Many of us have probably suffered from overtiredness at some point. In fact, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrics, 1 in 5 adults feel uncommonly tired at any given time, with women more likely to suffer than men.
So, what causes overtiredness?
Dr Elena Touroni, a Consultant Psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains that it’s not just down to overworking, even though 60% of UK residents say they work more hours than they would like:
“The causes of being overtired are multifactorial. It might be down to overcommitting in your daily life - whether that be work, social, family responsibilities. If you’re going through a big life event –such as separation, death of a loved one, job change etc. – that’s also going to impact your quality of sleep and experience of tiredness. Similarly, there are also psychological factors that can come into play. For instance, over-thinking, which is a common symptom of anxiety, will generally lead to fatigue over time.”
Worry, it seems, is a significant culprit - hardly surprising, given the financial and social pressures of modern life. It doesn’t help that this can become a vicious cycle either: when lack of sleep and anxiety are so closely linked, it’s hard to identify which one comes first.
The NHS cites a whole host of physical causes that could also be getting in the way of your shut-eye and Dr Samar Mahmood, an NHS doctor who sees this in patients all the time, finds the symptoms it displays can range from slower reactions and difficulty making decisions to “raised blood pressure, stomach and digestive problems and recurrent infections.”
How do we fix it?
Both Dr Mahmood and Dr Touroni believe the key to combating overtiredness lies in understanding the root cause - after all, there’s no point in papering over the cracks only to find yourself in the same predicament again.
“I deal with this on a very regular basis, perhaps almost daily in fact,” explains Dr Mahmood. “Often, people want a quick fix to their physical or emotional ailment, but this usually results from a lack of understanding about why the ailment has arisen in the first place. Mostly, it requires time and patience on the part of the patient to really explore what might be going on in their life that makes them over-tired.”
Dr Touroni suggests looking at the areas of your life where you might be pouring in too much energy and finding ways to scale back. “What’s causing tiredness is going to be different for everyone,” she says. “Are you taking too much on? Is there any room to delegate or decrease your day-to-day responsibilities? Are you making enough time for yourself to do the things that bring you a sense of wellbeing and enjoyment?”
If not nipped in the bud, it can lead to much more serious problems, both physical and mental.
If this sounds worryingly familiar, there are actions you can take to prevent the issue from turning into a major health concern.
Many of us dismiss the value in having sleep routines, despite knowing how important they can be for children. This doesn’t change once you hit adulthood. Particularly during the week, set a bed and get up time - and stick to it. Though it might seem like you ‘don’t have time’ to hit the hay at 10pm, think about how much time you’ll waste tomorrow carting around your slow-functioning, overtired brain. The catch up has to happen somewhere - make it during the night so you can live your days to the full.
Talk To Someone
That old saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliche for a reason. Talking to someone - whether a loved one or professional - about all the worries in your life is highly valuable. Not only does it help you see things from a fresh perspective, it also allows you to stop carrying them around inside.
By now, most of us are aware that exercise is an energy giver rather than a taker. Not only that, it boosts your endorphins and helps encourage a natural tiredness. Add some into your day - perhaps a spot of calming yoga before bed or a walk in the fresh air at lunch if the thought of gym-ing, ironically, brings you out in a sweat.
Cut back the caffeine
If downing that oat milk flat white is the only thing that gets you through the mornings, it might be time to cut down on the caffeine. If too much is ingested, it can overstimulate, leaving you fraught and frazzled. The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests cutting down slowly for a month to see if it makes a difference to your sleep patterns.
And whilst we’re at it, the alcohol
I’m sorry to say it but that glass of wine you turn to each night to soothe your nerves isn’t particularly helpful, either. Alcohol raises your heart rate and blood pressure as well as lessens your chance for a good night’s sleep.
Though seemingly innocuous, the ripple effect of overtiredness can be widespread and serious. If your overtiredness is hugely affecting other areas of your life, the best thing you can do is make an appointment with your GP.
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