We’ve all had that friend or coworker who snickers when we mention how unbearably tired we feel, as if feeling tired all the time is a weakness. I’m here to tell you that it’s not.
In fact, constant fatigue could be a sign of many problems and can cause turmoil in your personal or professional life. Tiredness should not be taken lightly.
Maybe you are one of those who have “learned to live with” chronic fatigue, whether it’s due to mental illness, physical health issues or another unknown reason. Sometimes, you just don’t have a choice in how much sleep you get.
Like me, you could have a baby waking you up at all hours of the night to painfully nurse, and also like me, you may be a student who spends late nights relentlessly studying and trying to keep up with complicated courses.
Being Chronically Tired Isn’t Normal
The importance of sleep cannot be understated. It regulates our moods, levels of physical energy, learning processes and memory functions. Those who suffer sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for heart problems, obesity and cancer.
Feeling tired all the time can also be a major sign of mental or physical illness or imbalance. According to recommendations by doctors published in the BMJ, the commonly underplayed symptom of tiredness, weakness or fatigue should be taken seriously by healthcare providers.
As I’m sure you’ve probably heard by now, driving while sleep-deprived can be just as bad as drunk-driving.
Alarmingly, a recent AAA survey showed that two out of every five drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at some point. That’s scary.
If being extremely tired can impair your driving, what other areas of your life could it also impact? Your work productivity, ability to care for children and social life can all take a hit if you are constantly tired. What’s more, your body could be trying to tell you that it’s experiencing an imbalance or ailment through this symptom.
If fatigue is a painfully familiar part of your life, it could be time to examine your health and sleep habits, and make adjustments to increase your physical and mental energy levels.
Here are nine reasons why you’re always tired:
1. Chemicals Such as Caffeine, Alcohol and Nicotine Interrupt Sleep
We always hear that chemicals are bad for our bodies, but did you ever stop to think about how they might be affecting your sleep?
Obviously, we drink caffeine to wake up, so you may already realize that drinking it too close to bedtime or consuming too much daily may interfere with your sleep. Alcohol is another substance that interferes with your body’s natural sleep cycles, even if it makes you feel sleepy.
If you use tobacco products, it’s possible that nicotine could be stealing your zzz’s. I can personally attest to that. Having quit smoking three months ago, I have begun to feel much less tired.
The stimulant effects of nicotine affect your body’s sleep cycles and the addiction factor causes waking during the night when the body craves a nicotine fix.
2. You Might Need Glasses
You are so used to your vision that you might not realize you need glasses or contacts. I went through most of my younger life without glasses, never thinking twice about my vision.
But in my early 20s, I realized that I was straining to read price tags at my retail job. I finally went to the eye doctor, who determined that I needed (gasp) glasses!
It was only then that I realized how much of a blur my life had previously been. With my new glasses, everything felt clearer.
It felt less like I was thrashing my way through the day, squinting and straining my tired eyes. I felt much less tired, like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
If you haven’t recently, get your eyes checked. It could be that vision problems are the culprit causing you to feel tired all the time.
3. Night-waking is Interrupting Your Sleep Cycles
According to doctors at Ohio State University (OSU), you may awaken or sleep lightly while going through certain stages of sleep. Our bodies rely on circadian rhythms, the natural clockwork that defines our sleep and waking times.
The two main cycles of sleep are Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) and non-REM, which must be completed within set periods of time in order to restore rest to our bodies.
If our sleep cycles are interrupted before they are completed, our circadian rhythms are disrupted and a difficult road to fatigue begins. Without the ability to complete these cycles on a regular basis, tiredness can become an everyday part of life.
Performing certain activities shortly before bedtime, such as eating or exercise, can throw off your body’s natural winding-down procedure, which potentially disrupts sleep throughout the whole night.
By establishing a regular bedtime routine, you can help your body adjust its natural sleep rhythms to ensure a more restful sleep cycle.
4. You’re Simply Not Getting Enough Sleep
In 2015, the National Sleep Association presented new sleep recommendations for people of various ages: Teens ages 14-17 should sleep 8-10 hours, adults ages 18-25 should sleep 7-9 hours and adults ages 26-64 should receive 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Those 65 and older should be sleeping for 7-8 hours.
Though these guidelines represent the minimum and maximum amounts of sleep recommended by experts, each individual has unique sleep needs and should follow his or her body’s signs.
If you sleep within the recommended time frames but still have no energy, your body may be signaling an underlying health issue.
5. Sleep Apnea
Those who experience sleep apnea often have no idea that this condition is the cause of their fatigue.
The condition causes your airway to intermittently close during sleep, causing you to choke and wake up throughout the night. Repeated waking due to sleep apnea could be disturbing your sleep cycles and depriving you of the rest you need.
If you are always tired and known to snore, consider seeing a sleep specialist and undergoing a sleep test to determine if sleep apnea could be the culprit.
6. Mental Illness Such as Depression and Anxiety
Feelings of tiredness, weakness and fatigue are common symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep or cause you to wake throughout the night. Depression, however, can cause you to sleep for endless hours, never feeling like you can get enough rest.
Harvard scientists found that those with mental disorders are more likely to suffer sleep deprivation than others. Furthermore, mental health problems are worsened by a lack of sleep, which can cause a vicious cycle affecting both your mood and energy levels.
It’s important to consider the possibility that you could be experiencing a mental health problem if your doctor has ruled out physical issues. Talk to a trained mental health professional if you think this might be the case.
7. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
This syndrome is characterized by constant exhaustion and fatigue which cannot be traced to physiological disease or imbalances. It may be difficult for doctors to diagnose people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because its symptoms mimic those of other diseases and ailments, such as mental illness.
The only recommended treatment for this disorder is therapy, including both cognitive and physical therapies.
8. Physical Illness or Imbalance
Your tired body could be trying to tell you that you are suffering one of the following, which all include the symptom of tiredness:
- Autoimmune diseases such as Lupus or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Cancer or cancer treatments
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Hormonal imbalances
- Iron deficiency anemia, or the presence of too much iron, called hemochromatosis
- Deficiency or imbalance of vitamins
Speak to your doctor if you are experiencing energy loss, as it could be a sign of a serious problem.
9. Nutrition, Diet and Exercise
The way you take care of your body may affect your energy levels, and a lack of sleep could impact your physical fitness in turn.
Because sleep is related to body temperature and body temperature rises when you exercise, the National Sleep Foundation recommends exercising no less than three hours before bedtime. Your body needs time to cool off and reach its ideal temperature at bedtime.
Your diet is also closely related to your sleep. For instance, a lack of sleep increases your appetite because a disruption in leptin levels, which are the hormones controlling your appetite. If you are having trouble losing weight, your sleep quality may be causing the problem.
Turn Your Tired Life Around
If you are beginning to realize that the fatigue you always feel isn’t normal, seek help from your doctor as soon as possible. This list presents just eight out of hundreds of reasons why you might suffer constant fatigue and should not be substituted for medical advice.
Depending on your lifestyle and individual health profile, there could be a multitude of possibilities for what is making you tired.
If your problem is not due to an underlying medical issue, it may just be that you need to make lifestyle changes, such as omitting chemicals like caffeine from your diet or exercising on a regular basis, to help your body get back to its ideal circadian rhythm and starting feeling good again.