Fatigue vs. Sleepiness: Is there a difference?
While it may seem like semantics, understanding the difference between sleepiness and fatigue is important, as the causes of each are often vastly different. As a result, successfully identifying the underlying cause(s) rests upon our ability to understand what ails us.
Sleepiness is the extreme desire to fall asleep. In a conducive environment, the eyelids become heavy, the “blinks” last longer, as we are gradually seduced into sleep. This feeling is referred to as “sleep pressure.” It is caused by a lack of quality sleep and is relieved by sleep.
Fatigue is quite different. Described as exhaustion, malaise, or weariness, it is often experienced as a heaviness or ache deep in your bones. You are dragging physically and mentally. However, no matter how extreme the fatigue may be, it does not result in sleep. While poor quality or insufficient sleep can contribute to a sense of fatigue, it is rarely the root cause of fatigue.
Listed below are some simple, effective strategies to promote quality sleep.
• Go to bed on time.
• Resist the urge to snooze. Sleep caught between soundings of that alarm is just not high-quality sleep. The snooze button often disturbs REM sleep, which can make us feel groggier.
• Go easy on the alcohol before bed. While that nightcap really can make it feel easier to fall asleep, as your body metabolizes the alcohol, you’re more likely to wake up frequently.
• Keep your bedroom dark.
• Keep it cool. Optimal sleep temperature is between 60° and 67°F.
• Power down an hour before bed. Dim the lights and turn off all your devices—smartphones, laptops, TVs, all of which belong outside the
bedroom an hour before bedtime. Bright light is one of the biggest triggers to our brains that it’s time to be awake and alert.
• Cut caffeine by the afternoon.
• Exercise regularly. Adding even just a few minutes of physical activity to your day can make a difference in your rest.
• Avoid heavy meals when it’s late.
• Reserve the bed for sleep and intimacy only.
• Keep your bedroom quiet.
• Ban pets from bed.
• Keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on weekends.
• Work through your thoughts about the day before getting into bed.
• Try aromatherapy. The scent of lavender has noted benefits for sleep.
• Take a hot bath. A cozy soak raises your body temperature slightly. When you hop out, you’ll cool down quickly, which mimics the natural drop in body temperature caused by the brain as it readies the body for sleep.
• Don’t stress about sleep. The harder you try to sleep, the harder it is to sleep.
By Dr. Randall Evans
How do diet and exercise affect fatigue?
Every time you visit the doctor’s office you hear the same mantra over and over: Proper diet and exercise will improve your health, spirit and life. It can also help with fatigue. The American Heart Association recommends that for overall cardiovascular health, you need to perform at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 5 days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days a week. This recommendation can be tapered to fit a patient’s functional capacity. In fact, any activity is good for the heart and soul.
Exercise helps reduce fatigue by lowering levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Cortisol is great for the immediate fight or flight scenario, but a constant high level will overwhelm the body and lead to the opposite effect, causing fatigue, weight gain and change in insulin production. Regular exercise increases left ventricle contractility and improves cardiac compliance, which will then cause an increase in stroke volume. The left ventricle is where blood is pumped out of the heart, through the aorta, and to the rest of the body. This increase in stroke volume will allow a greater amount of blood per heartbeat to be pushed through the body. This enhances the body’s ability to remove reactive oxygen species, cortisol, other hormones and wastes, bringing nutrients to cells for proper healing and function. This allows the body to function properly and causes an increase in energy and decrease in fatigue.
When it comes to diet, the same idea can be applied in the sense that eating healthy foods with the proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats can decrease fatigue.
Fats: The problem with the American diet is that it contains a lot of short acting energy foods or foods that are high in fats that slow the body down. When we constantly eat foods that are high in trans-fats and saturated fats it leads to increased fatigue, examples include fried foods and snack treats.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are important for decreasing fatigue, although these should consist of mostly complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates give slower release energy and help sustain blood sugar levels, allowing for maintenance of your body’s energy. Examples of complex carbohydrates include green vegetables and brown rice. Simple carbohydrates should be minimized since they are fast burning and only give a temporary boost to energy. Examples of simple carbohydrates are fruit juice and table sugar.
Protein: Protein is also important as it regulates the release of the “raw energy” delivered from fats and carbohydrates. Thus, with the proper balance of fats, carbohydrates, and protein your body will be able to maintain its energy levels and reduce fatigue.
There is no room for excuses when it comes to proper diet and exercise. If we truly want to reduce fatigue and feel better overall, it remains the best medicine to sustain health, wellness and energy.
By Dr. Robert Parrick