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Sleeping When Overtired

From Popular Science, a question and answer on sleep difficulties:

Why is it so difficult to fall asleep when you are overtired? ...

There is no one answer that applies to every individual. But many people fail to note the distinction between fatigue -- physical tiredness -- and sleepiness, the inability to stay awake. It's possible to feel "tired" physically and still be unable to fall asleep, because while your body may be exhausted, you don't feel sleepy. To fall asleep, you need adequate time to unwind, even if you feel fatigued. It's not so easy to simply "turn off."

According to Carl E. Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in Bethesda, Maryland, most people do not allow themselves sufficient deceleration.

Lack of sleep complicates matters even more. Experts say adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to function properly. When you get less sleep than that on consecutive nights, you begin to accrue "sleep debt." As sleep debt increases (and functionality decreases), your body experiences a stress response and begins to release adrenaline. Now a vicious cycle has been created: You experience the feeling of being more and more tired, but your body is increasingly stimulated. "Power sleeping" for more hours on weekends is only a temporary solution. "There is no substitute for getting a good night's sleep on a regular basis," says Hunt.

Most of us, however, don't get the sleep we need. According to the 2002 National Sleep Foundation, Americans sleep an average of 6.9 hours per night during the week, and 58 percent of adults experience symptoms of insomnia a few nights a week or more.

This sounds like the story of my life, except for the "power sleeping" part, which I'm unable to do. Last week, after a night of poor sleep at home followed by another on the road, I arrived back home at 1:00 AM after a five-and-a-half-hour drive. I was falling asleep in the car (while taking a turn as a passenger, thankfully), but I couldn't for the life of me sleep once I got home. There are few things in the world more frustrating than being exhausted and wanting to sleep but unable to do so.


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