Conquering Fatigue: Are You Tired or Fatigued?

“…Know Thine Enemy…” – Sun Tzu

To solve a problem one must first understand the question.  Since we want to conquer fatigue we have to know what it is.  Fatigue is more about failure of a tissue, organ, or system than it is about the perception of “feeling tired” and certainly not “feeling sleepy”.  Simply from living and breathing everyday we will need to recuperate.  You can run an ultra-marathon  and your tissues will fatigue, that is, you will experience breakdown (in physiology we call that a catabolic state- when things are breaking down) of muscles, and to some extent probably connective tissues like tendons, probably bone, maybe even cartilage inside joints, potentially other tissues as well.  You may even experience breakdown of your skin in the form of a blister if your shoes are not fitting properly.  Eventually your brain will signal your body, “Hey, things are breaking down.  If we don’t rest, you’ll damage things so badly it’ll start to hurt!”  That message from your brain is one of tired-ness.  In that same example, you may feel tired, but likely you won’t feel sleepy.  Sleepy-ness essentially means you desire to sleep.

Often during activity (physical, often times mental as well) we don’t feel sleepy even if we feel tired.  In the case of the runner, the feeling of “tired” likely will manifest as slowing down of your pace.  Often times this happens imperceptibly at first and continues to snowball if you attempt to push through it.  You’re most likely not going to feel like laying down and going to sleep though.  This is all normal physiology.  Athletes learn to ignore signals from their body at will.  This is important if your goal is to finish the run as quickly as possible.  It also imposes a challenge to the individual as the fatigue will continue to accumulate whether the brain is able to achieve a “loud” enough signal to make you slow down.

The same thing happens to the brain.  For example, an accountant who is “burning the candle at both ends” during tax season is going to accumulate some physical fatigue, likely from stresses places on the body from sitting or slouching for extended periods.  Depending on the accountants neurophysiology s/he may be able to ignore the growing signal coming from the brain saying, “Hey, this is boring!  Let’s go outside!” and/or “Remember that lumbar disc herniation you had last year?  Well sitting is placing 400% the load on your spine as compared to standing and we can only do that for so long before something pops here buddy!”

Here’s the long and short of it.

  • Sleepy = a desire or drive to sleep
  • Tired = a perception or signal from your brain that you need rest, recovery, fuel, etc.
  • Fatigue = The actual breakdown of some tissue or more likely multiple tissues.

To Conquer Fatigue, we need rest, recovery, fuel, sleep, water, proper nutrition, removal of waste, etc etc.

Fatigue is essentially ultimately what kills us.  More accurately, lack of complete recovery from fatigue is what kills us.

For the infant, this conversation is not interesting.  Because they are completely in the present moment.  If they are tired… of anything… they stop.  If they are sleepy, they sleep.

Then we go through this developmental stage we call childhood and we begin to have ideas.  Ideas about life.  Ideas about what’s good.  Ideas about what’s bad.  Ideas of what we want, and what we don’t want.

The athlete, whether they are conscious of it or not, made a choice they wanted to excel at some sport, or perhaps excel at fitness itself.

The entrepreneur, often wants freedom.  Or control over their own destiny (which I would still call freedom).

The artist wants to create.

The philanthropist wants to contribute.

Whatever you have chosen (or perhaps it chose you) you will be faced with fatigue, tiredness, and sleepiness.  The more you understand each of them, the more you can make a conscious choice of listening to the automatic signal from your brain telling you to slow down.

Note:  On the flip side of all that, if your brain is currently not sending appropriate signals of needing rest, then you need to cultivate some sort of system to allow you to know when to stop and when to go.  Without proper rest, you will burn up.  In one of a myriad of ways.  This has likely occurred as a result of you consistently ignoring the signals from your brain.  Likely there is some sort of chemical imbalance, whether that’s caused by illness or drugs.

If you want help conquering fatigue or pain, reclaiming your energy and Vibrant Potential, want to discuss fitness goals or weight loss strategies, or want to learn more I invite you to read more ideas on my blog, or listen to my some of my amazing podcast guests or email me directly.  My passion is helping YOU reach YOUR Vibrant Potential.  Better Brain.  Better Body.  Better Life.