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.

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
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

    Systems Developer Technical Lead

    £65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    Energy Engineer

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

    Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

    £475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment