Mental and Muscle Fatigue: The Cost of Insomnia

March 15, 2021

Mental and Muscle Fatigue: The Cost of Insomnia

In this article:

  • What is insomnia?
  • What is muscle fatigue?
  • What is mental fatigue?
  • Insomnia and muscle fatigue
  • Insomnia and mental fatigue
  • How to manage insomnia and insomnia-related fatigue

I am what some may call an insomniac. It sounds like a 90's heavy metal band, doesn't it? If that were the case, then I'd be the lead singer of the so-called “Insomniacs”. My bouts with insomnia have been consistent and recurring for 20 years. Each time I go through a period of not sleeping, I always discover new effects on my body. The last time, I noticed that my eating habits and my bathroom trips were being negatively affected. Very interesting? Sure, but I would rather have been blissfully dreaming. What else was I to do, wide awake at 2:47 am, but research? I found it fascinating to discover what insomnia was doing to my life as a whole. While there are various arguments as to what benefits the human body, such as proper nutrition, exercise, visiting the doctor for regular check-ups, etc., many might be surprised to know that sleep has just as much importance, if not more, than the other factors. Sleep disorders ranging from narcolepsy to sleep apnea, and chronic fatigue syndrome to insomnia, have a profound effect on all aspects of our bodies. Much research points to insomnia as a prime suspect for causing joint pain, hair loss, chronic headaches, mental health disorders, and nausea. This blog will look specifically at how insomnia can cause health issues such as mental and muscle fatigue. I’ll also give a first-hand account of my experiences.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder defined by trouble falling and/or staying asleep. Insomnia is said to be acute if it lasts a few nights to a few weeks. It is deemed chronic if it lasts several nights a week for more than three months. Insomnia falls into two categories: primary or secondary. With primary insomnia, the lack of sleep is not due to a health condition. With secondary insomnia, health issues such as chronic pain, anxiety disorder, depression, anemia, restless leg disorder, or other problems are to blame. There are many different reasons one might have insomnia: stress, jet-lag, a change in sleep schedule from day to night, a change in sleep environment, working from home (hello Coronavirus), lack of exercise, poor diet, alcohol or drug use. Even poor sleep habits can induce a bout of insomnia.

The symptoms of insomnia include, but are not limited to: daytime sleepiness, lethargy, low energy, poor concentration, mood changes, anxiety, and depression. As we can see from the symptomatology, both mental and muscle fatigue are at the forefront of insomnia-related ailments. It may not be too much to assume that most of us have experienced mental and muscle fatigue in our lifetime. No one is immune from bad days and nights. Studies conducted over the past year suggest that 35%-50% of people have experienced some type of sleep disturbance, including insomnia. In some areas it has been as high as 60%. Let us see how sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, play a crucial role in both mental and muscle fatigue.

What is muscle fatigue?

Muscle fatigue is the decline in the ability of a muscle to generate force. It can be associated with a state of exhaustion, often following strenuous activity or exercise. When you experience fatigue, the force behind your muscles’ movements decrease, causing you to feel weaker. While exercise is a common cause of muscle fatigue, this symptom can be the result of other health conditions, such as insomnia. Those of us who have experienced a serious injury, such as a broken bone, understand the sensation of trying to restrengthen an area's muscles while healing. It takes time and repetition for those muscles to regain their proper tone.

What is mental fatigue?

Mental fatigue is a condition in which brain function slows down, and even the simplest of tasks cannot be performed easily. Many describe it as brain fog, a mental block, or living in a haze. This may manifest as one searching for the right words in an everyday conversation, the feeling of tiredness when concentrating on tasks, crankiness, forgetfulness, and even experiencing the mental health symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Insomnia and muscle fatigue

Whether one's insomnia is acute or chronic, primary or secondary, lack of deep and quality sleep affects the entire physical system. When we are deprived of good rest, our muscles take a serious hit. The muscles in our legs, arms, feet, and even stomach become weakened as insomnia continues. With the decline in our ability to generate force, we find ourselves being exhausted quite easily, even with familiar activities. So climbing those stairs at work, or even from your basement to the living room, can cause our legs to feel shaky, achy, or even that strange, jelly sensation. This can become normal when one is not getting adequate sleep. With my own insomnia bouts, I have noticed walking to retrieve my mail from the bottom of the driveway and returning, can make my calf muscles and my thigh ligaments feel as if I spent a grueling hour on a Stairmaster. Even though there is nothing extraordinary about my typical daily walk, lack of needed rest has deprived my muscles of the energy required. While our muscles may remember familiar movements, it simply takes more energy to perform them. If you are feeling general weakness in your body, especially in muscles that you do not typically have problems with, insomnia may be the reason. Deep, quality sleep restocks the energy needed for our muscles to perform at their highest level.

Insomnia and mental fatigue

The effects of mental fatigue go much deeper than just feeling tired. Forgetfulness and lack of concentration are major symptoms. We may find ourselves forgetting where we placed common things, what events we scheduled, and lose track of simple daily tasks. During my struggles with insomnia, I often find that I need to search for words when I am in the middle of a conversation, stammering to find the right word. I find myself saying “ah” quite a bit, or remaining silent as I grope for the correct word or phrase. Furthermore, other than the typical afternoon tiredness we all may experience, excessive daytime sleepiness may go along with insomnia.

Mood

We may also find ourselves becoming unusually cranky. The simplest of things may set us off. I don’t believe many people hate the feelings of impatience and orneriness more than I do. I typically take precautions by warning others of my frame of mind, so they understand that my behavior is not intended to be personal. It is amazing how understanding others can be. The brain fog related to insomnia can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The shaking feeling of uncertainty, the frustration, the lack of energy, and the confusion can be symptoms of the same.

What can we do?

In order to counteract or offset the muscle and mental fatigue that comes with insomnia, one must address the underlying cause. Therefore, it is wise to seek treatment and work to alleviate the insomnia. As a former mental health therapist, I’ve engaged clients in stress reduction through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. As a client's life stressors decreased, healthier and more effective sleep habits were often a positive outcome. Furthermore, I also believe in the benefits of meditation. Find what works for you to soothe yourself when it is time for sleep. White noise, like the rhythmic sound of a fan running, might be all you need. Relaxing, meditative music or nature sounds are available on-line and may help. Or try out some guided meditations, which are available for free on your phone or iPad. Any of these tools may be productive in improving your sleep pattern.

Exercise

Physical activity during the daytime helps with assisting the muscles in their fatigue, but it also uses energy that may assist the system in sleep. During the wintertime, and because of the coronavirus, many of us are forced to be at home more often than usual. A simple walk around your area may be sufficient. If it is too cold to be outside, doing things such as laundry, cleaning, or getting the kitchen rearranged the way you've always wanted, can help bring back a good sleep rhythm.

Supplements

Anyone who has wandered down the medicine aisle at the store has seen the many OTC medications used to address sleep issues. Items including melatonin, collagen, boswellia, Nyquil, or other sleep aids can be found in wide abundance. These items in the short term can snap you back into the circadian rhythm one desires. Be sure to consult your pharmacist regarding these when making your decisions.

Hobbies or activities

What can we do about our brain fatigue? Deliverance from this can actually be quite fun when you get into a routine you enjoy. This might involve things such as playing card games or board games that help the brain to focus on the stimuli at hand. Expending the energy needed to participate in these activities may help the mind relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep.

Sleep hygiene & ergonomics

Sometimes we overlook our sleep space. This can happen especially if we are forced to work from home, or stay home for unanticipated periods of time. Daytime naps or hanging out in your bed will negatively affect your sleep. I am guilty of this myself. I like to type on my computer in bed, use my phone, and search the Internet while I should be trying to sleep. These can be unhealthy practices. Your sleep area should be primarily just for that, sleep. Otherwise, your mind associates bed with ramping up, anticipating getting online. Also, make your sleeping quarters as comfortable as possible. Invest in a good mattress, pillows to suit your body type, and sheets, blankets, and comforters that give you the best chance at relaxation. Do what you must to keep your sleep area an exceptional place of rest.

Finally, consulting a doctor for medical advice for sleep problems is not only a responsible thing to do, but is highly recommended. They are trained to help with health problems such as insomnia. He or she will help you understand the pros and cons of taking certain medications, their associated risk factors, and the possibility of long-term side effects.

While everyone is uniquely different in their sleep habits, it is difficult to pinpoint which kind of sleeping routine will work best. Depending on the type of treatment you follow, it often takes anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to return back to sleeping better.

Conclusion

Insomnia can be a very serious sleep disorder with effects on the body that are more than merely lost sleep. Muscle and mental fatigue may result directly from insomnia. By being aware of the signs, however, we can take positive steps to create a healthier life quality. Help is out there for dealing with this life-sapping condition. You only need to take the right steps to return to the life you had and the peace of mind you deserve.

Summary Points

  • The symptoms of insomnia include, but are not limited to: daytime sleepiness, lethargy, low energy, poor concentration, mood changes, anxiety, and depression
  • Muscle fatigue is the decline in the ability of a muscle to generate force and it can be associated with a state of exhaustion, often following strenuous activity or exercise
  • Many describe it as brain fog, a mental block, or living in a haze
  • While our muscles may remember familiar movements, it simply takes more energy to perform them
  • The brain fog related to insomnia can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Daytime naps or hanging out in your bed will negatively affect your sleep

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