You’ve asked yourself this question once, you’ve asked it a million times: Why am I so tired all the time?
It seems like from the moment we hit our early 20s our energy is drained. But the root of the issue as well as the severity varies for different women—sleepiness after a long night shift is one thing, but nagging tiredness after a week of great sleep can be frustrating.
Tiredness can be the result of a number of different health and lifestyle issues that we’ll talk about today. But before we dive into it, let’s make an important distinction. When you’re tired, you’ll still have some energy but you’re more likely to be forgetful and impatient and you may experience some muscle weakness after mental or physical work. You can change some parts of your lifestyle to alleviate tiredness.
Fatigue is a bit different.
If you’re fatigued, you’ll experience difficulty concentrating, anxiety, a gradual decrease in stamina, sensitivity to light, and difficulty sleeping. You may even want to skip social activities you once enjoyed. Though the symptoms are similar in both cases, the causes and treatments of fatigue and tiredness differ. Tiredness is temporary and easily treatable. Fatigue is more lasting and difficult to address on your own. We’re going to focus primarily on tiredness in this article.
If you suspect you’re suffering from fatigue, make an appointment to see your doctor soon. There’s nothing like chatting with your doctor to get answers that are specific to your body and lifestyle.
In the meantime, here are some common causes and treatments for tiredness.
Let’s start with the likeliest cause of your tiredness: a disrupted circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your 24-hour internal clock that causes your body to cycle between sleepiness and wakefulness. When your circadian rhythm is healthy and balanced, you’re more likely to feel alert and energized throughout the day. To maintain this rhythm and avoid tiredness, stick to regular habits that help you get sufficient hours of quality sleep each night.
While you should get at least seven hours of sleep each night, that number varies from person to person, and the depth of that slumber matters. Some people need nine hours each night to feel rested during the day. But no matter how much sleep you personally need, if your sleep is disrupted, then you didn’t really rest and you’ll likely feel tired the next day.
* Here’s how you know you’re getting high-quality sleep:
* You wake up no more than once a night
* You’re awake for 20 minutes or less after first falling asleep
* You sleep for at least 85% of the time you’re in bed
* You fall asleep in 30 minutes or less
For most people, poor quality sleep is unknowingly self-inflicted. Things such as, but not limited to, an overly-lit bedroom, screen-time before and in bed, drinking caffeine or alcohol before bed, and inconsistent sleep times, can result in poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue.
We encourage you to try removing some of these common barriers to restful sleep:
* Blue light from electronic devices can disrupt your sleep/circadian rhythm. Avoid electronic devices for at least two hours before bed. You can also switch devices to night-mode which helps limit blue light exposure.
* Sleep in complete darkness and avoid lights in your room
* Stop drinking caffeine by 5 PM each day
* Avoid alcohol before bed
* Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day (including weekends)
If removing these barriers don’t work to alleviate your tiredness, reach out to your doctor to see if you suffer from insomnia or chronic fatigue. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options for both of those conditions!
While caffeine is the most commonly used stimulant in America, it’s also one of the biggest culprits of tiredness. A cup of coffee stimulates your central nervous system and makes you feel more awake. But if you stop drinking it suddenly, you can have a caffeine withdrawal which will lead to tiredness. This lethargy feels doubly bad because you’re tired from skipping your normal cup of coffee and additionally tired from the caffeine withdrawal, which normally comes with a headache and agitation.
If you drink multiple cups of coffee each day, you can also suffer from multiple crashes once the coffee wears off. We recommend drinking plenty of water between each cup of coffee—water helps rejuvenate the body and is an effective energizer. Additionally, if you’re weaning yourself off caffeine, eat plenty of energizing foods like fatty fish, bananas, eggs, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.
On that note, many of us don’t drink enough water, and, unfortunately, dehydration leads to tiredness. Dehydration can result from sweating profusely to having diarrhea, vomiting, or simply not drinking enough water.
If you’re not a huge fan of water, you’re not alone! Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to spruce up a plain glass of water. Add your favorite tea bag to your water or squeeze lemon or add a few slices of cucumber to your glass.
Stress is very effective in disrupting your sleep and making you irritable. If you’re suffering from high levels of stress, it might be hard to fall asleep and get restful, uninterrupted sleep. Before you know it, you’re even more stressed because you’re tired and struggling to focus and the cycle of tiredness continues.
No one wants to be stressed—it’s normally a by-product of our busy lives and uniquely stressful circumstances. We encourage you to assess what’s happening in your life and how things are affecting your ability to rest. Maybe there’s room in your daily routine for meditation, mindfulness, and prayer to help reduce stress and get good sleep again.
If you lack a continual supply of nutrients and calories, your body can become tired and sluggish.
This can take on different forms: Maybe you eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies but you exercise a lot and quickly deplete your nutrient and calorie intake. Maybe you eat enough food in general, but not enough of the high vitamin and nutrient-dense foods you need. Maybe you eat very often throughout the day and overwork your digestive system leading to lethargy. Eating a diet high in processed foods and refined sugar can also lead to energy crashes throughout your day.
If you suspect your diet may be making you tired, find foods that are nutrient-rich and eat them in healthy proportions for your age, weight, and height. Choose more fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables for your iron influx, fish such as tuna or salmon contain omega-3 fats for brain-boosting energy, lean meat, nuts, whole grain pasta and rice, and beans also add to a well-balanced diet. These foods effectively fight tiredness if eaten in the right portions throughout your day!
If you eat a healthy, balanced diet, and still experience continuous tiredness, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Untreated Medical Conditions
There are also a number of common health conditions that can lead to ongoing tiredness. Just a few include diabetes, anemia, depression, anxiety disorder, food sensitivities, hypothyroidism, hepatitis C, obstructive sleep apnea, heart disease, and nasal congestion.
If you experience any of these issues or if these run in your family, get checked to see if you have an undiagnosed condition causing exhaustion or a current condition that merits medication dosage adjustment. The good news is, most of these conditions are easily manageable so you can return to a more energized life with treatment!
Among common medical conditions that lead to tiredness is sleep apnea—trust us, this one deserves its own paragraph. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that causes pauses in breathing, or shallow breathing while you sleep. Episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute and can occur as many as 30 times a minute.
Every time breathing returns to normal, your sleep gets disrupted, leading to daytime sleepiness. Thankfully, you and your doctor can treat your sleep apnea with lifestyle changes such as weight loss and the use of a breathing assistance device like continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP machine) at night.
As you can tell, your tiredness can stem from a range of different issues—some are easy to address and others take significant lifestyle changes. But working to fix those issues is worth it. You know as well as we do how much tiredness is pesky, frustrating, and can make daytime hours unbearable. We hope you figure out the cause of your exhaustion and get back to the energized life you deserve!
If lifestyle changes don’t help reduce tiredness, see your primary care physician to rule out underlying issues.
Your doctor can perform a range of tests to determine the cause of your exhaustion. Before your appointment, keep a sleep diary to give your doctor a full picture of your nighttime habits. Include the times you fall asleep and wake up, how often you wake at night, and any other symptoms you think are worth noting.