If you’re a millennial (ages 22 to 37) and you often find yourself on the brink of exhaustion, rest assured that you’re not alone. A quick Google search for ‘millennial’ and ‘tired’ reveals dozens of articles proclaiming that millennials are, in fact, the Tired Generation.
In fact, the General Social Survey says that young adults are now twice as likely to experience constant exhaustion than they were 20 years ago.
Another study from the American Psychological Association reports that millennials are the most stressed out generation, with much of that stress resulting from anxiety and loss of sleep.
“Sleep deprivation is a public health issue. About a third of the U.S. population robs themselves of the sleep they so desperately need,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone.
But getting enough sleep is only part of the problem, at least in the case of millennials.
“I think of feeling tired as both physical and mental exhaustion. There are days I’m neither productive in my work nor am I going to the gym. Those are the worst days because I'm not able to check anything off my list, compounding my stress,” says Dan Q. Dao, a freelance writer and editor.
“I think many of us are overwhelmed with information, whether that's keeping up with the never-ending news cycle or endlessly navigating social media. With that kind of content overload, our brains struggle to keep up with real-life demands. I also think, as young people, many of us have generalized stress and anxiety about our economic and social situations, if not about the overall state of the world.”
With so many studies, doctors, and millennials themselves saying that millennials are more stressed out and therefore exhausted, it begs the question: why?
1. Technology takeover: Impacting your brain and body
The overarching issue stems from the absolute inundation and obsession millennials have with technology, which presents both mental and physical hindrances to sleep.
“More than 8 in 10 millennials say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed, poised to disgorge texts, phone calls, emails, songs, news, videos, games and wake-up jingles,” reports a Pew Research study.
“All of our population, especially millennials, are on the phone until the moment we go to sleep. If we use devices before bed, the blue light goes into our eyes and that blue spectrum causes the physiological response of alertness. Without us even knowing it, our body is being cued to be awake,” says Robbins.
But beyond the physiological effects, the constant stream of technology means being overly inundated with information.
“Constant bad news makes me feel incredibly anxious. As a woman and the mother of a daughter, seeing the direction our country is heading in stresses me out. That's not even including the daily issues that POC, LGBT people, and other minorities are forced to deal with,” says Maggie Tyson, a content manager for a real estate start-up. “All of it gives me anxiety and exhausts me to the point where I don't even want to think about it, which is pretty impossible, and it does add to a general feeling of fatigue.”
How to holistically cope
- Robbins suggests adopting 20 to 60 minutes of tech-free time before bed. Yes, that means powering off your phone. “Run a bath, take a warm shower, or read a book. It’ll help shift the mindset from business and prepare the brain and body for sleep.”
2. Hustle culture: A mindset and, often, a financial reality
Millennials have often been taught that hard work will get them ahead. Also, with stagnant wages and housing shortages in many cities, young Americans are often driven by simple economics to pick up a side-hustle.
“I think many millennials are told at a young age that they can achieve anything and take on the world. For those of us who took those messages at face value, we are struggling to reconcile the expectation with the reality. The can-do attitude works, until you take on too much and really can't do it,” says Dao.
“Unfortunately, when we don’t give ourselves enough downtime, we increase the risk of burnout,” says Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health expert and founder of Insomnia Coach.
“If we constantly check our email when we get home in the evening, we make it harder to unwind and prepare for sleep,” Reed says. “We may even be tempted to take our work home with us and finish projects in bed at night. This can create a mental association between the bed and work — rather than sleep — and this can make sleep more difficult.”
How to holistically cope
- "I've turned to dance often as an outlet, in addition to general fitness and weightlifting,” says Dao. “Cooking, hiking — anything where you can physically let go of your phone — these activities should be prioritized more than ever.”
3. Money worries: Coming to age during the 2008 recession
For as much as millennials are working, they also often feel underpaid for the jobs that they do. Not to mention that they’re one of the first generations to be saddled with exorbitant student debt.
“The No. 1 source of stress is money and financial concerns. Not only did millennials experience the 2008 recession at a vulnerable age, many were old enough to be out of college and employed when it first hit, which can shape one's perception of the economy's steadiness, or lack thereof,” says Mike Kisch, CEO and co-founder of Beddr, an FDA-listed sleep wearable.
“Also, looking at debt, a common financial source of stress, on average a millennial between the age of 25 and 34 has $42,000 in debt,” says Kisch.
“Of course, being stressed financially while simultaneously being overworked plays into feelings of exhaustion,” says Dao. “This is a real series of questions I've asked myself as a freelance writer: ‘I'm sick, but should I go to the doctor today? Can I even afford it? Maybe, but can I afford taking off three hours where I could be earning money?’”
How to holistically cope
- If you’re stressed about money, you're not alone. Talk through problems and little ways to manage stress with someone you trust, says Kisch. “This could be as easy as having a pen and paper by your bed to make a quick list of what you have to do the next day, rather than telling yourself that you'll remember in the morning. Your brain deserves a real chance to rest.”
4. Poor coping behaviors: A complication of stress
As is to be expected, all of this stress leads to poor coping behaviors, like poor diet and overconsumption of alcohol or caffeine, all of which wreaks havoc on a sleep cycle.
“A typical millennial diet in the U.S. looks something like a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pizza or pasta for dinner,” says Marissa Meshulam, a registered dietitian and nutritionist.
“These diets are high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber, which leads to blood sugar highs and lows. When your blood sugar is out of whack, you become more tired. Additionally, these diets are low in vitamins and minerals, which can lead to deficiencies and subsequently chronic fatigue.”
Beyond that, millennials are more likely to dine out compared to other generations. According to registered dietitian Christy Brisette, millennials are 30 percent more likely to dine out. “Even though millennials value health, they also snack more frequently and value convenience more than other generations, which means healthy choices aren't always happening,” she says.
How to holistically cope
- “Try to better balance meals with adequate protein, fiber, and fat to keep your blood sugar balanced and prevent those highs and lows. Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet is a simple way to add fiber and boost the vitamin and mineral content, all of which will help prevent fatigue,” says Meshulam.
Food Fix: Foods to Beat Fatigue
Meagan Drillinger is a travel and wellness writer. Her focus is on making the most out of experiential travel while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Her writing has appeared in Thrillist, Men’s Health, Travel Weekly, and Time Out New York, among others. Visit her blog or Instagram.