Daily I find myself complaining about how tired I am. I use it as an apology, perhaps when I feel that I am lacking enthusiasm for something that others had expected me to jump at. As an excuse, when I want to get out of something or avoid a task. As a mask to disguise other things going on, as a way of making me appear more busy or hardworking than I actually am and sometimes I just say it, and in doing so, I become it. And I’m not alone. From where I am sitting, everyone it seems is tired, all of the time.
My mum always told me that yawning was rude. While at school some of my smarter friends would tell me that yawning was a natural thing, totally out of our control that saw our brains, starved of oxygen, use it as a strategy to wake us up, increase our heart rate and our blood pressure. I would tell my mum this, time and time again: ‘it may be rude, but it’s the only thing keeping me alive right now.’ I exaggerated a bit I think, but the scientific element of it interested me. There have been numerous tests and theories done on yawning. The physiological need for it and more interestingly still, the social element. The fact that yawning is contagious is something that has fascinated scientists for years. It also the reason, I suspect, that so many of us find ourselves complaining about tiredness when surrounded by a group of less than enthusiastic people, despite the fact we’ve got a solid nine hour sleep under our belts and are three coffees into a pretty promising Wednesday afternoon.
I have been lead to believe that one of the theories on yawning and it’s contagious nature, is that we do it out of empathy, even on a sub-conscious level; if we see another person, or even one of our pets, arching into a yawn, we often unknowingly find ourselves doing the same thing as an empathic reaction. It’s been suggested that we are most likely to ‘catch’ a yawn from someone that we love, a member of our family maybe, and that interestingly psychopaths are normally exempt from the curse of the contagious yawn, something to do with their lack of empathy. (So are babies by the way, but only because a person only develops empathy aged about four, not because babies are psychopaths.)
So basically, what that boils down to is: when people around you are tired, you find yourself tired too, both on a subconscious level and on a real life one. It’s the drains and radiators theory. If you surround yourself by drains, the tired people, you will soon feel zapped of energy. If you surround yourself by radiators? You know the rest… But what are you supposed to do when everyone around you is tired? Or at least telling you that they are.
I’m currently on holiday in Majorca, surrounded by a collection of people, all differing in ages and jobs and stages of life, and despite our differences, the cry that echoes time and time again is the one that we can all relate to: “I’m just so tired.” The irony of hearing it, or indeed saying it, after a lazy morning spent rolling between a sun lounger and a pool has not escaped me. But after the seventh hundredth yawn, followed by the all too familiar sheepish excuse, I have found myself wondering how on earth we are getting away with this. This is a complaint we’re seemingly just pulling out of our arses that we haven’t got the right to use, not in front of this back drop anyway. I’m also trying to work out if we’re being rude in our exploitation of an excuse that I’m not sure we deserve.
It’s unsurprising that everyone is tired on holiday. Not only are you giving your body a chance to relax for the first time in God knows how long, a combination of long hot days and actually doing nothing, totally has the power to knock you out. Doing nothing IS tiring. But it can be bloody annoying on holiday, not just to be and feel tired, but to be forced into it by the people around you, not least of all because with only 21 days off a year, most of us really don’t want to waste the whole thing yawning and then sleeping.
It’s also unsurprising that everyone is tired at home. The seven-o-clock alarm every morning, something that our teenage brains found to be an unfathomable concept become a daily reality for us; there’s money to make, kids to feed and life to get on with. Made all the harder with our ever later bed times, resulting mostly from a love to socialise, an enjoyment for drinking and too much to choose from on Netflix.
And then there is the mental health side of things. Life is pretty exhausting and not just because of the summer weather that we dream of in the depth of winter and the alarm that we curse every morning. The stress of work, the toil of heartbreak and the exhausting nature of mental health conditions bring on a new wave of fatigue and for many of us, a cloud can hang above us for years, making even the brightest of days dark and the most exciting of tasks mundane and a struggle.
It seems impossible to escape tiredness. As humans we start tired and we end tired. As children we adamantly tell our parents, through exhausted tears, that we’re JUST NOT TIRED in a desperate bid to convince them to leave the television on for another half an hour. As adults however we tell anyone that will listen quite how tired we are. We’re just so tired. And we need to tell people about it. To justify ourselves really, and everything that we do.
But being tired is, in itself, tiring. Which complicates the situation further, as you become a drain in your own brain. (The rhyming there was not intentional). If you tell everybody that you meet in a day just how tired you are, and reiterate to yourself one hundred times a day that your yawns are the only thing keeping you alive, you’ll be exhausted by lunchtime.
When you’re driving down the motorway in the UK you often see signs reading ‘TIREDNESS KILLS’. They’re not wrong. Tiredness causes car crashes. But it kills other things too. A zest for life, enthusiasm, excitement, conversation, dreams, hope, plans, parties. Tiredness really is a bugger. And it’s something that we can’t get away from. We’re all so bloody tired.
And you know what? I think it might be time that we shut up about it. Seemingly our energy levels are something fairly out of our control, or so we say when we don’t want to admit to too many late nights, not enough vegetables and a general boredom with our every day existence. So much like we get angry at traffic, the weather and politics, we complain that we are tired. Fitting it into the ready made bank of annoying things that we can’t do anything about. But I think it’s time to do a little reshuffle, at least of our perception. We need to make a decision. We need to decide if there is something that we can do about our energy levels, in which case, we need to do it. Or we need to work out if we can’t, in which case, much like with traffic, the weather and politics we ought to accept that since there really is nothing that we can do about it, isn’t it best to just crack on?
Tiredness can be, in a lot of instances, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you drag yourself into the office in the morning bleary eyed and moaning you will become what you said you would before you were. And once that pattern starts to form, it’s a bastard to escape from. Tiredness is often all-ecompasing and depressing and a very real affliction. And then sometimes tiredness is just something we tell ourselves when we can’t be bothered to be excited, and isn’t that such a waste? Pour another cup of coffee, turn the music up and remind yourself that life is what you make it. Don’t feed the beast and make it powerful enough to kill the good things around you, instead, wake up in the morning and leave it in your bed, leave it behind and allow your brain to get on with enjoying your life.