YOU’RE in bed by 11, having had a busy, productive day. After a full night’s sleep you wake up naturally and feel… exhausted.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey of over 20,000 people by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands, about 30 per cent of visits to doctors involve complaints about being tired all the time. Some 20 per cent of people in the US report having experienced fatigue intense enough to interfere with living a normal life. This hits us in our pockets, too: workers who are unproductive because of fatigue cost US employers more than $100 billion a year.
It’s perhaps surprising, then, that we are only now beginning to work out what fatigue actually is. Until recently, daytime tiredness was presumed to be nothing more mysterious than simple physical exhaustion or feeling the need to sleep – the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35 per cent of people are short on sleep. Combine that with the fact that tiredness is subjective and therefore difficult to measure, plus the subject falls somewhere between studies of the body and mind, and it’s small wonder fatigue has largely escaped scientific scrutiny.
Since tiredness accompanies so many common diseases, not to mention ordinary ageing, a better understanding of its causes could improve quality of life for pretty much everybody. A handful of researchers are now trying to figure out the causes, and possible fixes. Although it’s early days, a few clues are emerging.
One cause, we might ...