It’s late into the night and you’re still typing away at your computer, with a list of things that need accomplishing. The next morning, you are bleary-eyed as you make your way to the pharmacy to pick up prescription drugs for your loved one.
While you make the drive safely, Virginia Tech Transportation reports that 1 in 5 car crashes happen because of fatigue. Younger drivers, in particular, are more prone to driving while fatigued.
Though these numbers only attribute to 2 or 3% of car crashes, experts saw that drivers exhibited the following behavior before the accident:
- Eye-lid closure
- Head bobbing
- Severe loss of facial movement
- Eyes close and pop open
These are signs that the drivers were, in fact, asleep, and not merely drowsy.
As we have seen from the previous example, sleep deficiency’s side effects can happen in an instant, or can harm our bodies over time. Sleep is vital not only during the nighttime when our bodies repair themselves but also during our performance in the daytime. Getting enough hours of sleep improves our mental and physical health and our safety.
Here are several ways that sleep strengthens our bodies for the following day:
- Improved Brain Function
Sleep does wonders to your brain. Whenever you go to sleep, your brain is preparing for the following day, creating new pathways that process and store the information that you have previously learned.
Instead of pulling all-nighters before a big exam or an important presentation, sleeping early improves your learning and enhances problem-solving skills. During the morning, this is what helps you pay attention during meetings, make important decisions, and create original, unique ideas.
On the other hand, sleeping less than 7 hours contributes to difficulty in making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. When we miss out on rest, we become more prone to depression, suicide, and risk-taking.
When looking at children and young adults, they have a more difficult time getting along with their peers. Due to lack of sleep, they are often angry and impulsive and exhibit mood swings and lack of motivation. During classes, they are less likely to pay attention—resulting in lower grades and increased stress.
- Healthier Physique
Aside from improving your brain power, sleep also plays an important role in your physical health. During the nighttime, your heart and blood vessels go through repair, lowering your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Sleeping late also increases our risk of obesity. In a study done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, teenagers’ chances of becoming obese doubles with each hour they do not sleep. This is also evident with other age groups.
Sleep also balances hormones that control our hunger (ghrelin) and appetite (leptin). Whenever we sleep late, our levels of ghrelin and leptin are thrown off. We are prone to get hungrier as the hours go by, and keep eating without feeling full. Whereas, on a normal day, our appetites are easily satiated with our usual serving size.
Sleeping earlier regulates our insulin levels. The later we sleep, the higher our blood sugar levels are likely to rise and increase our risk for diabetes.
When children and young adults go into a deep sleep, their body releases a hormone that encourages healthy growth and development, improves muscle mass, and repairs cells and tissues. Studies also show that sleep deficiency may negatively affect puberty and fertility.
Sleep is also essential to our immune system. The later we sleep, the more likely we become susceptible to common infections and illnesses.
- Enhanced Coordination
Going to sleep at the right time helps us function properly during the daytime. Without enough sleep, we are less productive at work and at school. This is seen in the form of unfinished tasks, slower reaction times, and more mistakes.
Losing around 1 to 2 hours of sleep greatly affects our ability to perform our daily activities, leading us to microsleep during times when we would be normally awake.
We may be seated in a meeting and would tune-out, belatedly realizing that we have fallen asleep without knowing it. It’s impossible to control microsleep, except for logging in the right number of hours of sleep during the night.
Comparing Sleepiness and Fatigue
More often than not, we think that we are the exception to the rule and not aware of our own sleep deficiency. Drowsy workers may still feel capable of getting through their day without missing a beat. Despite the level of detail and work ethic we exhibit in the office, we may be experiencing sleepiness or fatigue.
However, there is a difference between these two phenomena. Sleepiness happens when we feel the extreme desire to fall asleep. This may happen after a filling meal. As we are seated in a comfortable chair, we start to feel our eyelids become heavy though we try our best to keep it open. Slowly but surely, we doze off.
This feeling of sleepiness starts to build up the longer we are awake, signaling to our brain that we need to get some sleep. The hormone responsible for this phenomenon is called adenosine.
As the adenosine increases throughout the day, it is natural for us to feel the sleepiest in the evening. We normally reach the peak of this feeling right before we fall asleep. This would explain why we doze off just before our regular sleeping schedule.
The only way we can relieve our sleepiness is to get quality sleep for as long as our body needs. You will wake feeling refreshed and well-rested the next morning.
On the other hand, fatigue or exhaustion is more bone-deep. We are more likely to feel as if we had run a marathon, though we are simply moving through our daily routine. We do not have enough energy to sit upright and accomplish our tasks with vigor and care. Instead, it feels as if we were only dragging our bodies through the day.
More often than not, this kind of feeling cannot be solved by merely going to bed. People who feel fatigued may try to lie down or nap but have a difficult time falling asleep.
Though tiredness is a common feeling at the end of a physically demanding day, it is no longer normal when it becomes a daily occurrence. When this happens, it is time to check if you are merely sleep deficient or in need of more medical attention.
Why You May Be Fatigued and How to Deal With It
1.You are depriving yourself of sleep
As we have discussed earlier, depriving yourself of healthy amounts of time for your body to recuperate during the night can lead to devastating health problems in the future. And this doesn’t happen overnight.
A good way to beat sleep deprivation is to create a routine where you can finish all of your tasks during the day and relax before bedtime. Avoiding any kind of stimulation and using electric blankets to warm your extremities can encourage the feeling of drowsiness—and at the right moment, too!
2.You are experiencing insomnia
Knowing how your body manifests sleepiness or fatigue can help you identify if you are experiencing insomnia. As a rule of thumb, people should go to bed when they feel sleepy; may this be an afternoon nap time or a full-on slumber at night.
If we were to use fatigue or a certain time as a signal to go to bed, without following a proper routine, we may lie awake for hours trying to get our body to relax. In that moment of anxiety and restlessness, our body’s signal for sleepiness can be overridden and cause us to have insomnia.
Aside from doing relaxing activities during the evening, we recommend delaying the onset of sleep. While this sounds counterintuitive, we are helping our adenosine build-up and encouraging our body to feel sleepier. Your doctor might advise you to stay up until midnight but keep your wake time fixed at a certain time, you can then sleep earlier the following day.
If you follow this routine, you can sleep earlier, deeper, and more soundly as the days go by. Once your body starts to feel sleepy from sleep restriction, you can start adding a few more hours. Thus, fixing your sleep schedule.
3.You have problems with your thyroid
Our thyroids are a small gland that sits in our neck, releasing a hormone that helps us control our energy levels. If we are experiencing a spike in energy during the evenings, this can be an indicator that our thyroid gland is not following the normal circadian rhythm.
This can also go both ways. If our thyroid is not active enough, we are more likely to feel tired and exhausted. We become sluggish and our reflexes are slow. Should we experience this kind of problem, our doctor may request us to test our blood for thyroid hormone levels. From there, they may prescribe medication to help us deal with it.
4.You may have a heart disease
Fatigue may also be a symptom of congestive heart failure, where our heart does not pump blood as well as it should. One good way to tell if you have a heart problem is to check if your fatigue only worsens after exercising (when in fact, regular exercise should energize your body more). You might also experience swelling in your arms and legs and have shortness of breath.
We recommend seeing a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
5.You have sleep apnea
In contrast to insomnia, sleep apnea happens when our brains do not get enough oxygen while we sleep. This amounts to us not being able to sleep well during the night. As our brains recognize that we are not expelling CO2 from our body, it wakes up alarmed without us being conscious of it. Because of this reaction, we may not sleep deeply (enter REM) and find it hard to stay awake during the day.
Doctors recommend a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that will keep your airways open during bedtime. This way, you do not have to worry about shallow sleep and enter dreamland more peacefully.
6.You are going through your menopause
For older women, we may be going through menopause and find it hard to rest properly. As hormones go through erratic changes during this season, women are more prone to hot flashes and night sweats. This can cause discomfort and can keep anyone up at night.
7.You may be experiencing depression or other mental health issues
Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety rob our brains of chemicals that regulate its activity. For example, serotonin is responsible for keeping our internal body clock in check. When we are diagnosed with depression, we may either stay up all night or sleep throughout the day. Either way, our brain pays no heed to our normal circadian rhythm and makes us feel drowsy or restless at different times of the day.
Depression can also lower our energy levels and make us feel tired during the day. However, the drowsiness may go away at night and we may find it difficult to sleep. In some circumstances, you might wake up earlier than you want to.
If you are experiencing any of these things, it is important to see a psychiatrist right away.
8.You made an extreme change in your diet
Changing your diet, whether it's eating too much or too little, can affect your sleeping pattern.
If you find yourself skipping meals, your body might not be absorbing the right amount of calories to keep you up and running all day. Not eating for long hours can also cause your blood sugar to drop. We recommend eating meals at proper times, especially food that boosts your energy. This includes bananas, peanut butter, crackers, protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit.
Eating too much can also cause fatigue, especially when you are not spacing out your meals properly. The more food you eat, the harder your body will have to work to digest the food you ate while also carrying out your usual tasks throughout the day.
You can create a food plan where you can switch the usual food you eat with healthier, high-fiber alternatives to curb your appetite faster. This would also entail avoiding large amounts of sugar, junk foods, and fatty foods.
Watching over our body’s needs, especially at bedtime, not only helps us have a good night’s rest but also have a healthier lifestyle. Our body can absorb the right kind of vitamins, process important information, and prepare us for the day ahead. Before we experience health complications, it is essential to form healthy sleeping habits. Tonight, let us relax our bodies and warm ourselves up with an electric blanket and turn in early for the night.
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