‘When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche.
For me, Nietzsche hit the nail on the head. Aside from the physiological symptoms of tiredness, which I will address a little later in this article, the biggest problem with feeling fatigued is that it prays on our insecurities and worries. What seems reasonable on one day may seem insurmountable on another if you are struggling to stay on the ball in the face of exhaustion.
Statistics suggest that one in four EU workers complain of tiredness. The main causes of tiredness are:
• Poor fitness levels
• Disturbed sleeping patterns
• Dietary deficiencies
• Some illnesses.
Tiredness can present itself in a number of ways, including lethargy, feeling sad and an inability to concentrate.
A good night’s sleep
Adults, excepting the elderly, need on average between seven to nine hours of sleep at night. However, this can be hard to achieve given the fast pace of the 21st century lifestyle. To try to circumvent the effects of being so busy, if at all possible it is a good idea to have an early night in the middle of the week to reduce the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation. Sleeping in at weekends is also an option, as are ‘power naps’ of about 20 to 40 minutes’ duration. One thing to note with this type of remedial action, however, is that staying in bed all the time will not cure your overall feeling of tiredness. The key in the long-term lies in improving your sleep routine and achieving a more balanced lifestyle.
So how do you achieve a good sleep pattern? First of all, try to avoid caffeinated drinks before bedtime; your granny was right – a milky drink will do wonders for you. This is because milk contains a sleep-enhancing amino acid called tryptophan. While on the subject of drinks, yes it is true that alcohol helps many people to fall asleep (or in some cases forces them to!). The truth is that alcohol-induced sleep is a light sleep and not what your body needs, hence you will feel tired in the morning.
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and comfortable, and that the room is a good temperature for you. If there is noise, invest in some earplugs. To counteract daylight put up black-out blinds or wear an eye mask. If your bed isn’t comfortable, you really need to get yourself down to the local furniture store and find a bed that is right for you. As for temperature, that can be tricky unless you have air conditioning as well as central heating. However, duvets come in different tog ratings, electric blankets are now completely safe and there is a new product available called the Chillow pillow, which might well be worth a look if you tend to overheat at night.
If you do end up lying in bed unable to sleep, don’t stay there! This will just end up with you feeling frustrated and upset – certainly not a recipe for a good night’s sleep. Get up and read a book or do a puzzle until you feel sleepy. Don’t watch television, as the visuals tend to stimulate your brain.
If you are suffering from a lack of iron, the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to your body’s cells, making you feel tired, weak, dizzy and faint. Red meat, oily fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, pulses and green, leafy vegetables are good sources of iron. Like many minerals and vitamins, a supplement is always an option. However it is very important to note that excess iron can cause damage, so be very careful if you are self-prescribing a dosage.
Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron, so it is essential to incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet, such as oranges, berries, grapefruit and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene also helps with iron absorption; beneficial foods include apricots, mangoes and carrots.
Low levels of magnesium can lead to muscle weakness, and milk, bread and cereals are good sources. Lastly, B12 deficiency causes fatigue, which can be addressed through the consumption of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and soya.
A final word
At the beginning of this article I briefly mentioned that some illnesses can cause tiredness. If fatigue persists despite a healthy lifestyle and adequate sleep, it is imperative that you consult your general practitioner, who may recommend some blood tests to check for an underlying illness.
In addition, some medications can cause drowsiness, for example antihistamines, beta blockers and anti-depressants. If you suspect that you are suffering from such an effect, talk to your doctor about your options.