Episode 60


Tired But Wired

Do you ever feel so exhausted, but at the same time too full of that agitated energy that you can’t sleep?

In this episode, I dive into this uncomfortable combination of feeling simultaneously tired and wired and what we can do about it. 

It is all too easy to get stuck in this bad situation where one can simultaneously feel exhausted, and yet also too energized to sleep. And it’s no rare phenomena. This is because we humans don’t come equipped with a simple, single on/off switch that single-handedly makes us awake or asleep. Rather, the biology of consciousness is incredibly complicated and no where near close to being fully worked out. What we do understand is that there are multiple players in the wake vs sleep game. And whether we are awake or asleep at any given moment is never determined by a single system, but the interaction of several of them. We group these into two general processes: the sleep drive, and the internal clock. 

The sleep drive, known as process S, depends on how long one has been consecutively awake: the longer the wake, the stronger the need to sleep. 

The internal clock, known as process C, is the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal time-keeper whose seconds and minutes beat faster or slower depending on a number of zeitgebers or time-givers. 

When these two systems are in alignment, we have the best chance of feeling Wired when we wake, and Tired right before sleep. When they are out of alignment, it’s a recipe for Tired but Wired. 

Most often, it’s keeping a regulated sleep drive, but with an unregulated circadian rhythm that causes the imbalance. If we engage in the wrong time cues at the wrong time, our internal clock is likely going to get out of sync with our external environment, and the more out of sync it is, the more likely we are to feel both Tired and Wired at the same time. 

And while there are plenty of other contributors to this dilemma, the easiest way to get rid of this Tired but Wired experience is to get the sleep drive re-synchronized with the internal clock - so that both your sleep drive and circadian cycle agree when to be wired and awake vs when to be tired and asleep. 

If your feeling tired but wired, go to www.sleepeducation.org/sleep-center to find the nearest accredited sleep center lead by a board certified sleep specialist. 

There, they can assess for potentially dangerous contributors to the Tired but Wired state, like restless legs or sleep disordered breathing. 

And they can also provide you a personalized, step-by-step approach to ridding yourself of this Tired but Wired conundrum. 

But the basics go something like this: keep your circadian rhythm aligned and maintained by waking at the same time every day and exposing yourself to lots of light shortly after waking. Stay regular with your mealtimes and physical activity. Monitor your light exposure after sunset, and ease off any bright sources of light in the last hour or so before your intended time to get to sleep. And if you’ve been avoiding any dozing during the daylight hours and avoiding caffeine after lunch, then these two systems of your sleep drive and internal clock will fall back into harmony and ending the misery of feeling Tired but Wired.


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