These days, everyone seems to be tired. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you got last night, how much coffee you’ve had this morning or what you’ve done with your day, chances are you’re exhausted.
If it feels like we’re more tired now than ever, it’s because we are. Young adults are twice as likely to be experiencing constant exhaustion as they were 20 years ago, according to a Pew Research Study. Burnout is also at record highs, with 52% of young people reporting feelings of chronic exhaustion and anxiety over the past year.
There isn’t one just reason why we’re all tired, instead we are experiencing the culmination of a series of crises that are simply taking more energy than we have to give, both collectively and as individuals.
The Media has paid a lot of attention to how the pandemic affected both our physical and mental wellbeing, with a focus on ‘covid-fatigue’, a phenomenon in which people found themselves feeling more tired during lockdown, despite doing less overall.
Health providers have been dealing with a higher rate of complaints about mental fog and constant tiredness, which is likely the result of a common stress reaction to a year of uncommon events.
This stress response has forced our nervous systems to be constantly on alert for the past three years, and this has slowly worn us down physically and mentally, leaving us more tired and disengaged than ever before.
There are well documented mental health issues associated with our excessive use of social media, but even moderate use of apps including Facebook and Instagram has been shown to cause cognitive fatigue. When our whole lives are happening online it is tiring just to show up, and the social landscape that was once a source of energy is devoid of meaningful engagement.
On top of that, we are trapped in an economic environment that glorified ‘hustle culture’ and working yourself into the ground. When the lines between work and life are eroded, we lose our ability to recharge separately from the demands of daily life.
This lifestyle is unsustainable, and it is creating a generation that is burnt out before their lives have even really begun.
So what, if anything, can we do about this?
Most of these issues are outside of our control, but what we do have power over is how we respond to things that exhaust us, and how we physically and mentally look after ourselves.
One of the most important ways we can do this is through getting enough good quality sleep to allow our minds and bodies to recharge and sustain us throughout the day.
It is estimated that 4 in 10 Australians aren’t getting enough sleep, which diminishes physical and mental health, and overall productivity and wellbeing.
“Everyone on every corner needs good sleep” says Dr Moira Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation, but most people don’t understand what that means, or how to achieve it. This boils down to a health literacy problem, with the public not being educated and the government not investing in ways to solve the problem.
Junge argues that sleep should be treated as a public health issue, in a manner similar to heart disease or skin cancer, and that the Sleep Health Foundation should receive public funding to expand research into what makes good sleep, and how to maximise it.
The biggest hinderance for many young people is a lack of education, because without fully understanding the role that sleep plays in our physical and mental wellbeing, people simply do not prioritise it. Sleep is sacrificed in favour of socialising, work, studies and many other activities, which sees the formation of unhealthy habits and failure to achieve the recommended 7-9 hours a night.
“There’s excitement at our fingertips, we can watch any movie or connect with everyone and it can be hard to switch that off and go to bed” says Junge.
But that often difficult process of switching off is necessary, because without it we are not equipped to deal with the causes and consequences of the severe exhaustion we are facing.
How we deal with our tiredness varies, but failing to acknowledge the serious physical and mental health impacts of over-exhaustion has serious long-term effects. It’s fundamental that we start to prioritise our rest and refute the glorification of sleep-deprivation, to build healthy lifestyle habits now and in the future.