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Feeling tired all the time?

by Geraldine Hinter

Sleepy eyeDo you do battle with your pillow and the alarm clock in an effort to wake up in time for work or class? Struggle to stay awake during daylight hours? Always feel tired even after an early night? Geraldine Hinter asked researcher Dr Jill Dorrian at UniSA's Centre for Sleep Research for expert advice on fighting tiredness.

While work is often seen as a major contributor to tiredness, with long hours, shift work at irregular times and highly stressful work environments, Dr Dorrian says many things can be done to maximise our sleep quality and keep us alert for work or study.

“To stay awake, drink lots of water. It stops the brain drain. When dehydrated, the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients that are essential for us to function fully.” Dr Dorrian said.

“Like parched earth, without water the brain shrinks, we lose concentration and start to feel sleepy,”

“Drinking water is especially important for people in air-conditioned and heated environments, where dehydration rates are greater than in rooms without heat or air-conditioning.

“Naps are also very good, particularly power naps of 20 minutes or less, because people don’t end up with sleep inertia (grogginess when they wake up). After longer naps they are likely to go into deep sleep and feel worse when they wake.

“One strategy to ease tiredness is to combine caffeine and a nap. If you have a cup of coffee and then sleep for 20 minutes, the caffeine will have kicked in by the time you wake up and you should feel energised. Caffeine also tends to reduce the effects of inertia,” Dr Dorrian said.

Dr. Jill DorrianWhile caffeine can be helpful when really tired, Dr Dorrian warns that coffee should always be used strategically.

“People who develop a high tolerance for caffeine will not get the same degree of buzz that drinkers of one or two cups a day might experience,” she said.

Dr Dorrian generally doesn’t recommend caffeine and certainly not in high doses or before going to bed.

“Too much caffeine makes it harder for people to sleep. Some studies show that it can take up to 24 hours before the effects of caffeine disappear fully, depending on how much is consumed,” Dr Dorrian said.

To make the most of your sleep at home, Dr Dorrian recommends relaxation techniques like meditation to reduce stress, having a set bedtime routine to help your body prepare itself for sleep, and keeping the bedroom reserved for sleep and romance only.

This means no TV, and don’t read or take work to bed.

“If you have trouble getting to sleep, and start to feel stressed, get up and do something that’s calming like meditation, reading or another quiet activity.

“Go back to bed when tired and you are more likely to sleep. That way you don’t lose the association between the bedroom and sleep,” Dr Dorrian said.

Some people use a nightcap to help them sleep but Dr Dorrian warns that alcohol seriously affects sleep if more than two glasses are consumed. These people will fall asleep quickly, but tend to wake constantly and sleep will be fragmented.

For busy people, especially students who juggle work, sometimes at night, as well as study, Dr Dorrian recommends that when going to bed, make sure the room is darkened, insulated from noise as much as possible and keep the temperature at around 18 degrees.

“If trying to sleep during the day, ‘white noise’ often helps such as a fan or air-conditioner that creates a low hum to block out or reduce street noise,” she said.

“Exercise is really important because it’ll make you sleep better. And to help stay alert at work or in class, skip carbohydrate-rich food because it will make you sleepy.

“When you’re sleepy, you also typically crave sweet foods but the sugar rush drops off fast, so you’ll feel worse afterwards. For lasting energy, opt instead for small meals or snacks that are high in protein and low in fat.”