board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. "Try getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep every night. You might be surprised just how much better you will feel."
More telltale signs that Breus looks out for when gauging sleep deprivation include hitting the snooze button multiple times, relying on energy drinks, sleeping in on the weekends, and falling asleep while in conversation with a bed partner.
What to do about it.
Everyone's sleep needs are slightly different. When it comes to the amount of sleep you should aim for each night, there is no magic number—though seven to nine hours is a range that most experts recommend.
Waking up feeling refreshed in the mornings, getting tired around the same time every night, falling asleep quickly (but not too quickly!), and staying asleep throughout the night are all signs that your body has fallen into a healthy sleep rhythm.
The deep and restorative sleep you've always dreamt about*
If you're not quite there yet and struggling with some of the aforementioned sleepless signs, making sleep a priority starts with setting and sticking to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time that leaves you plenty of time in bed.
In addition to prioritizing sleep quantity, optimizing sleep quality is essential: Some habits that can throw it off include eating fatty foods right before bed, drinking alcohol or caffeine too late in the day, looking at screens at night, and keeping your bedroom too hot or too bright.
Keeping up with a low-tech wind-down routine, investing in a supportive pillow, and taking a relaxing supplement like mbg's sleep support+, which combines magnesium, jujube, and pharmaGABA, will also help promote deep and restorative sleep—and the health benefits that come with it.*
It's worth noting that many of these sensations of sleeplessness can also be signs of a more serious medical condition. If they persist or seem to get worse regardless of how much sleep you get, you'll want to check in with your doctor.
The bottom line.
Sleep is nothing to snooze on, and those who don't get enough of it will struggle in more ways than one. Deep, high-quality sleep can pay dividends for everything from your mood to your sex drive. It's a gift to yourself that'll keep on giving long after the alarm goes off.