How Does Insomnia Impact Motor Functions?
Last updated: September 2023
Insomnia is exhausting. It is utterly fatiguing. Whether it is short-term insomnia or a chronic condition you deal with year in and year out, it really takes a toll on the body. In my experience, I have found that insomnia also has an impact on motor functions.
There are a lot of mind games when it comes to lack of sleep. Some people get incredibly anxious about their sleep deprivation. Some people are angry. Others just accept it and try not to think about it. But for all of us, there is a physical toll. For many, insomnia may also impact motor functions.
How does insomnia impact motor functions?
Our bodies are meant to sleep. They’re meant to go into a full slumber in order to recover from the trials of the day. Brain and body functions slow down and rejuvenation takes place in order to prepare us for the new day ahead. But what happens when we don’t get sleep?
Different people have different perceptions of the impact. Those who are in the acceptance camp just plow on through their days while those who fight an emotional battle with their lack of sleep seem to notice the physical fatigue more.
Insomnia impacts on physical functions
While we all understand the impact of insomnia on cognitive performance, there are also many studies that have been done to show the negative impact that chronic insomnia can have on motor function.1
Daily physical activity
A lot of our daily activities require varying levels of dexterity that can become impaired when the body has not had an opportunity to repair itself overnight. Here are some examples:
- Using a computer
Fine motor skills
Anything requiring some type of fine motor skill and even a great many things that use gross motor skills may be impacted by insomnia. As a former musician, I know it was significantly more difficult to practice and perform after sleepless nights. My thought processes were more addled but also my reflexes were slower. It was more difficult to maintain an even, controlled dexterity.
When tired, I’m more likely to make mistakes at the gym – weights feel heavier and my coordination is poor.
I struggle to function properly if I’m cooking dinner or doing housework. I feel heavy and clumsy. When I’m typing and writing, or doing practical things at work I make more mistakes. Not just because I am mentally fatigued but because my physical self is not fully fit for the job.
Studies have shown that fatigue is as dangerous when driving as using a mobile phone or consuming alcohol.2
Accidents happen as a direct result of fatigue. While some of the problems are the fatigue itself causing microsleeps and impaired road awareness, physically the body is less reactive and struggles more with the physical motor skills required to operate a vehicle.
Are other factors contributing?
There are very few magic fixes for insomnia but it is important we research our own personal history to find out if there are situations making it worse through diet, medication, or poor sleep hygiene. I have personally had to address long-term and chronic mental health issues in order to improve my sleep. I also take medication, because medicated sleep is much better than no sleep at all.
Rest helps mentally and physically
When I can’t sleep, I always ensure I rest. Mentally and physically resting is sometimes as near to rejuvenation as I’m going to get.
- Putting the feet up
- Letting go of stress and guilt
- Taking a break from work
- Doing relaxation exercises
- Anything that rests mind, body, and spirit is going to be a plus
The long-term impact of insomnia on the mind and body should never be underestimated. I must be eternally vigilant to sleep when I can and rest when I cannot sleep. My body depends on it.
How does insomnia impact your motor functions? Please share your story or comment below.
What do you do at night when you can't sleep?