I have a love-hate relationship with sleep and tiredness. I love sleep and hate tiredness. Unfortunately, although I love sleep, it doesn’t always love me, hence the tiredness. And I am not the only one. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in five people feels “unusually tired,” and one in ten has “prolonged fatigue.” Women tend to feel more tired than men. I’m not sure how they define prolonged fatigue, but I am sure that I have this.
Research into sleep has been going on for a long time, I remember reading about it when I was studying brain and behaviour. It seems that the experts are still not sure why we need to sleep – to reorganise memories, to restore our bodies (cats sleep for about 16 hours per day, but not all in one go), maybe other things as well. Haven’t we all had those times when we’ve started a new job and fall asleep on the train going home for the first few weeks? Days when we’ve worked really hard in the garden/decorating/similar physical work and fallen asleep dog tired but knowing our bodies feel better for the exercise? Or times when we have worked hard mentally and felt exhausted but our bodies didn’t feel it because we had done no physical work?
I started to look into sleep because I’ve been falling asleep on the sofa and waking in the early hours of the morning and by the time I’ve cleaned my teeth and washed, I’m wide awake and don’t want to sleep (I’m typing this at 02:11). It also featured in a book I’m reading by one of my favourite non-fiction writers, Linda Formichelli (How to Do It All).
The NHS website says that there are psychological, physical and lifestyle causes of tiredness. Anaemia, an underactive thyroid, diabetes, being overweight or underweight and sleep apnoea can all cause tiredness. None of these is the cause of my tiredness (well, maybe being overweight. That’s something to ponder on and deal with.)
If you’ve ruled all of these out, what about anxiety, too much alcohol or poor diet? Or working shifts. That was what started my poor sleeping habits, and it took a long time to get over that. Apparently, too much alcohol tends to wake us in the middle of the night. That’s interesting, tonight I had a couple of glasses of wine (and am having one as I type) but I’ve drunk much more and not had disturbed sleep. I have a reasonably good diet (I don’t eat wheat, refined sugar only comes from cured meat and wine, I eat lots of fresh vegetables, most days way more than my five a day) and I am not anxious or depressed. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from anxiety (I’ve been scared to death on occasions, but not long-term anxiety). I’ve been depressed in the past so I know that there is none of that going on.
Body temperature is important. I cannot be the only person who sticks their feet out of the bed some nights or craves socks others? (When I was in India early in the year, we turned the air-con and the helicopter – overhead fan off at night because they were too noisy, but I didn’t have one night of undisturbed sleep because I was too hot, so threw the bedclothes off, and then got too cold so I pulled them back on. And so it went on.)
What I found most fascinating though, was, according to, if you wake up and don’t fall back to sleep again within 20 minutes, get up. Frequently, if I wake, I just need to go to the loo (half asleep) and then I drop off again straight away. Other nights, not so. Apparently, according to buzzfeed, pre-industrial times, humans had two sleeps. They’d sleep for shorter periods over a longer period, and some of them got up and went visiting in between. I don’t feel so bad about the nights I get up and write for a couple of hours after reading that. Maybe all I need to do is chill out about my poor sleep nights.
There are lots of things you can do if you sleep badly – take a look at this buzzfeed link:
And if you are interested about how some more information about how our ancestors slept:
I ended up staying up for about four hours that night, having woken up on the sofa after about four at the start. I slept for another three hours when I finally went back to bed. When I awoke, I felt a bit groggy but I managed to get quite a lot done that day, certainly as much as I usually do on my one day off. I crashed and burned at about 16:00, in a really deep sleep and was woken up after about an hour. (Who knows how long I’d have gone on for if I hadn’t been woken?) I’m not sure I’d go for that long a break in my sleep again – I’ve done it for one or two hours before and it hasn’t been too bad but maybe four hours was just too long. Nite nite.
© Susan Shirley 2016