For some, a great night’s sleep is elusive—tossing and turning once you’re under the covers or repeated nighttime awakenings is (sadly) part of your nightly routine. For others, sleep seems to come easily. And then, there are those who think they’re getting decent shut-eye every night but actually aren’t. Look out for these subtle, surprising clues that you may not be getting the kind of deep, restful slumber you need for optimal health.
1. You’re fueling yourself with coffee—all day.
Mier Kryger, MD, a physician and professor at the Yale School of Medicine and editor of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, says one of poor sleep’s biggest signs is when a patient mentions an all-day coffee habit. “Feeling like you have to drink coffee in the morning to wake up and throughout the day to stay awake indicates a problem.” Robert Rosenberg, DO, a sleep medicine specialist and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Ariz., suggests that if you’re drinking coffee to keep you going, ask yourself why. “Have you convinced yourself it’s because you really like coffee, but actually it’s because it helps you feel more alert or awake? A lot of people who rely on coffee, soda, or energy drinks throughout the day actually have a sleep disorder,” says Rosenberg.
2. You sleep ‘til noon (or later!) on your days off.
You wake up early Monday through Friday to make it to work on time, so when the weekend rolls around, it’s normal to want to stay under the covers, right? Not so much, says Rosenberg. “If you can sleep for 11, 12, or 13 hours when you don’t have to set your alarm for the next morning, there’s a good chance your body is making up for a sleep debt,” he says. While this kind of sleep pattern may seem normal—after all, sleeping in may have been one of your favorite pastimes when you were in high school or college—it’s likely that your body is just trying to make up for getting too little sleep on a regular basis. “Maybe you’re fooling yourself that you can get by on 5 hours of sleep most nights, or perhaps there’s another sleep issue that’s keeping you from getting good rest—without you even realizing it,” says Rosenberg. (Get back to sleep—and beat menopausal weight gain naturally—with The Natural Menopause Solution!)
3. You’ve got a short fuse
Tend to get really irritable at least a few times a day? When you’re sleep-deprived, there’s a good chance you’ll be more irritable than usual, says Kryger. “It’s often the partners of my patients who talk about their loved ones losing their tempers easily,” he says, which prompts the doc to take a deeper look into potential sleep problems. There’s no doubt that being sleepy has an effect on mood: One study by University of Pennsylvania researchers found that people who got only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, and sad than when they snagged more shut-eye. The good news? Their moodiness improved dramatically when they resumed their normal sleep.
4. You usually wake up with a dry mouth, sore throat or headache.
There’s a good chance you blame these symptoms on allergies or post nasal drip, but they can actually signal sleep apnea, says Rosenberg, a disorder where your airway collapses during shut-eye, causing you to stop breathing for 10 to 60 seconds at a time during sleep. This collapse prompts the walls of your airway to rub against each other and vibrate when you take in air, says Rosenberg, creating the typical snuffle-snort noises we call snoring—and causing a dry mouth and sore throat in the process. Plus, the halted breathing that happens repeatedly throughout the night can starve your brain of oxygen, leading to headaches. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, see a sleep specialist immediately, says Rosenberg, as the condition has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke (High BP? Check out these 13 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally.) New research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that sleep apnea may even be an unrecognized cause of osteoporosis. If you’re diagnosed, several solutions exist; one of the most common is a Continued Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask, which supplies constant and steady air pressure in your nasal passageway to prevent nighttime awakenings (and snoring!).
5. You wake up multiple times to go to the bathroom.
Sure, you may just be able to blame your small bladder or prostate for those repeated trips to the loo—but Kryger says this can also be a sign that you’re waking up repeatedly throughout the night due to a disorder (such as sleep apnea). “When you’re dealing with any condition that wakes you up in the middle of the night, there’s a good chance you’ll go to the bathroom just because you’re awake—not necessarily because you really have to go,” he says. If you’re going to the bathroom 3 to 4 times a night, schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist, who can help you uncover the real reason for your nighttime awakenings.
6. You fall asleep—even when you’d rather not.
Maybe you get home from the office and opt for a catnap instead of a quick workout. Or your favorite show is on TV but you can’t keep your eyes open long enough to get through the first 10 minutes. If you tend to snooze when you’re not actively engaged in an activity, or have trouble staying awake even when you really want to be awake, it could point to sleep problems, says Rosenberg. “A lot of my patients tend to keep themselves busy because they get sleepy otherwise,” he says, “and that’s not normal.”
7. You’re gaining weight.
If the number on the scale is creeping up and you don’t feel like your diet has changed enough to explain the weight gain, it could point to a lack of sleep. According to one study published in the journal PLoS Medicine, those who slept less than 6 hours a day were nearly 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept 7 to 9 hours a night. The researchers say it’s because study participants who got less shut-eye had reduced levels of leptin (the hormone that signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates hunger).