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I Can't Sleep at Night and I Don't Know Why: Understanding Sleep Deficiency

an alarm clock on a bed with rumpled sheets

The summer holidays are over, Autumn is here, and we're supposed to be hunkering down, preparing for the long, dark nights ahead. But if you work in the hospitality or retail industries this just means more work for you, late nights, early mornings and long stretches of shifts without so much as a break.

I don't sleep well when I do night shifts, I can't seem to switch off and no matter what I do I just cannot sleep and always feel like I'm awake constantly. With my rota looking full of night shifts and 2 doubles next week this isn't looking like it's going to get better any time soon.

I can follow all the advice out there about no electronic devices before bed, not drinking, taking a hot bath etc. etc. but I still find myself lying awake at night, my brain on overload with no "off" switch.

I don't think anybody else really understands just how much it affects me, I feel like I can't function normally- I just go through the day like a zombie, not taking anything in and making bad choices when it comes to food and alcohol. I forget what it feels like to feel good after sleeping well. Usually this happens when I'm so tired I literally collapse into bed and manage to sleep solidly for between 6-8 hours.

Something which normal people do every day but then they don't have the same shift pattern as me and manage to go to bed at a reasonable hour every day! Oh, and they always have weekends free! Ugh, this makes me feel bad too but hey ho I just get on with it.

Being a blogger comes with its downfalls too because when I'm not feeling tip top, I have emails to reply to, photos to take (when the weather plays ball!), blog posts to write, tweets to reply to, Instagram images to post... the list really is endless, and it can sometimes feel like I have to be online 24/7 but I know that this isn't the case.

My head just feels full of cotton wool all the time, like I can't think straight and how I manage to make any sense in emails or blog posts is beyond me. I can only hope that this is temporary and that sometime in the near future I'll be able to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed! Ha! Seems like a dream right now.

I know it seems easy to come home from a night shift, have a shower, put my pjs on and go straight to bed but perhaps I am my own worst enemy here because I'll feel awake, or I'll come home before 11pm/12pm and think 'ok I can read for a bit' but then my brain switches on and suddenly it's 4am and I'm still wake...!! Perhaps I'm my own worst enemy?

blanket and window

Why does this happen???? Am I stuck into such a rut that I can't get out of now with my shifts?? If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them! I can read all the posts about how other people sleep well but they don't do the same work as me nor do they have the same problem switching off.

I just feel quite alone and like I just need to take time away from everything - work, my blog, my phone - and go to a spa or a sleep retreat for a week! Yeah, I can dream....!!

I hope there is an end to this as going without vital REM sleep over a long period of time can be devastating on the body.

Your brain/body really needs to switch off and restore itself overnight and is also thought to consolidate memories from your short term into your long-term memory so going without it for a period of time can that you don't remember things you usually would because this vital process hasn't occurred.

Sleep deficiency can lead to physical health problems, injuries, loss of productivity and even a greater risk of death. If you're not getting enough sleep or are sleeping at the wrong times, have poor quality sleep it is likely you'll feel very tired during the day (YES!), not feel refreshed and alert when you wake up (DOUBLE YES!).

It can also interfere with work, school, driving and social functioning. You might have trouble learning, focusing and reacting. You also may find it hard to judge others, which can lead you to feel frustrated, cranky or worried in social situations.

A common myth associated with this is that people can get by on little sleep with no negative effects. However, research shows that getting enough quality sleep at right times is vital for mental and physical health, quality of life and safety.

The way you feel while you're awake depends in part on what happens while you're sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.

bed with a book and blanket

The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash) or it can harm you over time. For example, on-going sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems and can affect how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others.

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It is forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information (explains why I have that foggy feeling of a morning!).

A good night's sleep improves learning - so it's vital for everything from studying for exams to driving a car, and sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative.

Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide and risk-taking behaviour.

Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. I feel a lot of these actually!! (Source)

bed with pillows, book and glasses

So, you see, sleep really is vital, vital for every single action within your body and also your actions in day-to-day life. This explains why I just feel so lethargic all the time, crave junk food and just feel like opening my laptop is the last thing I want to do!

Sleep deficiency makes me feel brain-dead, it stops me from living my life the way I want to and prevents me from getting the most out of every day. With my shift patterns being so shit at the moment I can't see this improving any time soon unless I take some drastic action.

It's not going to change overnight (HA!) but I am going to start making changes immediately so I can see small changes quickly and then work on a longer change over time. I can only hope that something changes soon, and I begin to feel human again!

Love, Sarah xoxoxo

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A 30 something woman navigating life, sharing posts focussing on mental health, midsize fashion, self-care routines and life as a vegan.

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