Day 9: Why being sleepy doesn’t always mean you’ll go to sleep

Dr. Harris reveals the difference between ‘sleepy’ and ‘fatigued’, and reveals the many factors that can play havoc with you drifting off, even when you think you are tired.


Day 9 Article: Are you really sleepy? 

Struggling to fall asleep at the beginning of the night is an extremely common problem. But one of the biggest culprits is something we rarely pay much attention to: the difference between sleepiness and fatigue.


Although they’re frequently confused, in fact there is a big difference between the two. It doesn’t mean both can’t exist at once, but most often the issue with falling asleep is getting into bed when you’re fatigued but not actually sleepy. So how do you tell if you are indeed sleepy?


I like to think of fatigue as that feeling of dragging a ton of bricks behind you - no energy, no gas in your tank. One of the common complaints about being fatigued, but not sleepy, is that you desperately want to take a nap but are completely unable to doze. That’s because you’re tired and fatigued, but not actually sleepy. Many people with insomnia frequently try to nap to compensate for a poor night’s sleep – but indeed, they’re fatigued and not sleepy. Common fatigue symptoms include dragging, sluggishness, mental fog/cloudiness, inability to nap even if desired, and a lack of energy.


Meanwhile sleepiness is the actual act of falling asleep. Napping and even dozing at times when you are sedentary or quiet (even if unintentional) are all signs of sleepiness. Other common sleepiness signs include struggling to keep your eyes open, lapses in alertness, eyes tearing up, yawning and even a heaviness in your body (especially limbs).


From today, try and see for yourself how your body signals sleepiness versus fatigue. This can prove invaluable for timing when to actually go to bed for the night. Try and learn your true sleepiness signals (mine are always yawning, eyes tearing up and struggling to keep my eyes open). Pairing the bed only with sleepiness and sleep teaches the body that the bed is indeed for sleep, not just resting, tired, and thinking (which often happens with a busy brain). And if you get into bed when you’re genuinely sleepy, not just fatigued, you’ll improve your chances of falling asleep faster. Good luck.


If you have significant issues with daytime sleepiness, and a nap doesn’t help or you can’t get through the day without multiple naps, talk with your doctor to rule out any other medical or psychiatric issues. Excessive daytime sleepiness shouldn’t be ignored.


Day 9 Meditation: A guided body scan meditation for relaxation & stress relief

Not sure if you’re physically tired, mentally fatigued or just sleepy? Try this revitalising meditaton to refresh your energy and relax all over.



Ready for your next day of our Sleep Masterclass? Click here!


Shelby Harris

Shelby Harris

Dr. Shelby Harris is a Rituals Ambassador for Sleep, and a licensed clinical psychologist. With years of experience treating a wide variety of sleep disorders she uses evidence-based methods and non-pharmacological treatments to improve sleep for everyone from babies to adults. Dr. Harris currently holds a dual academic senior-level appointment as Clinical Associate Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in both the Neurology and Psychiatry Departments. and is board certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine (BSM) by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She’s also the author of The Women’s Guide to Insomnia.