Weekly Checkup: Exhaustion

Ever get that feeling where your brain’s about to burst and your body feels restless? That feeling may be more than the one you usually get after a night full of partying, studying or whatever else you do. That feeling could be exhaustion.

According to Web MD, a medical Web site, there is no set definition for exhaustion, as it’s a condition that can be applied across the board to many illnesses and many symptoms, such as mental, emotional or physical exhaustion.

Susan Haney, associate director of Student Health service, said exhaustion is not a specific clinical diagnosis and is more a symptom in and of itself. It’s having fatigue and difficulty functioning and sometimes even having trouble getting to sleep.

The most likely cause of exhaustion seems obvious enough: not getting enough sleep.

“GW students often don’t get enough sleep,” Haney said. “Their schedules are challenging and not conducive to getting enough rest…and there is a difference between the quality of sleep we get, not just the number of hours.

“All people need different amounts of sleep to feel good, which is hard to do when you have early classes or late socializing,” she said.

Students experiencing exhaustion may find it difficult to function properly and may experience weight loss or gain, anxiety or even depression, Haney said.

The key to preventing exhaustion while juggling schoolwork and all other commitments is to create a balance. A healthy nutritional diet combined with enough rest to counter the wild weekend nights can not only keep stress levels and risk of fatigue down, but keep the body’s immunity system up.

If you are experiencing a high level of exhaustion, it could be more than just a lack of adequate sleep, Haney said.

“When (Student Health Service) looks at fatigue we look at the possible causes, as in, was it caused by a virus or the lifestyle of the individual, and many other things as well. It’s often a symptom of other problems, like viral infections or depression,” she said.

But by staying balanced, your body can fight against illnesses that could cause exhaustion.

A study in the Journal of American College Health in 2007 found that although it was expected that an increased level of exhaustion after intense coursework would produce higher grades, the study found the opposite. Results also suggested that increase in exhaustion would lower performance in other aspects of student life as well, like in the workplace. The study emphasized that coursework, especially at the end of the semester, was a significant factor of stress and exhaustion, and the psychological effects of short term intense stress may likely carry over even after finals are done.

Keep in mind, then, to space out your academic workload and not let it pile up until exam time or rely on stimulants to keep you up and alert.

Haney said, “even when talking about stimulants or medication abuse, anything that puts your life out of balance can interrupt sleep.”

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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