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Tired but can't sleep

In conversation, we tend to use 'tired' and 'sleepy' interchangeably but in reality they signal very different things and it is important to be able to tell the difference between them.

A person might feel extremely fatigued but, in fact, not be ready for sleep. As you may have experienced, feeling tired does not necessarily make sleep inevitable!

Feeling sleepy, on the other hand, is what is called a 'discriminative stimulus' for sleep; it predicts sleep is about to occur. So how can you tell if you really are sleepy-tired? Look out for signs such as: itchy eyes, a lack of energy, aching muscles, yawning and a tendency to “nod off”.

Heading to bed without having experienced any of these signs may make it less likely that you'll get to sleep quickly, and more likely that you'll find yourself lying awake, thinking about not sleeping.

An active mind

The 'racing mind', as it is known, is very common in poor sleepers. In fact, respondents to the Great British Sleep Survey revealed it to be the most frequent cause of their sleeplessness.

Whether you find yourself thinking about past or future events, or even trivial things that hold little importance, persistent thoughts can be enough to keep a very tired person from feeling sleepy.

The more your thoughts race, the more alert you become, even if you feel extremely tired.

Heightened arousal

It isn't just your thoughts that can prevent you from falling asleep – exercising shortly before going to bed or ingesting stimulants too late in the day can also deter sleepiness from setting in.

Whilst exercise has been shown to correlate with better sleep, intense aerobic exercise too close to bedtime may actually boost your energy, making it more difficult to get to sleep.

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