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Are You Sleepy or are You Tired?

As a therapist who specializes in treating insomnia, I talk to a lot of people about their sleep problems. I have noticed that people often use the terms “sleepy” and “tired” interchangeably, as though they are synonyms. Unfortunately, these two words are not synonyms and if you unknowingly use the wrong one, you might be giving your health care provider an incorrect idea of how you are doing or what the underlying problem may be.

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

If you spend the day working in the yard, weeding, trimming, and mowing, and working on the house, at the end of the day you are likely to be tired. Tired is the outcome of physical activity. If you grab a cold drink and watch TV for an hour (and in this example, I do mean watch TV rather than dozing off in front of the TV), you are likely to feel at least partially recharged (that is, less tired). You are less tired after having a period of rest. You might have been tired after several hours of hard work outside, but that doesn’t mean you were needing sleep.

Sleepiness, on the other hand, won’t be relieved with rest. A person may be sleepy without any physical exertion preceding the sleepiness. The only cure for sleepiness is actual sleep. (No, a so-called energy drink is not a cure; it masks the physiological need for sleep rather than relieving it). If someone is truly sleepy, time spent “resting” is not going to do much of anything to help.

So both sleepiness and tiredness are physiological states but each is addressed differently. And while there may be some overlap, the root causes are often different, as well. That’s why it’s important to distinguish which you are struggling with so your therapist or doctor can start looking for answers in the right place. I want to note that sleepiness and tiredness are not mutually exclusive; it’s possible to be both tired and sleepy, such as when a person gets only a couple hours of sleep before working outside all day.

If you are struggling with sleep problems, or with problems that interfere with your sleep (such as anxiety, depression, stress, or relationship problems), give me a call. I’m happy to set up a free 30-minute consultation with you or a full-appointment where we start making a plan to address your issue. Call or text (816) 226-4678.

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