When Sleepiness Dies

One of the most alarming symptoms of persistent sleep issues is the sensation that your brain or body is gradually losing its natural ability to sleep.

For some, this fear escalates to the point where they worry they might eventually lose the ability to sleep altogether.

This fear, though deeply unsettling, is rooted in misconception. In reality, our bodies never forget how to sleep.

However, this fear doesn’t arise without cause.

It often stems from a gradual decrease in our sense of sleepiness, or rather, a loss in our ability to recognise it.

As sleep problems continue, we adapt to constant exhaustion, confusing it with the actual need to sleep.

Distinguishing Sleepiness from Exhaustion

It’s crucial to understand that exhaustion and sleepiness, while related, are not the same.

Exhaustion brings a desire for rest and recovery, but it doesn’t inherently lead to sleep. Just lying down and closing your eyes isn’t enough.

Conversely, sleepiness is a physiological signal indicating your body is ready for sleep. It arises from specific physiological conditions and naturally leads to sleep once you lie down and close your eyes. This is true whether you’re initially going to bed or waking up in the middle of the night.

At re:sleep, re-sensitising our clients to recognise true sleepiness is a cornerstone of our sleep retraining programs.

What to do when you can’t sleep

The next time you find yourself lying in bed, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep, ask yourself: Are you actually sleepy, or is it just fatigue?

When sleepiness takes over, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to stay awake. Your eyelids become heavy, movements slow, and resisting sleep becomes a challenge.

If these signs of sleepiness aren’t present, you’re likely experiencing fatigue.

In such cases, expecting to fall asleep just because you’re tired can lead to frustration. Anxiety builds, your heartbeat quickens, and your body temperature rises…

… all signals to your brain to stay alert, further delaying sleepiness.

A better approach to restless nights

If you realise that it’s fatigue, not sleepiness, accept that sleep may not come easily.

Rather than tossing and turning in bed, find a cosy, relaxing spot, like your sofa, and engage in a calming activity.

Wait patiently for sleepiness to begin. Remember, your brain will signal when it’s genuinely ready for sleep.

This distinction might be challenging at first, but with practice, you’ll become more adept at recognising true sleepiness.

Gradually, you’ll realise that your ability to sleep hasn’t diminished; it’s just a matter of becoming more attuned to the sensation of sleepiness.

But it’s there… It will come back. And while this by itself won’t fix your long-term sleep problem, it will help you deal with these particularly challenging moments.