The liver is incredible. Most people think of it as a filter, but filters are physical barriers that accumulate junk and have to be cleaned. The liver isn’t a filter. It’s a chemical processing plant. Rather than sit there, passively receiving, filtering out, and storing undesirable compounds, the liver encounters toxic chemicals and attempts to metabolize them into less-toxic metabolites that we can handle.
It oxidizes the toxins, preparing them for further modification
It converts the toxins to a less-toxic, water-soluble version that’s easier to excrete
It excretes the toxins through feces or urine
Bam. It’s an elegant process, provided everything is working well back there. And it’s not the only process it controls.
Whenever I write about sleep, I hear from a chorus of people who struggle to sleep through the night. Anecdotally, it seems a far more common complaint than difficulty falling asleep in the first place.
These complaints are one of three types:
People who have trouble falling asleep
People who sleep fitfully, waking multiple times throughout the night
Those who reliably wake once, around the same time most nights
Understandably, this is a hugely vexing problem. Poor quality sleep is a serious health concern. Not to mention, sleeping badly feels simply awful. When the alarm goes off after a night of tossing and turning, the next day is sure to be a slog. String several days like that together, and it’s hard to function at all.
“I’m tired all the time.”
“I have no energy.”
“I’m too tired to go to the gym.”
“I need a nap.”
Walking around in a fog seems like standard operating procedure nowadays. No matter how common it is, though, feeling exhausted, low energy, or sleepy all the time is not normal. It’s always a sign that something else is going on.
Tiredness, Sleepiness, Fatigue: What’s the Difference?
What does it mean when someone says, “I’m tired all the time?” Are they falling asleep at their desk? Do they need to take an afternoon nap in order to function in the evening? Perhaps they feel too wiped out to exercise or even get off the couch?
Colloquially, we use the word “tired” to describe the subjective experiences of both sleepiness and fatigue. “Sleepiness” is the familiar experience of needing sleep due to sleep debt. We all know what this feels like.
Tracking certain things makes sense, if you go for that sort of thing. Tracking step count is hard without a device. No one’s going to count every step they take in their head. You’d quickly go mad doing that. Same with pulse rate and heart rate variability—you could count the number of beats for 30 seconds and double it to get BPM, but that gets unwieldy after awhile and HRV requires a special device. But tracking sleep? On the surface, sleep tracking seems futile and pointless. If there’s anything you should know intuitively without having to measure, it should be whether or not you got a good night’s sleep. You wake up and see how you feel.
Are you groggy? Irritable? Did you just crack an egg into the coffee maker, brush your teeth with light roast beans, kiss your dog good morning and let your spouse out to pee? You probably didn’t sleep very well.
Are you rested? Full of vim and vigor? Can you perform basic bodily functions without requiring a mug of coffee first thing? You probably slept fine.