The body is capable of doing amazing things when pushed in the right direction, but sometimes when it’s pushed too far with honest intentions that spread life too thinly, the wheels that keep us moving forward can buckle; and even the turn of the world seems to come to a complete stop.
Burning out is real, and it can have some very real consequences on your health and many areas of how you live your life.
Exhaustion and long term sleep deprivation was a topic that we discussed elements of throughout our recent blog, which covered the idea of sleep deprivation but through a very intentional and purposeful lens.
Here we want to expand upon those initial findings of ours, to consider the full force of sleep deprivation when set over a longer period of time, starting first with the seven tell-tale signs of exhaustion:
1. Can't Think Straight
When sleep deprivation is imposed over a single bad night, the impact on cognitive function is a little more pronounced and forthcoming. But when it’s imposed over a long period of time, the trampling of the ability to think is done in a much less noticeable manner.
Long term sleep deprivation causes the brain’s ability to diminish in this way due to the reduced opportunity it has to generate new brain cells and consolidate fresh memories; something it does best when the body's asleep. When too many corners are cut like this, the mental capacity becomes a shadow of its former self, with the feeling of exhaustion becoming ever-more present.
2. Unhealthy Diet
Although really high-sugar diets can cause fatigue, the system can also work the other way, with the approach of an unhealthy appetite being one of the major symptoms of exhaustion.
Excessive tiredness zaps both energy and the motivation to prepare more balanced meals, and the body can actually adapt its own appetite to want more stimulating and sugary items as a way to compensate for lost sleep. Unhealthy eating, especially if it’s become worse gradually over time, is another really clear sign that your sleep is reaching its limits; and also ties in with the relationship between weight gain and sleep loss.
3. No Sleep Whatsoever
The inability to get to sleep, even though you might feel ready to drop, is best likened to a slippery slope, and is probably the worst false feeling out there.
Although it’s possible to feel really, really tired, the irony in the situation is that tiredness and the feeling of wanting to sleep can actually override your ability to achieve restful sleep due to the anxiety and stress the situation generates.
Being tired but unable to find sleep is a warning sign that the circadian rhythm is completely out of whack. The circadian rhythm is what controls and regulates the sleep cycle, but it depends on repetition and good habits to do its job effectively.
Sleep deprivation throws a spanner in the delicate cycle of the circadian rhythm, causing it to lose its trail of thought, which in turn, can make it difficult to sleep despite how tired you may feel.
4. Sore Muscles
It’s typical for the muscles to feel sore from time to time, especially so after exercise when the muscle tissue is busy being repaired. Speaking of which, the body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate muscle tissues is one of the many reasons why soreness isn’t a constant feature of mobility.
In light of this, muscle repair is something that the body does best when it enters the fourth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. It’s during this stage that growth hormones and amino acids are released back into the bloodstream, which helps to rebuild proteins and recover the muscle tissues.
Without access to quality REM sleep, the muscles and the energy they produce run dry. The only thing you’ll be ready for in such an exhausted state is a solution!
5. Shortness of Breath
Ever felt like you need to blow into a paper bag? Although exhaustion and fatigue won’t cause you to lose your breathing ability directly, it is itself a warning sign of symptoms related to exhaustion that are far more severe.
In one of our previous blogs, we discussed our ideas and findings on how important sleep is for regulating the heart and the body’s wider circulatory system, and a shortness, or shallowness, to the breathing is one of the few warning signs that something’s wrong in this department.
The rate of breathing doesn’t just indicate the capacity of the lungs, but also the body’s ability to take fresh oxygen to the cells.
6. Chapped Lips
It’s not just because you might be too tired to apply lip balm. Chapped lips are often a telltale sign that your body is fast approaching burnout. The body’s adrenal system is responsible for maintaining the its energy levels through the maintenance of cortisol; a hormone that helps the body respond to wakefulness.
Sleep deprivation and even stress have been well-documented for their influence on the adrenal system, a lack of sleep triggering what’s known as an adrenal deficiency.
Recognised as a proven illness, adrenal deficiency can best be described through the physical and unshakable feeling of tiredness, and one of the major hallmarks of this deficiency is chapped lips.
However, it’s also worth mentioning how chapped lips can also be attributed to dehydration, itself being a major component of exhaustion and serious cases of fatigue.
7. Less Sleep, More Stress
You’ll no doubt feel more irritable with the less sleep you get. Although initially this can be put down to lower energy levels, there is actually a sort of chemical process that the body uses to control the way it reacts to overly stimulating environments. This process can only happen when the body sleeps.
One of the major cogs that turn this nightly process can actually be found in the kidneys, where adrenal glands produce cortisol. This is the hormone that controls the ‘flight or fight’ response, and it raises blood pressure as well as the heart rate.
Up in the brain, and amygdala neurones that are vital for managing stress will be working overtime trying to process emotional situations. Sleep deprivation keeps these neurones in a state of heightened activity, which in turn will increase anxiety, and hamper your emotional control.
There’s a lot to discover about sleep’s role in stress management, and we’ve actually discussed it before in previous blogs. Get down with the basics here.
Burning out isn’t fun, and such an experience can have a detrimental impact on physical and mental wellness. The most obvious solution would be to get a good night’s rest, and although this will appease general tiredness, treating exhaustion requires a much more measured approach.
The first thing we’d recommend is to form a regulated sleep schedule so that your sleep rotates around a set time each night. Keep to this for an entire week at least, giving your sleep cycle and hormone levels both a hard reset whilst giving your body the right amount of time to recover and reset itself.
It’s also really important to recognise why you became exhausted in the first place and to address the things that are keeping you up at night. Some cases can be due to too much exposure to blue light, whilst others can be as wide-ranging as a shift in the seasons.
Coming face to face with these sleep deprivers will help you to break the cycle of exhaustion. To learn more techniques on how to best treat exhaustion and make the most out of your sleep, head on over to our full collection here.
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