Before I start, I’m not going to be using loads of medical research information and stats – there will be some of that where I feel it helps, but overall this is going to be a personal account of what your mind and body goes through when faced with a lack of sleep.
I’ve had trouble sleeping for about 10-15 years now. I’ll have a few nights of good quality sleep (7-8hrs) and then go 3-4 weeks of maybe 4-5hrs a night. Seeing as how I get up for the gym at 5am most weekdays, it’s obviously not ideal. For example, this week so far I got 6hrs Sunday night, 5hrs Monday night, 4hrs Tuesday night and 5 1/2hrs last night. When you think you should be aiming for at least 7hrs a night, I’m down 7 1/2hrs sleep already this week alone, that’s the same as losing a nights sleep.
There are many possible causes for bad sleep – too many stimulants/caffeine during the day, working out late at night, not eating enough carbs during the day, too much sugar, bad sleeping conditions (too much light, room too hot), all of which I’ve been guilty off.
I also suffer from mild depression as well and the 2 together make for a horrible, toxic combination. Plus, I also have ‘hypnophobia’ which is a fear of sleep. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll be really tired and I’ll get this sudden fear of sleeping. Possible theories behind this include being afraid of not waking up, not feeling safe and a fear that something bad is going to happen to you which I guess ties into the first 2 reasons. Sometimes I’ll be about to fall asleep and this crazy panic will spread over me and I’ll do anything to try and stay awake. It’s not a nice experience but like I said, it’s hard to explain without sounding stupid.
The problem is, your body needs sleep to perform at its optional state and to repair itself and grow. It can regulate your hormones, brain functions, blood pressure and appetite amongst other things. For someone who works out (like me) you need good, quality sleep to help the muscles repair and grow – gym work just tears the muscle fibres, it’s the sleep and rest that help them to repair and come back stronger and bigger and helps to strength the surrounding connective tissue.
So, my own personal experiences…
For one, brain fog. As I get less sleep, my thoughts and judgements start to become cloudy and I have trouble thinking straight. This has led to me making bad judgement calls both in my work and personal lives. Mistakes will creep in, which normally I wouldn’t do. I’ll also get a terrible temper which on the whole I’m able to hide, but at times it’s there waiting burst out. A few times I’ve actively gopne looking for a row, just as a kind of release if that makes any sense.
I also suffer from some speech problems (I had speech therapy as a teenager) and have to really concentrate when I talk at the best of times, which can actually be quite tiring. When I’m tired, I have to concentrate even harder and start to become lazy in my speech. I sometimes do tours at work, and talking for over an hour on one of these can leave me feeling more tired and drained then spending the same time at the gym.
Lack of sleep messes up your appetite and can leave you feeling hungry and craving sugary foods. I certainly notice that when my sleep is bad, I put on weight far more easily and can’t stop eating. I also get more tired easily in the gym, and have gotten into a stupid habit of buying sugar-free Red Bulls in the morning to get me through a gym session. This keeps me going for a few hours (and I’ve been helping someone with their training, so need the mental focus aside from the physical strength), but then later around lunchtime I’ll have a massive energy crash and will spend the rest of the afternoon in a daze. Yep, it really gets that bad.
You can cope with a few days of bad sleep, but when it’s constant is when all the bad stuff happens and just gets worse. In a way I’ve almost become used to it, but I shouldn’t have too. You try to explain to people how you feel but I don’t think they understand, unless they have suffered from it too. I always thought my migraines were bad (which I’ve also noticed get triggered at times by the lack of sleep), but a lack of sleep is almost becoming as bad.
I have dizzy spells sometimes due to low blood pressure and again, these tend to become more frequent when I’m tired.
It just makes you a different person. Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, my temper is worse and the slightest thing will annoy me. I’ll have days where I don’t want to talk to anyone – friends, other members of staff, no one and just want to work by myself all day or just lock myself in a room. Because you can’t think clearly, you start to over think things and worry about things that any other day, you wouldn’t give a second thought about.
So, how to combat bad sleep? There lots of cures and help out there but if it was that easy then I wouldn’t be writing this!
Sleeping pills are probably the most obvious solution, but I don’t think they’re the best. I want to be able to wake up if something happens and not be knocked out, if that makes sense? I think also you should try looking at what may be causing the problems, rather than just taking an easy tablet. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of going to the doctors – rather than trying to get to the underlying problem, they just give you tables and that’s it, hoping it will mask the problem rather than fixing it. This happened for a long while with my brother, who suffers from mental illness and depression. When I went about my migraines, they were pretty unhelpful and didn’t even write down I had gone to them about migraines. When I next had an appointment, they had just written ‘heavy headaches’…
A supplement that is becoming quite popular is ‘ZMA’ – it’s a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B which all help to promote a deep sleep and help with repairing muscle tissue. A normal recommended dose is 3 tablets on an empty stomach about 30-60 minutes before you go to sleep. I’m currently taking this but found that it was giving me weird, intense dreams. This is actually a noted side effect (or benefit to some!). I did find that once I got to sleep I did feel slightly more rested the next day, but was still only getting the 4-6hrs so I wasn’t getting the full benefit. I’ve since dropped this down to 1 tablet but might go back to 2 and see how that works.
You can seek help from doctors and maybe even a psychiatrist but to me, the best thing to do first is to try and eat better – again sounds simple enough but if it was then I probably wouldn’t be writing this….
I will say that when I have cleaned up my diet (less junk, more natural, earth grown foods) I have felt better but then I still have problems and before I know it I’m back where I started. If I drop my carbs too low this makes me feel quite restless too. I’m thinking more and more about doing some kind of ‘reboot’ – if I do, I think that may be best kept for a future blog post.
So, there you go. If like my girlfriend you can go to sleep whenever you want and get a good 7-8 hours of quality sleep, then I envy you! I know when I have got a good night’s sleep, the difference in how I feel is like night and day.
This is where I’m meant to finish with a solution to the problem, but unfortunately I don’t have one right now. If you’ve experienced any of the above then please feel free to get in touch. Likewise, if I do find a way out of this, then I’ll update everyone on this blog. But if you do suffer from lack of sleep, then your not alone and I fully understand how you feel and what your going through.
Thanks for reading,