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6 Things Only People Have Bad Night’s Sleep Would Understand (And Ways to Alleviate It)

6 Things Only People Have Bad Night’s Sleep Would Understand (And Ways to Alleviate It)

If you suffer from insomnia or you have to do shift work, then you will know all about a bad night’s sleep. If you have a newborn baby, the situation may be even worse. Join the club of 50-70 million Americans and 5 million in the UK who cannot get a decent night’s sleep. 20% of these are getting less than 6 hours sleep a night.

There are various causes such as too much Internet, email, stress, alcohol, and a host of other problems which are all stopping us from getting our share of sleep which is vital to proper functioning.

Most medical experts say that those who suffer from sleep problems are prone to more depression, anxiety and poorer health overall. Add in diabetes, obesity and heart problems and you will begin to see why this is a very worrying trend. The CDC estimates that this is a pubic health epidemic. Here are 6 things that only people with sleep problems will understand and also 4 ways to alleviate the problem.

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1. You know that tomorrow is going to be hell.

As you lie there tossing and turning and having tried everything from hot milk to sleep aids which become less and less effective, you wonder, why me? Then you start worrying again about how bad all this is for you and that tomorrow will be all the more difficult and stressful. You just know that you are going to get exhausted more quickly and that you will have problems in concentrating at work or in studying. You will be in a bad mood as well.

2. You love your baby but…..

If you are a new parent, the constant interruptions from the crying newborn have a detrimental effect and may be worse than getting no sleep at all. This interrupted sleep is about the same as getting 4 hours sleep and you just cannot function on that. Many parents often feel anger towards their newborn child building up and this makes them feel guilty which, in turn, disturbs their sleep when they do manage to fall into a fitful slumber.

3. You do not get much sympathy.

Everybody has their own remedy. They will recommend homeopathic treatments, yoga, melatonin and a host of other remedies which will vary from grandmother’s recipes to New Age discoveries. None of them work for you and people just shrug their shoulders and more or less tell you to get on with it! There is very little support and even doctors do not give this medical disorder the attention it deserves.

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4. You are not so sure about sleep aids.

How can you sort out the facts from the hysteria about sleep aids? You do all the research in your waking hours and you get all the scary stories about the health risks. Then you do more research and Big Pharma reassures you that disastrous side effects are few and far between. Yet, as you count the 456th sheep, you cannot dismiss the stories of the death of Heath Ledger who took an overdose of prescription meds which included sleep aids, of course.

5. You are more accident prone.

You are also keenly aware that lack of sleep causes accidents. You reflect bitterly that the some of the biggest accidents in history were caused by sleep deficits. The big ones such as Chernobyl, the accident at Three Mile Island and the Exxon oil spill all were connected with a lack of sleep. On a more mundane level, you worry that while driving tomorrow, you may become just another statistic in the annual 100,000 road accidents.

6. You may be causing irreversible brain damage.

Now I know that the latest experiments were done on mice but experts are alarmed that the same process may be happening in humans. Researchers at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that a lack of sleep in mice causes irreversible damage in certain brain cells. These cells are the locus ceruleus (LC) neurons which wakefulness seems to destroy and there is no chance that they will be reborn or replaced. Another study at the University of Surrey (UK) suggests that sleep is needed to clear your brain of all the toxins which have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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4 Ways To Alleviate The Problem.

There are lots of sites which will tell you how many hours of sleep you should be getting. I would advise you to treat this advice with some caution because the number of hours is only a vague indicator. What counts is the quality of the sleep you are getting. If it is a deep and restful sleep, the number of hours will be mostly irrelevant. Here are 4 ways to help you sort out the problem. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all so you may have to experiment with what works best for you.

1. Examine your lifestyle.

There is usually a compelling reason why you cannot sleep. It could be related to stress and worry. You need to look at these factors carefully. Regular bedtimes help as does a special routine which helps you wind down towards blissful sleep. Maybe you are exposed to too much artificial light just before bedtime. That may mean changing your routine a bit.

2. Change your sleeping accommodation if necessary.

As regards the bedroom, you should try and improve it as far as possible. Is it noisy and if so, could you move to another room? There may be problems with the temperature- a fairly cool one of around 18° is ideal and it should be in total darkness. Try black out curtains or a face mask if there are no real blinds on the window. The idea is to get as much sunlight during the day and as much darkness towards evening so that the melatonin substance which induces sleep can kick into action. That melatonin is vital and I can tell you that smartphones, TV and computers all interfere with its release. If you take your smartphone to bed, you are asking for trouble!

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3. Look for natural sleep aids.

Prescription sleep aids may work for a time but there is no magic cure. It may be time to look at natural alternatives. There may be something that can work for you. I take Valerian or melatonin tablets and they have usually worked. These do not work for everyone. You can try taking some warm milk before bed and/or a banana snack. Magnesium can help the brain to relax and can be found in green leafy vegetables or just by taking a magnesium supplement. Taking a hot bath with lavender oil can also help to relax and calm some insomniacs.

4. Nap wisely.

Although naps are encouraged in some workplaces to renew energy, insomniacs are advised to avoid regular napping. Experts say that when you nap for more than 30 minutes, you tend to fall into a deep sleep and when you wake up, you may feel groggy and very unproductive so it seems to have the opposite effect. Naps can be useful though when you limit them to less than 20 minutes and provided you do not take them late in the afternoon or evening or falling asleep in front of the TV near your bedtime. If you avoid these traps, you can help to keep to your regular bedtime schedule and avoid upsetting your wake sleep cycle which is essential for restful sleep.

What helps you to get off to sleep? Let us know in the comments how you deal with insomnia.

Featured photo credit: Insomnia persists/ Quinn Dombrowski via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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