How to avoid being asleep on the job

So one in three of us visits a GP complaining of constant tiredness. Rob Sharp finds out what's wearing us out – and how we can regain our get-up-and-go

The accident happened in early March in Reading, but its circumstances could be repeated at any time, anywhere from Penzance to Purley. Pakistani national Shehzad Akbar, 33, made the national news after ploughing his taxi into a tree. He was nearing the end of a 14-hour night shift and had fallen asleep at the wheel. He died shortly afterwards.

Such tragic incidents should serve as a wake-up call to a nation sleepwalking its way to an early grave with heavy hearts and droopy lids. A study published earlier this month by the Sleep Council – a charity circumspect enough to promote the benefits of a good night's sleep – told of 36 per cent of Britons sleeping poorly most nights. The average amount of sleep that people get is 6.6 hours – well below the recommended eight hours. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the cost of stress and fatigue to the British economy is estimated to be £15bn.

There are few who've avoided mainlining stimulants ahead of an exam but sustained tiredness – in its most extreme forms – can truncate lifespans. According to British charity Action for ME, an estimated 240,000 Britons have been diagnosed with the most severe form of fatigue – chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Its symptoms include debilitating fatigue, muscle pain, and mental fogginess. Lethargy caused by our lifestyles, on the other hand, can cause anxiety, depression and affect our ability to think clearly and react normally. Your average GP – who reports that one in three of their patients say they're tired all the time, and often don't have the time to treat it – recommends some digging. If there's no clear cause, there are some ways we can galvanise our lackadaisical frames into motion.

"First off if you're tired all the time it can be a mask for a variety of different problems," says Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds and deputy chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee. "It could be stress-related depression, in some cases physical problems; anaemia, thyroid problems, diabetes or low blood sugar. Generally with people who complain there is no one reason that accounts for it; it's often more stress-related or something going on their life.

"In general terms people should have a balanced diet, exercise on a regular basis which can help release endorphins from the system which gives people energy; limit alcohol, stop smoking. Looking after your weight can help, it's common sense things. Also get plenty of rest. Some people are surprised that they get tired when they have been working excessively and forget to look after themselves. It's important to do things that can help you relax and unwind."

The exercise recommendation might seem counter-intuitive, but medics like Vautrey say that it is often the best solution. Researchers at the University of Georgia published research in the February 2008 edition of the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in which a controlled group that exercised recorded a 20 per cent increase in energy compared to another group that didn't. Woodson Merrell, director of integrative medicine at the Continuum Centre for Health and Healing in New York City – which combines Western medical practices with alternative therapies – has written The Source, Unlock Your Natural Energy, Revitalise Your Health and Change Your Life, published in Britain earlier this year. On the exercise front, he suggests the British standard of half an hour three times a week, with a preference for yoga. He advises on useful yoga positions – for their beneficial effect on stress ("staff" – sitting upright, legs outstretched; "cobra" – lie flat on your belly then push your arms out and bend your head back, though probably best to consult a qualified instructor first).

In fact, contrary to what western medicine might think, Merrell has some useful advice. His book contains some sound, clinically-proven words on how we can feel less tired as well as a discussion of the merits of Chinese medicine, acupuncture and meditation. "The book is examining how people can take charge of their health and revitalise their energy levels so they can achieve optimum wellness," he says. "Not everyone can do this, however. If you are a type one diabetic, you are probably never going to be in perfect health. But there are various areas – stress, diet, detox, exercise, rest and connectedness – which are important for the average person to consider."

He recommends that people take a stress log, work out the areas of their life where they can make a positive change and act accordingly. He also tells us to meditate – the health benefits of which within conventional medicine are somewhat unclear – during the morning, one of the most stressful times of day.

His thoughts on rest match those of British doctors, who also talk about the optimum eight hours a day. "Various studies suggest that when we're sleep-deprived the body overcompensates by producing the hormone cortisol [a stress-related hormone that increases blood sugar] which can make it more difficult to get to sleep in the evenings," he says. "If you don't sleep, you can also retain body fat, which in itself makes you sleepy and can weaken your immune system. It's also about the quality of sleep you get; if you wake up every hour throughout the night you can emerge in the morning feeling like you've been run over by a truck."

He recommends baths containing lavender, calming music, abstaining from alcohol, and has some interesting theories on how to stay sleeping if you feel like you're waking up. "If you're coming up into consciousness, and you are at that point where you are still thinking about something in a dream – latch on to the thing you're thinking about. Half the time you will return to sleep."

So whether we embrace modern methods, or the energy-obsessed mantras of the Tibetans and Chinese, many of whose techniques have been used for thousands of years, hopefully, the results will be the same. A more energetic approach to our day-to-day lives, and a wide-eyed view of the world approaching us – before it's too late.

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam