Are you sleepy or fatigued?


Hey, sleep warriors!

Are you sleepy or just fatigued? Did you know that there's a difference?

What do you mean when you say that you're tired? Well, in sleep medicine we differentiate between being sleepy and being fatigued because they can be caused by different things, and it helps us as providers figure out how to better help you. 

Although being fatigued can mean different things to different people, I think of fatigue as a lack of physical and mental energy and exhaustion that doesn't typically go away after rest. Your body wants to lie down, but not necessarily to sleep. And if you push yourself to keep going, well, fatigue might get worse.

Think of fatigue as feeling worn out, a low-energy state whether you are active or sedentary. Sleepiness, on the other hand, generally gets better when you are more active. But if you sit down to relax well, you're likely to doze off. Sleepy patients generally try to stay busy and stay on their feet. They'll push through until bedtime when sleep usually comes easily. If they are able to catch a quick nap, then they usually feel better.

And what about being tired?  Well, to me, this is the least specific term, and I would avoid using it in a medical setting just to avoid confusion.

So why does it matter if you're sleepy or fatigued? There are many reasons, but today I'll talk about two of them.

Number one, the causes are often different. Fatigue has many different causes, such as medical conditions, medications, depression, and anxiety.  Even everyday stress can lead to fatigue, whereas sleepiness is often caused by lack of sleep. And this could be due to lifestyle factors like staying up too late or due to sleep disorders that disrupt your sleep, like sleep apnea.

The second reason why differentiating between fatigue and sleepiness matters is that the solutions are also different. If you're fatigued, more time in bed doesn't necessarily help and can even make things like insomnia worse. So evaluating for mood disorders, your medications or diseases like Fibromyalgia is recommended.

On the other hand, for a sleepy person, increasing their sleep time or treating their sleep disorder will likely improve their symptoms. Though it's possible to have both, I hope you now are able to recognize that there is a difference.

That's it for today. I'll see you next week.

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