The problem of tiredness, and not enough good quality sleep, is one that affects around 85% of us. We like to think that feeling tired all the time is about today’s increased pace of life, but in fact it’s been with us (and regarded as a “modern” problem) since at least 1894, and the amount we sleep hasn’t really changed since the 1960’s. So why are so many people so tired all the time?
One of the major problems is that people over-stimulate their brains with information during the day. Checking our e-mail every time a message comes in not only makes us overly alert, but after breaking off to read and respond to even a simple message it can take over twenty minutes to regain the same level of focus on what we were doing before. For many people a constant stream of e-mails, tweets, and status updates means that they never gain any real focus in the first place, and smartphones can promote a culture where people that feel they’re expected to always be engaged.
It’s particularly important to allow yourself a respite before you go to sleep, and most experts recommend a sixty to ninety minute “exclusion zone” for technology like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, before going to bed. One of the reasons is that responding to an email or social media alert releases dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel more awake and energised. As a result people can sleep for six or seven hours but never achieve the deep sleep that would leave them feeling refreshed the next morning. Unrefreshing sleep, just as much as not enough sleep, is a prime cause of feeling tired all the time.
People with poor quality sleep, who wake feeling just as tired, also often attempt to manage the problem with coffee or energy drinks. Instead of evening things out this makes them “hyper-aroused” through a combination of caffeine, stress hormones, and the underlying tiredness that the caffeine can’t address. It’s this “hyper-arousal” that makes people irritable, forgetful, irrational, and much more likely to put on weight as their craving increases and their ability to resist decreases.
The answers to getting better quality sleep are in themselves simple, but not always easy to achieve because they mean making changes in peoples’ lifestyles. The first, as I’ve described, is to have at least a sixty minute period before you go to bed where the only technology allowed is the television.
The second is to eat breakfast within half an hour of getting up. This stimulates the production of melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle, and can reduce the need for caffeine. Better eating habits are also vital in preventing the large variation in blood sugar levels that can prompt tiredness as well as contributing to insulin resistance.
The third is ten or fifteen minutes exercise when you get in from work to help dispel any mental fatigue. Exercise within three hours of bedtime though will work against quality sleep, as it raises your body temperature to too high a level.
Finally the fourth answer is to take part in some mindfulness, or being “in the moment”, during the day. It doesn’t have to be for very long either, as just five to ten minutes can improve your concentration and memory. Mindfulness is something that you can combine with another activity – for instance walking, and being engaged with your surroundings without checking your phone or thinking about jobs to do; or eating, and focussing on the taste and texture of your food, without distracting yourself with work or a magazine. The main thing is to resist any temptation to be distracted, as mindfulness allows the slower alpha waves in your brain to take over and allow it to consolidate memories and experiences.
If you’re tired all the time then try some or all of these – switching off from technology before bed, breakfasting, a small amount of exercise, and starting with mindfulness – and let me know how you get on. And if you would like to discuss or know any more about help with sleep problems and insomnia, please feel free to contact me for a no-obligation chat.