Have you noticed when people ask how you’re doing, your default answer is “OMFG I’m exhausted”? You aren’t alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men reported feeling very tired or exhausted within the last 3 months.
While extreme tiredness can be the result of an underlying medical condition, it’s also often related to little things in our daily activities. Here are 10 causes of fatigue that are pretty easy to remedy.
Stress is just a part of life, and not something you could ever eliminate altogether. But chronic stress can contribute to all kinds of physical and emotional upset, including sleep problems.
Too much stress makes your body vulnerable to illness, headaches, muscle tension, and anxiety. Who wouldn’t be exhausted?
A study on university students revealed a connection between perceived stress levels and sleep quality during exams.
Relax with one of these activities:
Energy drinks provide a one-two punch of sugar and caffeine, which makes them a popular choice for people who need to stay awake and alert. But overusing highly caffeinated beverages can leave you feeling more tired.
In a driving simulation study, fatigued participants did get a boost from an energy drink, but that surge came at the price of rebound fatigue after it wore off.
And in a review of 41 studies from 1990 to 2011, evidence showed that people who drank energy drinks experienced more daytime sleepiness the next day.
Think about it this way: Slamming Red Bulls to play video games will only lead to less sleep — and worse sleep.
Here are some other ways to get an energy boost:
- Tea and coffee have less caffeine, and you can control how much sugar you add. You’ll get a smaller energy burst but a smaller sleepy “hangover” too.
- Shelling and eating sunflower seeds (in the driving study, this was effective at counteracting driver fatigue, but it’s probably safer to use this method when you don’t need your hands so much!)
- Drink water or a protein shake (more on these in a second).
Ugh, you’re already tired — how are you supposed to exercise? Nevertheless, many studies have shown that being active can reduce fatigue.
In 2006, University of Georgia researchers analyzed several studies and concluded that regular exercise is associated with more energy and less fatigue.
Researchers in the Netherlands put highly fatigued university students on a 6-week exercise program. The students had improvement in overall fatigue and need for recovery, and 12 weeks after the study, 80 percent of them were still exercising and reaping benefits in fatigue and sleep quality.
Another study in 2013 found that one exercise session of low-to-moderate intensity lasting more than 20 minutes made people feel more energetic.
Easy ways to get moving:
- Take a stroll. It takes just 20 minutes at low to moderate intensity to give you more energy!
- Stretch to loosen up and get your blood flowing.
- Remember gym class? Try a quick round of jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, and lunges to boost energy.
Besides feeling tired, how can you tell if you’re getting poor-quality sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, you’re not sleeping well if it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, if you wake up more than once per night, or if you stay up for more than 20 minutes after waking in the middle of the night.
How to get better sleep, even if you can’t get more:
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine before sleep.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol before bedtime.
- Keep your bedroom quiet and comfortable (60 to 67°F is ideal).
- If you take a daytime nap, keep it under 20 minutes to avoid “sleep inertia.”
You’re dragging through the morning and grab a doughnut as a pick-me-up. It works! You feel zoomy for a few minutes… and then you’re nodding off again.
What happened? Refined carbs happened.
These carbs — the ones in doughnuts, other sweets, and sugar-sweetened drinks — pump glucose straight into your bloodstream for quick energy. But that spike leads to an inevitable drop in blood sugar and energy.
For example, Tufts University researchers studied the impact of different snacks on kids playing soccer and found they played more intensely but were more fatigued after a high sugar snack.
For sustained energy, choose carbs paired with protein and fiber.
Some carbs that won’t spike blood sugar as much:
- whole grain bread or crackers with nut butter
- whole fruit and string cheese
- hummus with veggies or whole wheat pita
- a smoothie with high fiber produce and protein powder
A study of patients with food sensitivities and irritable bowel syndrome found they were more likely to feel symptoms of fatigue, and they identified with the following statements:
- “Normal day-to-day events are stressful for me.”
- “I am not able to provide as much emotional support to my family as I should.”
- “I have to reduce my workload and responsibilities.”
- “I am less able to complete tasks that require physical effort.”
Sound familiar? If your digestive system feels wonky and you think certain foods might be to blame, it’s possible they’re contributing to your chronic tiredness too.
If you have these symptoms after eating particular foods, ask your doctor about food intolerances:
- runny nose
- feeling under the weather
- stomach upset
- irritable bowel
Yeah, life is crazy, but human adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. There’s no hack to escape that recommendation.
If you don’t regularly get enough sleep, you have a higher risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and getting into accidents.
How to stay in (circadian) rhythm? Try these:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends).
- Limit naps to 15 to 20 minutes.
- Do something active after dinner if you have an energy slump but it’s too early for bedtime.
- Get some sunlight.
- Try a light therapy box.
- Avoid screens for 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Keep your bedroom dark.
Calories are units of energy in food. if you don’t consume enough energy, you’ll (obviously) be low on energy. It really is that simple.
A diet deficient in calories is also likely deficient in micronutrients that keep all your systems working properly, converting food into energy, supporting your immune system, and keeping you perky in general.
One older study showed that female athletes in sports that prize low body weight (gymnastics, distance running, diving, figure skating, and ballet) were more prone to nutrient deficiency, fatigue, dehydration, delayed growth, and impaired immunity.
Your body needs a minimum number of calories just to support its basic functions. If you do anything besides breathe and stay alive, you’ll need more calories than that.
If you feel the need to restrict calories despite feeling tired all the time, consider talking to a mental healthcare professional or registered dietitian about your relationship with food.
A number of studies have attempted to measure the relationship between protein consumption and fatigue.
For example, a group of male weightlifters experienced less stress and fatigue on a high protein, low fat diet than on a moderate protein, moderate fat diet.
A study of marathon runners showed improvements in physical fatigue, mental energy, and soreness 3 days after the event when they added protein to their mid- or post-run snack.
In another study, Korean college students who ate high protein foods like meat, fish, eggs, and beans more than two times a day reported lower levels of fatigue.
Try these sources of high quality protein:
- fish (especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, albacore tuna, and herring)
- skinless chicken and turkey
- dairy products
- nuts and seeds
- soy products
Water is vital to every part of your body, so it stands to reason that dehydration would leave you sluggish.
According to some studies, athletes with inadequate hydration during sports don’t perform as well and report more fatigue and perceived exertion.
A study of combat sports athletes showed dehydration is associated with impaired muscular strength, endurance, and increased fatigue.
If it seems like hydration matters only for athletes performing intense sports, remember that your body works basically the same way theirs do. You can boost your performance by drinking more water too.
Watch for these symptoms of dehydration:
- dry skin
- decreased urination
These conditions can also cause unusual fatigue. Visit your doctor if you think one of these conditions is getting your down:
- sleep apnea
- underactive thyroid
- celiac disease
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- glandular fever
- restless legs syndrome
Chronic tiredness makes everything harder, but there are ways to cope. Try a few of these tweaks to your diet, activities, or routine to fight fatigue and feel more rested soon.