It’s been my experience (and I have a considerable amount of experience in this area) that there are different kinds of tired. They all have some things in common, most importantly that sleep will help any of them. That’s imagining, of course, that sleep is an option. But there’s a lot different about them too.
The first, and easiest to define is physical fatigue. You’ve been working out or doing some kind of physical labor and your muscles are tired. That’s about all there is to it.
The Second is harder to figure. It’s that crushing, debilitating need to sleep that hits you for no particular reason. You’re going along, living your life, relatively well rested, watching TV, or making dinner or whatever and suddenly your eyes, almost of their own accord, fall shut. If you’re sitting, or in any kind of even semi recumbent position you’re toast. It’s best if you’re not driving because you are going to nod off, at the very least.
This one hits me between 4 and 8 every afternoon, but it’s different for different people. I believe that the timing is, at least partially, based on what kind of person you are ie, morning person, night person, etc. I’ve never been able to figure out what kind of person I am (I don’t usually have much, or any, trouble staying up late, but then it doesn’t take me too long to get going in the morning either) but what I do know is that I’m not a late afternoon / early evening person.
The third kind of tired is a result of sleep deprivation, this is the kind of tired of mothers of infants and night shift workers and torture victims. I find it unendingly fascinating that this does not usually result in the same kind of overwhelming need to sleep that you get with the second kind of tired (at least not in the short term). In fact, I’ve had evenings when after living a fairly normal day, I’m really struggling to stay awake on my drive in to work at 6:30 pm and then having little or no trouble driving home at 7:00 am, without having had any sleep. I’m not saying here that when you’re this kind of tired you don’t want to sleep. You do. What I’m saying is that the need to sleep is mostly mental (I’m tired and I know that the solution to this is to go to bed) rather than physical (I must keep my eyes open, I must keep my eyes open, I must kee- zzzzzzzz).
What the third kind of tired does do to you is fill your head with pudding. You’re standing there and someone asks you a question. Not a difficult question, a pretty basic, you really shouldn’t have to think about it kind of question. The question I get most often when I’m this kind of tired is “how was your night?” My answer is usually “ummmmm uh… it was… well… it um… oh yeah, it’s wasn’t great.” I sound like a complete idiot. I know that. I just can’t seem to figure out the answer, and then once I do I can’t figure out how exactly one expresses it and then… because all of my neurons have been coated with pudding and that really slows things down.
I once worked with a doctor, reattaching a hand that had been severed (I know, how cool is my job?!), as you would probably imagine that’s a case that takes a while and by a while I mean a loooong time. We started the surgery at 3:00 am and at about 2:30 pm, as we were finishing up, she was saying something about why she did a particular thing a particular way. She explained the difference and then said “so this way works gooder” then she stopped, looked up and said, “no wait…” then after another 5-7 second pause said, “better. It works better.” Poor Dr. Carol, she was suffering a severe case of pudding brain.
The thing that’s the most interesting to me about pudding brain is that you can recognize it, not only in those around you but you can recognize it in yourself. While I’m standing there trying to figure out how my night was and making random inarticulate noises, there is a part of my brain, a part somehow not affected by pudding brain, that is saying “you sound like a complete idiot, what is the matter with you? Just answer the question. This is not hard you know.” I often think that if i could just get that part of my brain to work with me, rather than spectating and commenting, I would probably be able to actually formulate an answer. I’ve just never been able to do so.
The other interesting thing about pudding brain is that if you have a really good, long lasting case (like you get when you have a new baby and go for months (or years) without getting a good night’s sleep, or when you work all night three nights in a row but can not spend all (or any) of the corresponding days sleeping) it doesn’t go away. You’re tired, you have pudding brain, you sleep, you wake up, and you find that well, you still have pudding brain. It’s a modified version of pudding brain, sort of a shell shocked, PTSD thing, (pudding pop brain perhaps?) but it’s still pudding brain.
And that friends is where I am now. I just… um… ah… well… I need to go to bed.