There's a very big difference between feeling 'sleepy' versus 'tired'.

If you ask your friends, family or colleagues how they are on any given day, chances are a number of them will respond with 'tired'

Oftentimes 'tired' is a bit of an umbrella term. Do they mean they're feeling fatigued? Lethargic? Drained? Burned out? Maybe it's all the above, considering the mental load a lot of us are carrying with various responsibilities, familial obligations, the news, and the rising cost of living. It's no wonder!

But just how tired is normal? At what point does it tip into chronic fatigue territory? 

Dr Brad McKay is a GP. Speaking with Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky, Dr McKay says there are certain ways to assess whether our tiredness is normal... or not.

Watch: an explainer on mental load. Post continues below.

Video via Nova. 

Although it's common for many of us to feel tired at certain points of the day, it shouldn't be considered normal, he says. 

"It's becoming very normal in society to talk about tiredness. I don't think it's just that we like to complain to each other, there's a little bit more going on."

Typically speaking, most adults are recommended to try and get seven hours or more of sleep per night. A lot of us don't get this amount, for various reasons. But interestingly, many who do get this amount of sleep still feel tired sometimes. Dr McKay says in conversations like these we need to try and differentiate between feelings of 'tiredness' versus 'sleepiness'.


Sleepiness is where someone doesn't just feel lethargic, but rather significantly tired to the point they wish to fall asleep during the day or think they could easily fall asleep during the day.

One good question to ask yourself is this — when was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed in the morning?

If you're waking up and not feeling refreshed, then this means you need to take a good, hard look at your sleep schedule and patterns.

"There can be lots of issues involved with this. One is it could be obstructive sleep apnoea, where your airways are blocked overnight and not getting enough oxygen. People will then often wake up with a headache, they might have high blood pressure and they'll feel sleepy throughout the day," says Dr McKay.

"This is an issue that needs to be addressed. There are all of these things that can lead to sleepiness."

Listen to this topic on Mamamia's news podcast The Quicky. Post continues after audio. 

Now when it comes to tiredness, there's a different approach.

"Fatigue is a slightly different category. Anything from low iron levels, thyroid problems, stress, anxiety and depression," notes Dr McKay.


"There are so many things that can cause tiredness or sleepiness. It takes a long time to go through each one and try to figure out what is going on. 95 per cent of the time we don't find anything wrong in the blood tests or scans — it's more just addressing lifestyle issues or stress."

As for whether or not these feelings are normal — the best way to figure this out is by looking at how often you are feeling this way. 

"If you've been feeling a bit tired for a long time but you're still functioning at your job and you can function as a human being, then it might just be a rough period, but nothing serious. If you're finding there's a sudden change — your energy level has slumped significantly in comparison to six months ago to now — that's a sign you should be really talking to someone about it and figuring out what is going on," Dr McKay tells The Quicky.

Interestingly, there is a difference between feeling tired versus burnout too, Dr McKay saying oftentimes people don't realise that what they're experiencing is some nasty burnout. Stressful circumstances can have not only an impact on our emotional energy, but our physical energy too.

"There are so many stresses going on for many of us at the moment. With this in mind, we need to get out there and connect with other people — it helps with de-stressing. This in turn can be worthwhile for fatigue."

Feature Image: Canva. 

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