Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Metabolic Cost of Human Sleep Deprivation

imageInteresting article in ScienceDaily today, which begins:

In the first-ever quantification of energy expended by humans during sleep, a University of Colorado team has found that the metabolic cost of an adult missing one night of sleep is the equivalent of walking slightly less than two miles.

Now, if you’re a relatively healthy person, it might be difficult to really understand the implications of that. After all, walking a couple of miles isn’t THAT hard, is it? (Yes, I can remember a time when that - and much more - was easy to me too.)

Of course, if, like me, you also suffer from fibromyalgia and / or ME/CFS, you don’t need me to tell you what the effects of missing sleep are like.

It’s not really that easy to explain either, without sounding like I’m whining, but since I got only 4 hours sleep last night – which may as well have been none – I can relate completely. As well as feeling totally strung out, but somewhat hyper, I’m shaking a lot today – which is something I always do after physical exertion – and consequently, I feel generally sick and unwell. It’s worse than a bad hangover.

And, despite medication, I’m also in a LOT more pain today, particularly in my hip – one of the other things that causes this to increase is walking – but also in all of my joints. These are precisely the same effects that a 2 mile walk would cause me.

Because we have so little public transport in this area (4 buses a day, with the last at 2.30 pm, would you believe) and the bus hurts me with all it’s stopping, starting and jolting and, we are about a mile (actually 1.1 miles, according to Google maps, but they don’t know all the back alleys), I still know what walking 2 miles is like. Bleeding hell, let me tell you!

You have to remember that I am in pain before I even put a foot on the floor and any amount of walking increases that pain. So, when I have to go out, I always come home absolutely exhausted. The walking is more tiring for me than a “normal” person because of the fatigue, but it is even more so because of the constantly increasing pain that is then amplified again when exercise intolerance kicks in.

In my case, as I said, I always start shaking after any exertion. That sounds like nothing and it may not even be apparent to anyone else, but believe me, I can feel its effects; the worst is the feeling that my brain is being shaken about inside my head.

The knock-on effects of that include disequilibrium & nausea, like sea sickness.

Then the level of pain I end up in after an outing invariably means that I’ll have difficulty sleeping that night (equivalent to walking another 2 miles, instead of resting).

It takes a few days to return to something resembling a normal sleep routine for me and even longer to recover. Whenever I’ve tried to fit more than one outing – and we’re talking short ones: never until afternoon and home before tea time – into one week, the effects of the exhaustion become cumulative and lead to a full-on flare.

And those require me to take complete rest for weeks or sometimes months.

The article goes some way to explaining those cumulative effects, which are particularly relevant to those of with chronic sleep disorders, I think.

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