Why do unconscious people feel heavier?

23 February 2016

Question

My 8 year old weighs 22kgs; I am am able to pick her up and carry her very easily. However after falling asleep in front of the telly, when taking her to bed, I am convinced she weighs 50 kilos! Why is this? Am I being lazy and just complaining for no reason?

Answer

Kat asked Ginny Smith this weighty question...

Ginny - If you think about it in terms... has anyone ever seen a dancer being lifted in the ballet or perhaps a gymnast or an acrobat? Now it might not look like the person being lifted is actually doing very much. It looks like the person doing the lifting is doing all the work but actually, that dancer or that gymnast is doing a lot. They're using their core muscles to help hold themselves up and I think that's probably what your daughter does when she's awake. She'll be sort of holding her muscles in a way that makes it easy to pick her up. She might even sort of wrap her hands around your neck and hold on and that helps spread her weight so that you're carrying her with you arms, but some of her weight is actually going down through your shoulder and your back which is stronger than your arms so she doesn't feel as heavy. Now when we go to sleep, we basically lose all of the control of our muscles. We become paralysed, we become completely relaxed and floppy and you may have noticed if you pick up someone when they're asleep, they can be a bit like a rag doll sort of flopping all over the place. So her muscles won't be engaging in order to help with the lifting and, actually, what you're doing, you're feeling her full weight. It's not any more than she weighs, she hasn't actually put on any weight but you're feeling every pound of that weight because she's not helping.

Chris - Not called a dead weight for nothing then?

Ginny - Exactly, exactly.

Kat - So this is the same principle, when someone is dead they weigh their actual weight but they're just more difficult to lift.

Ginny - Yes and we're just not used to lifting people who aren't helping with the lifting because normally, when you lift someone who's awake, they automatically contract their muscles and do everything they can to make themselves as easy to lift as possible.

Kat - I used to have a Basset Hound dog and she was just impossible to pick up because she'd just sort of go all rubbery and become floppy and really, really difficult to lift.

Ginny - Sometimes toddlers do that as well if they don't want to be picked up. They'll make themselves really difficult; they'll go completely rigid or you know that kind of thing if they're having a tantrum but, most of the time, people try and help

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