While chronic fatigue isn’t always related to sleeping problems, in many cases, feelings of perpetual exhaustion are linked to lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep. Fatigue may be caused by sleep disorders, including:
- Night terrors (in children)
- Sleep apnea
- Somniphobia, or fear of sleep.
Sleeplessness has a direct effect on how fatigued you feel. Whether you suffer from chronic fatigue disorder or a sleep disorder, lack of rest can worsen your symptoms. Sleep apnea, insomnia and depression can all affect the way you feel during the day. Left untreated, these sleep problems can have a dramatic effect on your health.
Insomnia and Chronic Fatigue
Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Sufferers may be unable to drift off to sleep, or may find that they have trouble sleeping through the night. Some sufferers tend to wake up early, while others are unable to get to sleep until late at night.
Causes of insomnia include:
- Changes in environment or sleep patterns
- Decreased melatonin levels. Melatonin is a sleep hormone, the levels of which naturally decrease with age.
- Hormonal changes in women
- Overconsumption of caffeine, alcohol or stimulant drugs
- Other medical conditions, such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
Left untreated, insomnia can lead to chronic feelings of fatigue. Patients frequently feel sleep deprived and may be unable to make it through their daily activities.
Patients who suffer from insomnia may find relief from prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids. Talk to your doctor about whether sleep aids are right for you. Establishing a good bedtime routine, eliminating caffeine and skipping daytime naps may also be helpful in the fight against insomnia.
Patients with sleep apnea stop breathing frequently throughout the night. These periods of apnea may go unnoticed by the sufferer–as they don’t fully awake–and are frequently pointed out by a partner or spouse.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may experience chronic daytime fatigue and sleeplessness with no obvious cause. Your doctor can order a sleep study to determine the exact causes of your fatigue symptoms.
Sleep apnea can be treated with a device known as a CPAP. This machine is fitted precisely to each patient, and works to establish regular breathing patterns and maintain them throughout the night. The CPAP may be used alone, or in conjunction with a stimulant medication to help combat daytime sleepiness.
Other Sleep Disorders
While sleep apnea and insomnia are two of the most common sleep disorders associated with perpetual fatigue, several other disorders and factors can cause chronic fatigue. These include:
- Night terrors, which occur most commonly in children under the age of 12, are characterized by frequent crying spells and feelings of inexplicable fear at night. These terrors can disrupt sleeping patterns and cause exhaustion.
- Restless leg syndrome is characterized by twitching or throbbing feelings in the legs–and often, the overwhelming need to move the legs–when you’re trying to relax. This disrupts one’s ability to relax and fall asleep, causing daytime fatigue.
- Somniphobia is an irrational fear of sleep–also more common in children than adults–that makes falling asleep frightening and difficult.
Sleeplessness and Chronic Fatigue
Patients who have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea will likely experience chronic fatigue symptoms. They may feel excessively sleepy during the day, have difficulty making it through their daily activities without a nap, or need large amounts of caffeine to function.
These fatigue symptoms can be extremely troublesome. Daytime sleepiness can affect one’s ability to drive safely, operate machinery and complete basic tasks at home or in the workplace. If you aren’t sleeping well at night, it becomes increasingly difficult to be alert and functional during the day.
Johnson, T.S., Broughton, W.A., and Halberstadt, J. Sleep apnea: The phantom of the night. 2003. New Technology Publishing, Onset, Massachusetts.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2010). Restless leg syndrome fact sheet. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009). Insomnia. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/insomnia-000096.htm