Monday, December 30, 2013

Tired of Feeling Exhausted

Why am I always tired?

How can I sleep all night, and wake up feeling even more sleepy than when I went to bed?

I feel like I could fall asleep standing up, and I’m short tempered – I never used to be this way. What happened?

Man tired at his desk


If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you don’t need a diagram for the symptoms of exhaustion – you are living it. Heck, as a society, we’re so fatigued, there is even an art display dedicated to it. That sluggish feeling first thing in the morning that never quite fades away by midday. That mid-afternoon slump that keeps you chained to your office chair until the last few minutes of the workday. Then you trudge home, between fighting rush hour traffic, running to the gym, ferrying kids to after-school activities, and fitting dinner somewhere in the mix. Finally, finally, you squeeze in a few minutes sitting down, maybe to watch television, read a book, help someone with his or her homework. You feel like you’ve been permanently attached to the chair, and even the effort of falling into bed seems a bit too much to ask.

If you’ve felt/feel that way, you can probably remember back to a time when you weren’t always this tired. When the time you went to bed and the time you got up were mutually exclusive, and they never affected how much you got done in a day. When having an activity-packed weekend meant only more fun, less stress, and plenty of energy.

What the heck happened? How did you get to this place of chronic exhaustion? And how do you get out of it?

The first place to start is to examine your sleep patterns and how many hours of actual sleep you are getting each night. Mind you, this doesn’t include the minutes (or hours, in my case) you spend in bed reading, watching television, or otherwise occupied doing things other than sleep.  Sleep hours should be measured by when you actually fall asleep to when you wake up to face your day.

How much sleep is critical for you? The average adult needs 7-9 hours, but since we are all a little bit different, you should find your own sleep requirements. How? This can best be determined over a time period when you can go to sleep when you want to, and get up in the morning without the worry of an alarm. Often, it is easiest to do this over a vacation. Allow yourself the first three to four days to regulate, then look at days five through seven to see how long you slept. You want to evaluate this without the overconsumption of alcohol, and during a time when you can stay in bed until you are ready to get up for the day.  Your sleeping average over those last three days should give you a ballpark for how much sleep you typically need. (If you prefer a bit more precise monitor for your sleep, check out an app like MotionX or the relatively inexpensive tool Fitbit, which monitors your sleep.)

Woman sleeping

Keep in mind, your need for sleep can alter based on your health (do you feel a cold coming on? Are your allergies at an all-time high? Are you pregnant or healing from an injury?), your stress levels (divorce, new job, intense course load at school), and your overall well-being. Depression can lend itself to causing people to sleep more, but so can family distress, financial irritations, and even good things like unexpected surprises. They use additional energy, which means the body needs to recuperate a bit more when you sleep.

If you are finding it hard to get more sleep given an already hectic schedule, here’s some tips to help:
  • Go to bed at the same time every night, if at all possible. The human body craves patterns, and a consistent sleep schedule helps.
  • If you have small children, go to bed around the same time that they do, so you are ready to arise around the same time.
  • If you are a shift-worker, keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible; if necessary, add in naps, but again, keep it regular and around the same time.
  • Remove distractions before bed: turn off the television, stick with soft, yellow light, avoid in-depth reading and conversation. This helps the mind wind down, along with the body.
  • Create a dark room for sleeping. Remove or completely cover electronic devices that emit light, cover your windows with light-blocking curtains, and apply a removable strip around the door if light seeps through. The blacker the room, the deeper and more rejuvenating the sleep. 

Lastly, but perhaps most important: sleep is primary to self-care. It ranks higher than even healthy eating (though that matters, too!) So make it a priority in your life, and you’ll see results within a few weeks that will amaze you.  You’ll feel more energized, your outlook on life will be more positive, and your temperament will improve. It won’t happen in one night, but with several focused weeks on obtaining the proper amount of sleep, you’ll feel like a new person, and ready to face whatever challenges you are faced with.

In my next post, we’ll talk about ways to alleviate exhaustion by de-stressing and creating peace, even in a hectic life.

What sleep challenges are you dealing with? What difficulties have you overcome? What has been your best tool for getting more sleep?

Contributing Writer

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