If hitting the snooze button is part of your morning routine, and you feel like you need to be hooked up to a coffee drip, you’re not alone. Emirates Woman investigates what causes an attack of the yawns.
Exhausted, fatigued, weary, sleepy, drowsy, spent, drained, shattered, whacked, knackered – we’ve invented an astonishing number of words that mean the same thing – tired. In fact, a recent study from the National Sleep Foundation revealed that 63 per cent of us aren’t satisfied with our nightly rest. But staving off the midday yawns may not be as simple as an extra hour in bed. “The first step to overcoming fatigue is determining the cause,” says Dr Allen Towfigh, Medical Director at New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine. “While self-imposed sleep deprivation is the most common cause, there are numerous other factors which can disrupt our sleep and cause daytime sleepiness.”
You feel… Like your eyelids and limbs are heavy.
What’s the cause? It could be as simple as not getting enough sleep. Research shows that we get 20 per cent less shut-eye than we did a century ago, mainly due to increased exposure to bright light technology. “Many of us put off sleep because we prioritise other activities such as surfing the internet, watching television or a myriad of other distractions that are available to us,” says Dr Towfigh. “Numerous studies demonstrate that not getting enough sleep increases our risk of death. Sleep deprivation can also lead to health problems such as diabetes, obesity and coronary artery disease.”
According to Dr Steven Park, author of The 7 Day Sleep Apnea Solution: Get The Sleep You Need And The Life You Want, it could also be down to your sleeping position. “Many people can’t sleep on their backs due to having a small jaw structure,” he explains. “The tongue falls back and relaxes which stops you breathing, causing you to wake up and turn over.” This can result in restless nights, or what many people refer to as ‘tossing and turning’.
Fix it: The average person should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. If you’re doing this, then make sure you’re lying in a comfortable position. “Dermatologists sometimes tell patients to avoid sleeping on their tummies to prevent facial wrinkles, says Dr Park. “But tummy sleepers who follow this advice find that they develop more facial wrinkles due to poor quality sleep.”
You feel… Low on energy after lunch.
What’s the cause? “Historically, we’re polyphasic sleepers, meaning that our sleep used to be broken up into several blocks,” explains Dr Towfigh. “In the advent of technology our sleep has been condensed into a single block, yet our bodies haven’t evolved to manage this schedule.” At around midday, our core body temperature dips, mirroring the physiological change we experience before sleep. This is why it’s important to eat a balanced lunch, rather than energy-sapping fast-carbs.
Fix it: Many mammals, and indeed some cultures, incorporate an afternoon siesta into their daily routine. However, this isn’t practical for most of us, so getting our diet right is key. “Diets high in simple carbohydrates can cause a spike in insulin, causing glucose levels to drop quickly, precipitating fatigue,” warns Dr Towfigh. “Adding protein to your lunch can help mitigate this fatigue.”
You feel… Like you need time alone and a good cry.
What’s the cause? Feeling mentally exhausted is often a side effect of stressful life events. It’s normal to worry about a presentation at work or an argument with your spouse, however, emotional tiredness can also be down to sleeping problems. “Poor sleep can manifest as anxiety, stress or emotional instability,” says Dr Park. “Your body goes into a fight or flight mode, where your entire nervous system is edgy, hypersensitive, or over-reactive.”
Fix it: It’s easier said than done, but don’t add to your concern. Looking at the clock and worrying that you aren’t asleep will make you stay awake longer. “It’s important to know that you don’t have to stay asleep for seven hours to function,” explains Dr Park. “If emotional exhaustion continues long after the stress is gone, only then is it a problem.” One or two bad nights sleep isn’t going to cause massive issues, so relax, know that this is completely normal and it will pass. But if it becomes a regular thing, it could be down to insomnia or anxiety, so speak to your doctor.
You feel… Like you can’t concentrate on work or conversations.
What’s the cause? When you lose interest in your career and relationships, and don’t seem to care, there’s often an underlying cause. It can be difficult to diagnose a sleep condition, as these symptoms are often attributed to depression. “Many people will not officially have obstructive sleep apnea,” says Dr Park. “However, they will still have multiple episodes of breathing obstructions and micro-arousals, leading to sleep fragmentation, and poor sleep quality, despite having seven or eight hours rest.”
Fix it: Make sure you’re eating healthily and exercising regularly first. If the problem persists then it may well be a breathing problem. Change your sleeping position and make sure you’re breathing through your nose. If you still feel lacklustre, see your doctor for tests.
You feel… Full of thoughts and energy.
What’s the cause? An overactive mind is one of the main causes of insomnia in adults. “Often this issue arises because we’re too distracted during the day to deal with the many stressors in our lives,” explains Dr Towfigh. However, it could be something as simple as exposing yourself to too much stimulus just before bed. “Modern computer screens and smartphones have extra-bright screens with additional blue light,” explains Dr Park. “This stimulates receptors in the eye, lowering production of melatonin, which is a hormone that promotes sleep.”
Fix it: The best way to combat insomnia is to deal with anything on your mind before you go to sleep. Writing down thoughts is a great way of doing this, as you can come back to the issue the next day if it isn’t resolved, rather than thinking about it in bed. Dr Towfigh also recommends exercise: “At least 20 to 30 minutes aerobic activity per day can calm a racing mind.”
Main image: Jewel Purpose featuring Cartier shoot in October 2013 issue of Emirates Woman