"Are you getting at least eight hours of sleep?"
We hear this question all the time—from our doctors, our parents, and our partners—and yet, most of us aren't getting enough shut-eye. Some signs of fatigue are obvious.
Deep-belly yawns, nap cravings, an unquenchable thirst for caffeine are the obvious ones. 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 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. Experts think it has everything to do with a hormone called vasopressin, which is released in the body during the night, later on in the sleep cycle. Vasopressin helps manage the body's fluid levels. In fact, it can actually pull water back into the body from our urine to prevent us from losing too much water while we're sleeping. 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.
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, foul 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 simple 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.
Not getting enough sleep can also lead to poor eating decisions, by messing with your hunger hormones, sleep deprivation leads to cravings for high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, like lollies, bars, chips, chocolates, and other dessert type foods
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. If your workouts feel more difficult by the end of the week, it could be a sign that you are sleep deprived. Try getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep every night. You might be surprised just how much better you will feel.
More telltale signs when gauging sleep deprivation include hitting the snooze button multiple times, relying on energy drinks, sleeping in on the weekends.
What you can 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.
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.
Keeping up with a low-tech wind-down routine, investing in a supportive pillow, and taking a relaxing bath or foot bath with magnesium chloride 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.