Wondering Why You Wake Tired? Here’s how to Lose the Snooze Button
An overwhelming majority of my patients report that they wake tired in the morning when they have to get up. I’m always a little pleasantly surprised when I ask and a patient says yes, they feel refreshed. If you wake tired, there are a number of possible explanations, read on to learn more.
Not Enough Sleep
Studies show that the optimal amount is 7-7.5 hours of restful sleep. With hectic lifestyles, never enough time, trying to have a little down or “me” time, we often sacrifice time spent sleeping. Also, if you are waking frequently in the night or up to go to the washroom, then you only get broken sleep. Broken sleep is not as refreshing as 7 hours of continuous sleep.
3 Action Steps for Better Sleep:
- Set an earlier bedtime, ideally by 10 p.m. and stick to it. If you want some quiet time, get up early in the morning to be more aligned with your body clock. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, that way if you fall short, you’ll still get 7-7.5.
- Unplug by 8 p.m. Looking at a screen tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and decreases melatonin production that should enhance your sleep. Melatonin has a multitude of additional benefits: it’s a powerful antioxidant, it repairs the esophagus, it can help fertility and it helps stimulate growth hormone production.
- If you find you are waking in the night, have a bite or two of protein containing food before bed. A couple of bites of egg, fish, a tablespoon of almond butter etc, helps stabilize blood sugar to help you get to sleep & stay asleep better.
Ferritin is a blood test that we do to check for stored iron. Iron deficiencies can lead to exhaustion. An optimal ferritin level is above 60 mcg/L. Some labs consider anything above 11 mcg/L to be normal. As a result, your doctor may have told you your iron (ferritin) was normal when it was a fair bit below ideal. Ferritin below 40 mcg/L can definitely lead to problems with low energy and cause you to wake tired, as well as contributing to hair loss and shortness of breath.
2 Action Steps for Low Iron
- Ask your doctor to check ferritin and then ask for a copy of the blood work. Check that your ferritin is greater than 60 mcg/L.
- If your ferritin is below 60 mcg/L, it’s important to determine the cause of the low iron. Simply taking iron supplements is not the best approach. If you experience heavy periods that may explain the low iron, but in that case, it’s best to address the hormone imbalance that is causing the heavy periods. If you absorb iron poorly or don’t take in enough from your diet, it’s best to address that.
Your thyroid regulates energy, body temperature, and metabolism. Think of it as the gas pedal for your body. If it’s not supplying enough gas, that means that having a sluggish thyroid can have a huge impact on energy. Blood work for thyroid is usually limited to testing TSH, a hormone that should stimulate the thyroid to work harder if it is underactive. So, a lower TSH means that the thyroid is working well, a higher TSH means the thyroid is sluggish.
The normal range for TSH is 0.35-5.00 mU/L. If we converted this to whole numbers it is like saying that 35 to 500 is normal. The range is far too broad and once TSH gets above 3.00 there can be indications of an underactive thyroid. Some endocrinologists and fertility specialists will medicate the thyroid if the TSH is above 2.50 as thyroid problems can contribute to infertility. As with ferritin, you may have been told that your thyroid is “normal”. I will treat a patient’s thyroid if the TSH exceeds 3.00 to try to restore normal thyroid function.
2 Action Steps for Low Thyroid
- Ask your doctor to check your thyroid and then ask for a copy of the blood work. Check that TSH is between 0.8 and 3.00 mU/L.
- Additionally, it would be helpful to have the following measurements relating to thyroid: free T3, free T4, anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin. A TSH measurement alone is not adequate to determine that your thyroid is working perfectly.
Allergies can often leave people feeling exhausted a good deal of the time as their immune system is working double time, all the time. Many people will have low-grade food allergies or food sensitivities that they are either unaware of or they are unable to pinpoint the culprit foods. Dairy and gluten are common, but you can have a food sensitivity to literally anything you are eating. Journaling what you eat and rating your energy both later that day & the following day may help you unearth patterns between foods & energy. If not, food sensitivity blood testing is the most efficient way to determine exactly what your immune system is fighting. For environmental allergies, we aim to limit exposure if possible, but you can’t necessarily avoid pollen and dust.
4 Action Steps for Allergies
- Support your adrenals – the adrenal glands help your body keep inflammation in check, read more on them below. You can also test your adrenal gland function to determine if it is a problem.
- Detoxify the liver – phase I and phase II liver detoxification are the steps that your liver takes to remove toxins, body waste, pollution and even hormones from your body. There are certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for these processes to work optimally including vitamin B6, B12, 5-MTHF, magnesium, glucarate and indole-3-carbinol. Supporting efficient liver detox can help remove chemicals that may be adversely affecting your immune system.
- Cleanse your gut and restore good bacteria to the digestive tract – Healthy gut flora keeps the immune system regulated and working normally.
- Remove existing food sensitivities to settle allergies down – Food sensitivities create inflamed, hypersensitive tissue in your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs, bronchi, sinuses). Calming down this tissue by removing food allergies can help make them less sensitive to environmental pollutants.
Underactive Adrenal Glands
If all else above has been ruled out, the reason you wake tired is likely due to underactive adrenal glands. These are your stress glands. They sit on top of your kidneys and regulate a wide range of functions. Their jobs include regulating your blood pressure, blood sugar, nervous system, libido, energy, drive, motivation, stress response, inflammation, hormone balance etc. Signs of low adrenal function include:
- waking up tired after at least 7 hours of sleep
- feeling dizzy or light-headed on standing up quickly
- low libido
- inflammatory conditions like allergies, asthma, eczema, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease etc.
3 Action Steps for the Adrenal Glands
- Lower your stress. The adrenal glands were meant to help you deal with short term stress, like running away from danger. Chronic stress is hard on them and depletes vital vitamins and minerals for them to function normally. Stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, exercise, and getting good sleep can help.
- Support the adrenals with lots of vitamin C, B5, B6, zinc, magnesium and potassium-rich foods like avocadoes, citrus and leafy greens.
- Measure. You can do blood work to determine how well the adrenal glands are working. Your adrenals produce all of your DHEAs, much of your testosterone and a stress hormone called cortisol. These can all be measured in your blood. Lab ranges are not particularly ideal for these tests either. So it’s best to obtain a copy of your results and consult with a naturopathic doctor to see if blood work is showing a problem with your adrenal glands.
Our naturopathic doctors are the masters at troubleshooting fatigue and why you might wake tired. Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture with Joy Walraven may help you have more energy. If pain is keeping you up at night, address the cause with massage therapy and chiropractic. If stress is keeping you up, combine massage therapy with psychotherapy. Book an appointment now.
Authored by Dr Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND for the team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic