Everyone seems tired these days. In our hectic lives, we sacrifice sleep by staying up late to finish household tasks, spend extra time with loved ones or prepare for the next busy day. But a deep weariness and profound lack of energy and motivation is different than simple tiredness. Some fatigue in life is to be expected—a normal response to physical exertion, emotional stress, poor sleep or pregnancy—but it also can signal an underlying physical or psychological condition that saps your energy or causes symptoms like pain, which can keep you up at night.
Look at how you live
A variety of lifestyle factors causes fatigue for most people. Try taking these proactive steps to renewed energy and health:
- Get enough sleep. It sounds simple enough, but few of us allot enough time for adequate sleep. Individual needs vary, but aim for at least eight hours each night.
- Exercise. Improving your strength, endurance and stamina will make daily activities less taxing. Exercisers enjoy better quality of sleep—they fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly—than sedentary folk. Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week, but avoid exercising within four hours of bedtime.
- Eat smart. Without the proper foods and fluids, your body won’t have the fuel it needs for energy. Start with a low-fat, high-fiber breakfast and then refuel every three to four hours. Limit caffeine, alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar, which can make you feel sluggish later.
- Manage stress and anxiety. Easier said than done, of course, but take a hard look at your schedule, rethink your priorities and learn to say “no” to taking on too much. Is anxiety about a lengthy to-do list keeping you up at night? Keep a pad of paper by your bed to jot things down. This relieves you of the burden of remembering them and helps clear your mind.
- Check your meds. Medications such as antihistamines; cold remedies; pain relievers; and some heart, asthma and anti-anxiety drugs can affect sleep or cause fatigue. Nicotine from cigarettes, patches, gum or other forms is a stimulant and interferes with sleep. Your doctor may suggest an alternative.
Other reasons for fatigue
If you still suffer fatigue after making positive changes, see your doctor, who may want to check for one of these conditions:
- Sleep disorders. About 40 million Americans each year suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome. If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, have trouble falling or staying asleep, snore loudly or wake feeling unrefreshed, a sleep disorder may be compromising the quality or amount of your sleep. Effective treatments exist, but first you need a proper diagnosis, which may include an overnight sleep study. Physicians will monitor how much you sleep, how often you wake and what stages and depths of sleep you experience and evaluate any unusual breathing, heart or brain activity.
- Depression. The fatigue associated with depression persists nearly every day and is often described as feeling as if you are walking through water or moving in slow motion. Even your voice lacks energy, and you may speak in a monotone. You may feel as tired in the morning as you did the night before. If this describes your fatigue, tell your doctor about any other symptoms, such as loss of interest in activities, persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness or guilt, or thoughts of death. Depression disorders affect more than 18 million Americans, but they are highly treatable.
- Sluggish thyroid. Your thyroid gland and thyroid hormones are responsible for all aspects of your metabolism, from how fast your heart beats to how quickly you burn calories. If the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones—a condition called hypothyroidism—fatigue and unexplained weight gain may follow. About 6 million to 7 million Americans, mostly women over age 40, have hypothyroidism. Other symptoms include sensitivity to cold, constipation, pale and dry skin, a puffy face, a hoarse voice, heavier periods, elevated blood cholesterol and depression. If suspected, your doctor will order a thyroid function test. Treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone is often effective and relieves fatigue quickly.
- Anemia. This condition, known as “tired blood,” occurs when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. A common cause is iron or vitamin deficiency. More than 3.4 million people in the U.S. have anemia, and women and those with chronic illnesses face increased risk. Tell your doctor if you also experience weakness, pale skin, a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, irritability, cold hands and feet or headache. Treatment may be as simple as improving your diet and taking vitamin or iron supplements.
Fatigue is not a symptom you simply have to endure. Make appropriate lifestyle changes and alert your doctor to your energy and sleep problems. Timely and effective treatment will help put the spring back into your step.