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Get Some Sleep!

Teenage girl sleeps at her school desk

Back in the mid-1990s I became very interested in how fatigue and sleep deprivation impacts human performance. There was a good amount of research tucked away in some obscure journals and on the shelves of almost unknown institutes. Yet what I found was very intriguing and startling.

At the time media coverage of this topic was almost nonexistent. Only if a trucker fell asleep while driving did the story hit the news wire. A majority of the population believed that sleep was really an option. 

Today, the public perception of the value of sleep is still weak, even though now there is a huge body of evidence pointing to the importance of regular, adequate sleep. Only about one in ten people say sleep is important to good health. Nearly one-third of Americans get less than six hours of sleep each night.

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Sleep Improves Elite Athletic Performance

Sleep improves athletic performance = faster sprints, more accuracy & better reaction times.

Stanford athletes have been working with the Stanford Sleep Research Center to get adequate sleep. After several weeks of sleep extension, players were found to sprint faster, free throw more accurately, score more goals, have faster reaction times, and feel less fatigued.

PositiveTip:  Sleep impacts every aspect of our lives including athletic performance. How are you doing?


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High-Intensity Exercise Reduces Fatigue During Chemotheraphy

High-intensity exercise during chemotherapy yields significant benefits.

Fatigue is a well-known problem of those undergoing chemotherapy. A new Danish study of almost 300 adults in chemotherapy randomly divided between group exercise and conventional care, or conventional care alone for 6 weeks has demonstrated that the patients who participated in high-intensity exercise (4.5 hours per week) experienced significant improvements in physical and emotional well-being--along with improved muscular strength and aerobic capacity.

PositiveTip: As strange as it may seem, physical activity may be an excellent antidote to feelings of fatigue!

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Tired Physicians Less Accurate in Detecting Adenomas

Colonoscopy detection rates higher when performed in the morning than the afternoon!

The effectiveness of any medical procedure in preventing disease or making an accurate diagnosis depends largely on the skill, effectiveness, and performance of the physician. In a novel research project, investigators compared the results of colonoscopies performed in the morning versus the afternoon. Interestingly, the procedures performed in the morning were significantly more accurate than those done in the afternoon. Furthermore, there was an independent trend toward declining accuracy throughout the day. Researchers concluded that physician fatigue, which increases as the day progresses, impairs detection rates.

Know Your Own Level of Performance

We all recognize that a person under the influence of alcohol subjectively feels they are functioning at their peak performance, when objectively they demonstrate significant declines in cognitive and motor performance. So, even when sober, how can you determine if you are fit to perform your expected tasks safely and well?

This is not easily done when you are tired unless you have a standard with which to compare yourself. Unfortunately, the areas of the brain most compromised by fatigue are the same areas required to evaluate and recognize the deficits of the fatigued state.

When soldiers who have slept as little as four hours per night for several weeks were questioned about their performance, they indicated they were functioning very well--maybe better than when rested! In actuality, they were functioning at about 30-35% of their rested capacity! Functional losses in fatigue are very similar to those caused by the influence of alcohol.

Which is Better: Tired or Drunk?

Why do people attempt to drive cars, operate complex machinery, or fly airplanes when they are tired?

Answers to this question are varied, but usually boil down to one common attitude: we think the risk is trivial or perfectly acceptable! Often this is the case because we have done it before, toughed it out, or "made it safely". As a result we become cavalier and self-assured--too often to the determent of others and ourselves.

Consider the person who may drive several hundred miles while frequently dozing at the wheel without stopping because they wanted to get home. Yet this same person considers it criminal to drive while under the influence of alcohol. What is the difference? Sure, being sleepy is natural, but it is also as dangerous as alcohol when operating a vehicle or other equipment.

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Boost Your Energy Level with Exercise

Tired and exhausted most of the time? Try some moderate exercise!

Many humans today report they feel exhausted and tired most of the time. People who have well-defined medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer consistently report improved feelings of energy and less fatigue when they exercise regularly.

A recent six week randomized controlled trial of healthy young adults who reported persistent fatigue found improvements in feelings of energy. The subjects were randomly assigned to a moderate-intensity, low-intensity, or no treatment group. Participants visited the exercise lab three times per week for their exercise depending on which group they were in. Aerobic fitness was measured before and after the intervention.

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Increase Your Performance by Getting Adequate Sleep

Feeling tired & out of gas? Sleepiness interferes with daily activities in 1/3 of Americans.

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal performance and health. Without adequate rest on a regular basis the risk increases for:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Inferior work performance
  • Risk of injury
  • Irritability

Those who responded to the 2009 National Sleep Foundation poll indicated if they sleep less than 6 hours compared to 8 hours or longer they were less likely to:

  • Exercise (28% vs. 8%)
  • Eat a healthy diet (23% vs. 7%)
  • Work efficiently and well (21% vs. 9%)
  • Experience positive leisure time activities (30% vs. 7%)

PositiveTip: Sleep 7-9 hours on most days to experience your best!