There are so many words that describe our need for sleep we could use this page to list them all.  But two stand out: Tiredness and Fatigue.  We tell someone we feel tired or fatigued, and we feel the need to sleep.  Sleep is the nature’s response to both.  But tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is the natural feeling of needing to recover and recharge your batteries at the end of a busy day, an exercise session, or even a sleep-disturbed night.  Your body’s response is to switch into “standby mode,” in other words, to sleep.

Unlike tiredness, fatigue is not cured by sleep.  Sleep may alleviate the symptoms of fatigue, but it is not the solution.  You may get enough sleep, but even then, you wake up feeling chronically lethargic, i.e., lacking physical, mental, or both energy – a general sense of lassitude.

Fatigue, among others, is often a symptom of a chronic (long-term or recurrent) condition such as anemia, an underactive thyroid gland, or diabetes.  If you are getting enough sleep and wake up regularly feeling fatigued, seek advice from your doctor.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep.  Still, as you might expect, some sleep patterns are more effective than others.  The evidence shows that the brain benefits more from uninterrupted sleep over a shorter period than from more extended periods interrupted by wakefulness.

Perhaps the most common question related to sleep is, ‘How much sleep do I need?’ As with so many health-related questions, there is no single answer.  The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the guideline for adults (18 years and older) is at least seven hours.  Teenagers (and their parents) will already know that they can expect to need longer!  (8-10 hours).

But it is not only the duration of our sleep time that matters; it is the when and how well.

When we travel across time zones, we suddenly learn of our dependence on our body clocks – jet lag.  It takes time for our bodies to adjust to the time changes.  We can reset our watches almost immediately, but our bodies (including our brains) take longer.  While adjusting to the time shift, most of us show symptoms such as daytime fatigue, feeling sickly, mood changes, poor concentration, and poor functioning.  And the more significant the time shift, the more severe the symptoms.   These typical signals show our body’s need for regular sleep patterns.

Suppose you need to get up at 7 a.m.  It would be best to try to go to bed regularly at 11 p.m.  You should adjust your sleep pattern if you usually sleep for over 7/8 hours or work shifts.  The important thing is to have a regular pattern.  Some people (only a few) manage with as little as 2 hours a night.  But even they maintain a routine.

How well do you sleep?  Do you take long to fall asleep?  Do you sleep fitfully and lie awake for ages before dropping off again? 

There are things you should avoid if you can, or at least be aware of, to improve the quality of your sleep.

Things to avoid:-

  • Don’t avoid sleeping if you feel tired.  Stick to your routine of getting up at the same time each day, whether you feel tired or not.
  • Don’t drink tea or coffee (caffeine) late in the day.  Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in the body for many hours.  Don’t forget many other fizzy and minty chocolates have caffeine.
  • Drink very little alcohol-it may help you to fall asleep but will probably cause a fitful night.
  • Don’t watch television or use devices such as smartphones right before bed.
  • Don’t make up for a stormy night by ‘sleeping in’ the next day.  Stick to your routine.

Things to encourage

  • Spend time in natural light
  • Try to get regular daytime exercise, preferably late afternoon or early evening
  • Have your last meal of the day in the early evening – three to four hours before bed
    • Give yourself time to relax at least one hour before bed
    • read a book
    • listen to  (relaxing)music
    • take a warm (not hot) bath

Things to try

If you have something worrying you can do nothing about right now,  try writing it down with a note to yourself to do it tomorrow.  The act of committing will reduce the stress today.

If you lie awake, you may worry about not going back to sleep.  Try to relax by thinking about your breathing.  Slow your breathing rate down by taking deep breaths, preferably through your nose.  Breathe in, to the count of five and out, to the count of ten.  See how long you can keep it up before you fall asleep.

Things to be sure of

  • Your bedroom should be neither too warm nor too cold
  • Your mattress should give the proper support
    • Too soft, it will let your body sag and distort your spine.
    • If it is too firm, your hips and shoulders will be under pressure
  • It is natural to sleep in darkness.   Make sure your bedroom is dark.  Use an eye mask if necessary. 

If you try some or all of these suggestions and still can’t sleep, some underlying condition may need medication.  Talk with your medical provider,  who can check that your sleeplessness is not due to a physical illness or emotional problems.

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