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What does fighting sleep look like?

Many people fight sleep on a regular basis. Fighting sleep means struggling to stay awake when your body is telling you it is time to rest. This often happens when you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Fighting sleep can take many forms and have many different causes. Let’s explore what fighting sleep typically looks like and why it happens.

Physical signs of fighting sleep

When you fight sleep, your body gives off obvious physical signs that you are tired and need rest. Here are some common physical indications that someone is fighting sleep:

  • Yawning frequently
  • Having heavy or drooping eyelids
  • Rubbing eyes repeatedly
  • Fidgeting or tapping feet to stay alert
  • Slouching posture or resting head in hands
  • Having slow or delayed reflexes
  • Appearing drowsy or lethargic in facial expressions

These physical mannerisms occur as the body’s way of trying to keep itself awake and alert when it really wants to be sleeping. The physical signs of fighting sleep are the body’s visible response to fatigue. Even if you try to suppress yawns or fidgeting, your body will find ways to communicate that it needs rest.

Mental signs of fighting sleep

In addition to physical signs, mental and cognitive changes also take place when you fight off sleep. Some common mental signs that indicate someone is avoiding sleep include:

  • Having difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Struggling to process information as quickly
  • Being unable to recall facts or memories easily
  • Having slowed or slurred speech
  • Being more irritable, impatient or emotional
  • Lacking motivation or energy for tasks
  • Having difficulty staying alert during conversations
  • Making more errors or having lapses in judgment

Mentally resisting sleep degrades your cognition, concentration, memory and mood. Your brain desperately needs sleep to replenish itself, so fighting that need takes a toll on your mental capabilities. If someone seems checked out, can’t focus well or is unusually moody, sleep deprivation could be the reason.

Common causes of fighting sleep

Now that we’ve explored how fighting sleep looks, let’s discuss some of the most prevalent reasons why people fight much-needed sleep:

Too much work

Often, people fight sleep because they have too much work and not enough time. To meet deadlines and be productive, they cut into sleep time. This forces the body to override its need for rest.

Deadlines and due dates

Similarly, approaching deadlines or due dates for exams and projects can motivate students to fight sleep and keep working or studying. The pressure to finish makes ignoring fatigue seem necessary.

Stress and anxiety

High stress and anxiety levels often disrupt sleep schedules and routines. The unrelenting thoughts and worries of stress make falling and staying asleep difficult. This makes getting sufficient sleep a challenge.

Poor time management

Failing to schedule adequate time for sleep due to poor time management is another key reason people fight sleep. Without proper planning, sleep gets squeezed out by other priorities.

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions like insomnia can make restorative sleep nearly impossible without treatment. People with conditions that disrupt sleep have no choice but to fight their exhaustion.

Outside pressures

Social engagements, second jobs and other responsibilities outside of work drain time for sleep. These outside pressures cause many working professionals to sacrifice sleep.

Health risks of inadequate sleep

Fighting sleep and repeated lack of sleep poses numerous health risks including:

  • Impaired immune system functioning
  • Increased risk of weight gain and obesity
  • Higher cholesterol levels
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Impacts to memory and learning
  • Increased inflammation in the body
  • Higher risk of depression and other mood disorders
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Decreased sex drive

Inadequate sleep also makes you more prone to errors and accidents. Ongoing sleep deprivation is extremely taxing on the body and mind.

Tips for avoiding fighting sleep

Here are some tips to help avoid the need to fight sleep on a regular basis:

  • Prioritize sleep in your schedule just like any other need
  • Practice good sleep habits like sticking to a consistent bedtime
  • Develop healthy coping strategies for stress and anxiety
  • Get on a sleep schedule that aligns with your natural circadian rhythm
  • Expose yourself to bright light in the mornings
  • Limit afternoon naps to 30 minutes
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals before bedtime
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping and intimacy only
  • Exercise regularly but not too soon before bed

Making sleep a top priority and fostering good sleep habits will help you avoid needing to fight your body’s need for rest on a frequent basis.

When to seek help

Occasionally fighting sleep due to a deadline or special event is normal, but ongoing sleep deprivation is extremely unhealthy. If you fight sleep regularly and have difficulty sleeping at night, seek medical advice. A doctor can check for underlying issues and refer you to a sleep specialist for proper treatment if necessary.

Some signs that indicate it is time to seek help include:

  • Need more than 30 minutes to fall asleep most nights
  • Relying on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Feeling unrested after a full night in bed
  • Having intense fatigue or low energy that persists daily
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Falling asleep unintentionally during the day

Don’t dismiss consistent sleep problems. Your doctor can help discover if an underlying medical or mental issue is interfering with sleep. Addressing the root cause will enable you to get healthy, restorative sleep.

Natural sleep aids

For mild or occasional sleeplessness, try using these natural sleep aids before resorting to prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications:


Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Taking a melatonin supplement helps reinforce the body’s desire to sleep. Start with low doses of 0.5 to 1 mg.

Valerian root

Valerian is an herb with mild sedative effects that relieve anxiety and induce relaxation. It can be taken as a supplement or tea before bed.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile is a common herbal tea that reduces anxiety and provokes a sense of calm, making it easier to fall asleep naturally.

Tart cherry juice

Tart cherry juice contains melatonin and other compounds that support more restful sleep. Drinking it 30 minutes before bed can help you fall asleep faster.

Essential oils

Lavender, clary sage, ylang ylang and other essential oils are often used in aromatherapy for their soothing, sleep-promoting properties. Inhale aromas before bed or put a few drops on your pillow.


Magnesium deficiency can make falling asleep more difficult. Taking magnesium supplements or consuming magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, nuts and avocados can optimize magnesium levels.

Calming music

Listening to soft, soothing music before bedtime has been shown to slow heart rate and breathing for better sleep. Choose acoustic, classical or ambient styles.

Developing better sleep habits

In addition to natural sleep aids, adopting habits that promote healthy sleep is extremely important:

Stick to a sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, even on weekends, regulates your circadian rhythm so your body expects sleep at those times.

Ensure enough sleep time

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Determine your ideal amount of sleep and work backward to set your bedtime. Don’t skimp on needed sleep time.

Limit daytime naps

While short power naps can improve productivity, long or late naps interfere with nighttime sleep by reducing sleep drive. Keep naps under 30 minutes.

Avoid pre-bedtime electronics

The blue light emitted from TVs, phones and computers suppresses melatonin production, making falling asleep difficult. Avoid screens in the final hour before bed.

Cut off caffeine by early afternoon

Caffeine’s stimulant effects linger for hours in the body. Stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before bed for the best sleep quality.

Establish a soothing pre-bed routine

Rituals like a warm bath, light reading or gentle yoga set the stage for sounder sleep by triggering the brain’s winding-down mechanisms.

Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet

Your sleep environment has a huge impact. Optimize conditions by lowering temperature, using blackout curtains, limiting noise and ensuring a comfortable mattress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

For chronic and severe sleep difficulties, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the leading treatment approach. CBT-I works to improve sleep by changing maladaptive thoughts or behaviors that perpetuate sleeplessness.

Common techniques used in CBT-I include:

  • Stimulus control therapy – Strengthening the association between your bed and sleep.
  • Sleep restriction – Limiting time spent awake in bed to improve sleep drive.
  • Sleep hygiene education – Learning healthy sleep habits.
  • Cognitive restructuring – Identifying and reframing beliefs that interfere with sleep.
  • Relaxation strategies – Using meditation, visualization and breathing exercises.

CBT-I gives patients tools and coping methods to overcome problematic sleep patterns. It is an effective way to improve sleep without relying on medication long-term.

When sleep medications may be warranted

For some people with chronic sleep disorders or temporary situations causing acute insomnia, sleep medications may provide needed relief along with other treatments. Sleep medications should only be used under the guidance of a doctor.

Common reasons sleep medications may be beneficial include:

  • Severe, diagnosed insomnia
  • Significant anxiety or depression disrupting sleep
  • Recovery from jet lag
  • Hospitalization or changing environments
  • Grieving process after loss of a loved one
  • Short-term work deadlines requiring shifted schedule

Sleep medications can help re-establish healthy sleep cycles during difficult periods. However, they carry risks and should not be used long-term or as the sole solution for sleep problems.

Types of sleep medications

If sleep medications are recommended by your doctor, here are some of the common types and how they work:

Benzodiazepine receptor agonists

Medications like temazepam, triazolam and lormetazepam work by enhancing the action of GABA neurotransmitters that induce sleep.

Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics

Zolpidem, zaleplon and eszopiclone promote sleep without directly affecting GABA receptors. Potential for abuse is lower.

Melatonin receptor agonists

Ramelteon mimics melatonin and works with the body’s circadian rhythm signals to cause drowsiness within 30 minutes.

Orexin receptor antagonists

Suvorexant blocks orexin which promotes wakefulness, allowing sleep. It has less risk of dependence.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Some tricyclic antidepressants like doxepin and amitriptyline have sedative effects at lower doses and can treat insomnia.


Quetiapine, olanzapine and other antipsychotics may be prescribed off-label at low doses to remedy insomnia, but side effects can be severe.


Fighting sleep is rarely a wise habit and often backfires. Prioritizing healthy sleep offers immense benefits for physical and mental health, productivity, mood and well-being. Use natural sleep aids judiciously for occasional insomnia. Seek medical guidance for recurring sleep problems so any underlying conditions can be properly treated. With lifestyle changes and selective use of sleep medications if warranted, restful sleep is within your reach.