Ever felt sleepy after waking in the morning? Does a full night sleep not invigorate you? Morning fatigue, as it is known, may be a symptom of several medical conditions. Sleep is a period of rest where the body can recover from the daily stresses and strains it endures. It is a way of “switching off” and allowing your “batteries to recharge” so to speak. In an ideal world you should wake up full of energy after a good night’s sleep. But this is not always the case.
We all need a few minutes to “get started” in the morning. For some people it may be just a few minutes while others may need a good half an hour or so until they are active. This is not morning fatigue. The body has just come out of a short state of hibernation of sorts and naturally would need a period of time to reach its peak performances. Furthermore many of us are not enthusiastic to head off to work in the morning, so part of the slowness and tiredness may just be psychological in nature.
What is morning fatigue?
Morning fatigue is the feeling of tiredness and a lack of energy in the early parts of the day after waking. It can be a vague term though. A shift worker who has completed night duty will undoubtedly feel tired in the morning. A more accurate term would be fatigue despite having slept for 7 to 8 hours. It is not the immediate lack of energy but rather the tiredness that lasts for the first half of the day following a good night’s sleep.
If you have slept by 10pm and woken up by 6AM, you should be at your peak by 8AM to 9AM. Some people are energetic earlier while other people only reach their peak only by 10AM. However, a person does eventually feel energetic within the first half of the day. Naturally you would feel less energetic as the day wears on. With morning fatigue, a person is tired for the first half of the day and extremely exhausted by the afternoon.
Causes of Morning Fatigue
Morning fatigue is a symptom of many diseases where tiredness is a characteristic symptom. It can also occur with the use of certain medication. When morning fatigue is the only symptom, eventually other symptoms become apparent that more definitively indicates the possible underlying cause. However, the common reasons for morning fatigue are often overlooked as it can persist for months or years with no other major symptoms appearing other than the fatigue.
These common causes include:
- Difficulty breathing at night
- Acid reflux
- Alcohol and stimulants
- Nighttime hunger
Difficulty Breathing When Asleep
Breathing problems while you are asleep are often related to some underlying medical condition. It can vary from nasal congestion and sinusitis to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) and cardiac failure. One of the commonly ignored problems is sleep apnea, which may be central or obstructive. Sleep apnea is where a person stops breathing for short periods causing them to awaken and restore a somewhat normal breathing pattern. The episodes of waking are short and may not be remembered but it affects sleep quality.
How do you know if you have sleep apnea?
- Ask your partner if he/she ever noticed that you stopped breathing while sleeping.
- Find out if you snore by recording the sounds in your room. Although snoring is not always present with sleep apnea, it can sometimes signal obstructive sleep apnea.
- Do you wake up gasping and choking?
Snoring or Living with a Snorer
Although snoring and sleep apnea discussed above are two separate conditions, snorers are more likely to suffer with obstructive sleep apnea then people who do not snore. Even if you you do not have sleep apnea, snoring can affect your sleep in subtle ways that may only present with morning fatigue. Your snoring may actually awaken you because of the noise. It is not only about you snoring. You may also be affected if your partner snores.
Tips to avoid snoring
- Try losing weight. Just 10 pounds can make a major difference and even resolve your snoring problem.
- Do not use alcohol, illicit drugs or sleeping tablets.
- Sleep on your side as you are more likely to snore when sleeping on your back.
Acid Reflux when Asleep
The backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is a very common condition throughout the world. The main symptom is heartburn although people who suffer with silent acid reflux may have no symptoms. Stomach acid production increases at night. Lying down flat makes it easier for the acid to travel up into the esophagus thereby causing heartburn. For this reason GERD sufferers experience a worsening of symptoms at night and when sleeping.
The heartburn can be severe enough to wake you or prevent you from falling asleep. Even if you do not awaken with the heartburn, it can still cause an uneasy sleep. Not every person who experience heartburn has chronic GERD where the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus is dysfunctional. Overeating, excess alcohol, sleeping before bedtime and nighttime snacking can all contribute to GERD. Certain foods can worsen it.
How to spot acid reflux at night?
- You may have typical heartburn which eases with the use of antacids or drinking milk. Sometimes you may only experience nausea or vague symptoms that you term indigestion.
- Waking up in the morning with a sour taste in the mouth or a sore throat that eases during the course of the day.
- A bubbling sound at the back of the throat or upper part of the chest.
- Excessive salivation for no clearly identifiable reason.
Using Alcohol and Stimulants Before Bedtime
If you think that a nightcap is going to help you sleep better, you may be wrong. Alcoholic drinks can affect your normal sleep patterns. You may fall off to sleep easier with a drink or two but it does not help with a good sleep cycle. Sedatives and even illicit drugs have a similar effect. Although you feel that you had a sound sleep, morning fatigue and drowsiness are common symptoms upon waking. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine do not allow your body to “switch off” as it excites the nervous system. Ideally you need to be as relaxed as possible and fairly tired to fall asleep and have a good quality sleep.
Ways to sleep without alcohol and stimulants
- Try to stop the alcohol, sedatives and stimulants and see if you have a better quality sleep.
- Ensure that you go to bed around the same time every night. It is easier to fall asleep when darkness falls.
- Lower the temperature on your climate control. A slightly colder room allows you to sleep better.
- Here are some other simple tips to fall asleep that does not require drugs and other substances.
- If you cannot feel asleep without the use of some substance, you may have an addiction and proper rehabilitation is necessary.
Trying to sleep on an empty stomach is not easy. Hunger pangs are quite uncomfortable and if the body needs nutrition, it will disturb sleep to compel you to eat. While it is not advisable to eat just before bedtime, especially if you suffer with acid reflux, you should have adequate nutrition in the evenings. There is no need to overeat. Remember that your body will be shutting down for about 8 hours and is in a low metabolic state. So its energy needs are much less.
Avoiding hunger at night during sleep
- Eat about 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Its not too soon before you sleep to worsen heartburn but its not too long ago to feel hungry.
- Try drinking a glass of water if you think that you are hungry about an hour before bedtime.
- If you do have to eat a short while before sleeping then stay away from heavy meals, chocolate, high sugar foods, coffee or tea.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on March 13, 2013