Most people know the dangers of drinking and driving, but think nothing of getting behind the wheel after a sleepless night. The daytime effect of no sleep can hinder your driving skills to the point where you're impaired the same as if you've had too much to drink.
According to experts, chronic insomnia affects one in 10 people. And while insomnia can affect your safety and the quality of life during the hours you're awake, it can also increase your risk for a variety of other health problems. In addition to causing daytime fatigue, insomnia increases your risk for other health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Intestinal problems
- Early death
People with insomnia are twice as likely as well-rested people to have a car crash due to fatigue. They’re eight times more likely to have an accident at work. If they have an injury, insomnia can slow their recovery. In addition, people with insomnia are more likely to:
- Miss work
- Make bad decisions
- Take more risks
- Have trouble concentrating
- Be irritable
- Be depressed
- Eat foods high in calories
You Don’t Know What You’re Missing
Sleep affects our ability to think, react, remember, and solve problems. One study showed that people who slept six hours or fewer at night for two weeks did just as poorly on mental tests as people who hadn’t slept at all for two nights. The catch is that we may develop some tolerance to lack of sleep and aren’t aware how much our alertness and performance is really suffering.
“Fatigue” vs. “Sleepiness”
It’s important to distinguish insomnia-related daytime fatigue from excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). The terms are often used interchangeably, even among medical researchers. There are distinct differences, however.
People with EDS feel very drowsy during the day. They’ll typically fall asleep during the day if they’re in a boring or sedentary situation. They might fall asleep while stopped at a stoplight or sitting in a waiting room. EDS is usually caused by sleep apnea, sedatives, or narcolepsy.
People with daytime fatigue don’t fall asleep during the day, but they are very tired. They struggle to get through a normal day’s activities. Symptoms of daytime fatigue include:
- Weariness, weakness, and/or depleted energy
- Lack of motivation
- Poor performance
- Memory problems
- Lack of productivity
- Prone to errors and mistakes
- Low interest in being social
Fatigue is a more accurate description of what people with insomnia experience. Although they’re sleep deprived, they tend to feel more tired than sleepy. If you have insomnia, you might find it hard to nap. People with insomnia usually see a doctor because of fatigue and poor daytime functioning, not because they have trouble falling or staying asleep.
Put Fatigue to Bed
Your first step to getting rid of daytime fatigue is to figure out what’s causing it. In addition to insomnia, many other health problems can cause fatigue. These include other sleep disorders, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Fatigue is also a side effect of certain medications. Make an appointment with your doctor so that he or she can assess your symptoms. If you have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, tell the doctor. There are effective treatments for insomnia including cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. These can greatly improve how you feel and function during the day.