Although in common parlance “sleepy” and “tired” are used interchangeably, there is actually an important difference between the two. Sleepy refers to a tendency to fall asleep, while tired simply implies physical and/or mental fatigue. So it’s quite possible to be tired without being sleepy: just remember those times you were physically exhausted, but couldn’t fall asleep because your mind was racing.
From a sleep point of view, this is an important distinction. If you have a problem with your sleep, it will have direct daytime consequences: you will feel sleepy. But if you are tired during the day, it could be the result of any number of reasons: a long drive, a boring job or a stressful event, for instance. Of course you may naturally feel a bit sleepy when you wake up in the morning, or in the early afternoon when you undergo a natural reduction in alertness (the so called ‘post-lunch dip’).
But if you really feel that you could easily fall asleep at 11am, then there may well be a problem with your sleep. That’s why it’s so important to distinguish between feeling tired and feeling sleepy. If you do have a sleep problem, you need to find a way to solve it. Don’t let anything stand between you and a good night’s sleep!
Dr. Neil Stanley
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert who has been involved in research for over 35 years. After starting out at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, he moved on to the University of Surrey's Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, where he was Director of Sleep Research. Today, he travels the world lecturing on various aspects of sleep to both healthcare professionals and the public at large.