Feeling weary is often caused by a change in schedule. Have you recently started a new job or a challenging exercise regime? Perhaps you’ve welcomed a new child into the family and your schedule has been turned on its head. When daily routines change, the body needs time to adapt, and this ‘adjustment period’ can be exhausting.
But what if this ‘adjustment period’ has gone on for months? Or, what if your schedule has remained unchanged for years but you’ve suddenly started to experience overwhelming fatigue? There are many other factors that can cause you to feel tired all the time.
Why Am I Always Sleepy in the Morning?
Broadly speaking, physical, psychological, or lifestyle factors can cause you to feel sleepy. Unfortunately, these factors often interact with each other to amplify feelings of exhaustion.
Take a look at the following factors to identify why your energy levels have taken a hit.
Physiological Causes of Tiredness
The most common physiological cause of tiredness is hormone imbalance. Any shift in hormones can significantly impact our energy levels and our ability to regulate sleep. For example, pregnancy, menopause, thyroid conditions, and the hormonal birth control pill can all make you feel weary. Some other physiological causes of extreme tiredness include:
- Sleep Apnea
- Glandular Fever
- Coeliac Disease
- Restless Leg Syndrome
Psychological Reasons You Feel Sleepy
The most common psychological reason for feeling sleepy is stress. Stress affects everyone and can cause tiredness by impacting the quality of our sleep. It can also make us feel ‘drained’ during the day, so we feel as if we need even more sleep to recover. Other psychological causes of exhaustion include:
- Medication used to treat mood disorders
Lifestyle Factors That Drain Your Energy
Many of us use our mobile phones in bed, eat heavy meals after 8 pm and stay up until midnight watching movies. This is referred to as poor sleep hygiene and it is the number one lifestyle-related cause of extreme tiredness. Thankfully, it’s something that can be improved with just a little effort. Other important lifestyle factors include:
- A work Rota that constantly changes (i.e. morning, evening, and night shifts)
- Not drinking enough fluids (dehydration)
- Over or under-exercising
- Dependence on stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, sugar)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
It should be said that stress often interacts with physiological or lifestyle factors to amplify and prolong feelings of exhaustion. As such, when treating the cause of tiredness, it is important to break the cycle of fatigue from various angles.
Below, we’ll explore some of the causes of fatigue in more detail and suggest ways to regain balance and vigor in your life.
What Are Circadian Rhythms (and Why Do They Matter?)
Scientists have discovered that humans (and most animals) have automatic biological drives that occur in regular cycles. This is what is referred to as a circadian rhythm. At various points of the ‘cycle’, our physiology alters to signal that it is time to eat, sleep or wake up. Although these circular patterns appear to be based on biological drives, they can adapt to the local environment.
Light and dark are the main environmental cues that affect our circadian rhythm. As such, exploiting (or blocking out) natural light can help cement our daily routines. Because our circadian rhythms appear to be ‘regular’, it’s important to try and establish a routine to eating, sleeping, and waking, because this respects our bodies natural propensity to exist in regular and predictable ‘cycles.’
So, if someone tells you to tune into your circadian rhythm, this would involve committing to a consistent routine, limiting light disturbances during sleep, and maximizing exposure to sunlight during the daytime.
Why Do I Wake Up Feeling Tired?
It’s well-documented that sleeping for a long time can make us feel more tired. Why should this be? If you are waking up tired, it suggests that the quality of your sleep has not been adequate or that your circadian rhythm is not being respected. In fact, some of the things we try to help us sleep may drain our energy further.
Using electronic devices before bed interferes with the body’s ability to produce melatonin – a hormone responsible for sleep regulation. You may think that a late-night TV session is helping you drift off to sleep, but it’s more likely to be setting you up for a sleepless night.
When we wake up, many of us are tempted to hit the snooze button so we can enjoy ‘just five more minutes.’ The problem is, this usually leaves us feeling more tired than if we’d just got up in the first place. If we fall asleep again, we’ll start a new ‘sleep cycle’ which will get rudely interrupted very shortly after. This can leave us feeling as if we’ve had no sleep at all. When the alarm sounds, the best thing to do is stand up, open the curtains, and allow the natural light to flood your room.
Resisting the urge to snooze your alarm allows you to develop a consistent daily routine – which respects your body’s circadian rhythm. So, if you’re waking up feeling really tired, consider how regular your routine is, and whether you’re guilty of hitting the snooze button a little too often.
Feeling Tired All the Time
It’s normal to feel tired from time-to-time, especially after a late night or stressful event.
However, if the tiredness continues for a number of days, this suggests there is an underlying cause that should be tackled. Sometimes, in our busy lives, we fail to see what is right under our nose, so we may not always acknowledge feelings of extreme tiredness. Consider if you’ve been feeling or experiencing any of the following:
- You find it hard to get out of bed, even after a long sleep.
- Invitations are refused because you feel too tired to attend.
- You ‘drop off’ to sleep during the afternoon or early evening but awaken soon after.
- You feel that you ‘need’ caffeine or sugar throughout the whole day, in order to cope.
- You’ve been yawning frequently.
- Other people have mentioned that you look tired or under the weather.
- Your eyelids feel heavy.
- You’ve suddenly started wearing your glasses more frequently.
If you’ve experienced a number of these symptoms, then this suggests that tiredness is having an undesirable impact on your life. Thankfully, once you establish the cause of your tiredness, it should be possible to improve most, if not all, of these symptoms.
Signs of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or ME), is a rare and serious disorder that can make sufferers feel extremely exhausted. It is not a common disorder, but it is worth being aware of. The symptoms of this disorder are similar to regular fatigue but are significantly amplified. When the condition flares up, sufferers can become completely debilitated. People diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome describe it as a sort of malaise and weariness unlike one they’ve ever experienced before. Symptoms include:
- A hoarse voice
- Mental Fog
- Body and headaches
- Feeling extremely fatigued
Women aged 35 – 50, and teenagers are most at risk of developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Sufferers report that it starts as a ‘flu-like’ condition and slowly develops into chronic fatigue.
It’s estimated that approximately 17 million people suffer from this condition worldwide, and scientists are not sure of the exact cause. If you notice these symptoms in yourself, it’s advisable to consult a doctor for a medical evaluation.
Inconsistent Working Patterns
Everyone knows that working the night shift can make you feel very tired. However, working consistent night shifts can be less disruptive for the body than working daytime shifts that constantly change. This is because irregular shifts do not respect the body’s circadian rhythm.
As mentioned, the body craves regularity. Regular routine boosts our energy levels and makes us more productive. Studies in the field of Nursing found that nurses are less productive, wearier, and more likely to leave their job if they work irregular shifts.
Let’s assume a nurse works from 5 am to 2 pm on Monday, and 2 pm to 11 pm on Tuesday, and that this inconsistency persists on a regular basis. Their shifts straddle light and darkness, in both morning and evening, on two consecutive days. Their circadian rhythm is not being respected and this is likely to throw the body ‘out of whack.’
Another industry that is affected by inconsistent working patterns is the Airline industry. Pilots must work irregular shifts, but also cope with changing time zones. Jet lag from flights can cause extreme fatigue, so it is no surprise that pilots take lots of rest between shifts. Taking a long flight can leave you feeling exhausted for days.
Clearly, it is not always possible to avoid shift work. However, it is possible to practice good sleep hygiene to try and limit the effects of an irregular work pattern.
Excessive stress can negatively impact health in a number of ways. Stress is likely to disturb sleep quality by making it harder to relax, unwind, and drop off to sleep. Moreover, excessive stress is known to negatively impact our ability to concentrate and remain focused. This can prompt us to feel weary and unproductive during the day.
A study published by Science Direct found that melatonin, the hormone our bodies release to signal sleep, can dampen the effects of stress. This suggests that stress is not necessarily a life sentence for chronic fatigue!
However, we must manage stress and facilitate melatonin production to improve sleep quality. Briefly, melatonin production can be facilitated by excluding sources of light at bedtime and exploiting sources of natural light during the daytime.
We’ll discuss ways to manage stress and facilitate melatonin production in more detail below!
Exercise and Fatigue
Exercise – like many other things – is best done in moderation.
If your lifestyle is too sedentary, you risk becoming overweight, and you’ll forgo the opportunity to build physical strength, endurance, and flexibility. Indeed, a study published in NCBI found that inactive people are much more likely to develop fatigue than active people.
However, if you exercise too much and too close to bedtime, you risk becoming exhausted. It’s a balancing act that can be achieved by remembering to include variety in your exercise regime.
Recent studies have found that combining cardiovascular (i.e. running or swimming), strength (i.e. weight lifting) and flexibility (i.e. yoga or Pilates) training has the optimum impact on health and protects against exhaustion. Continually performing the same workout routine can be draining for your mind and body, so it’s good to shake things up.
Recent studies also suggest that engaging in a very high-intensity activity for short periods of time can give us the benefits of exercise, whilst boosting our energy levels and discouraging fatigue. Moreover, if you’re a regular exerciser it’s a good idea to take breaks to protect yourself from burnout.
A sports review published on Research Gate found that taking a week off exercise every couple of months protected athletes from becoming exhausted.
Are You Burning the Candle at Both Ends?
Successful careers, active social lives, happy families, savings and investments, and an array of hobbies and interests.
Today, more than ever, we are promised that we have ‘have it all.’ However, in the process of ‘getting it all’ many people are guilty of overworking. Some psychologists have argued that people with highly perfectionist Type A personalities are most at risk of overworking – whether this is in their careers or their personal lives.
Studies have shown that, when people ‘overwork’ in their personal lives (as opposed to their professional lives), they are less likely to see overworking as a cause of their fatigue. For example, someone who takes on the task of constantly entertaining their wide group of friends may not see this kind of ‘work’ as intrusive or tiring.
However, even positive activities such as socializing can become extremely tiring if you don’t allow enough time for yourself. Eastern philosophies state that our body naturally seeks out a state of ‘balance’ and that balance will afford us health, wellbeing, and energy.
Is Your Diet Making You Tired?
Diet certainly has an impact on our energy levels. It is not only what we eat, but when we eat it. In order to respect our circadian rhythm, it is important to eat three meals a day and to snack sensibly in between meals, if desired.
Breakfast is extremely important because it helps kick-start the body’s metabolism and provides us with an accessible form of energy. A healthy breakfast should ideally be made up of slow-release complex carbohydrates and protein. Skipping breakfast means your body has to fight harder to be productive and it increases your reliance on unhealthy stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and sugar.
The issue with these stimulants is that they cause you to ‘crash’ soon after consuming them. An important study published in the Nutrition Journal found that skipping breakfast and eating irregular meals made students feel tired, lazy, and unproductive.
A diet sparse in Iron (particularly if you’re female) could be making you tired. Iron is required for the production of hemoglobin. When hemoglobin levels are low, oxygen is not transported around the body effectively, which causes a heavy and lethargic feeling.
Although red meat is a good source of Iron, many nutritionists warn against consuming too much red meat. Iron can also be obtained from green vegetables, fortified bread, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Feeling Thirsty and Tired Constantly?
If you’re constantly thirsty and tired all the time, your first thought might be – am I Diabetic? Whilst these symptoms are indicative of Diabetes in a small number of cases, most cases of thirst and tiredness are not symptoms of a disease.
Rather, it’s likely that dehydration is directly causing feelings of tiredness and fatigue. Studies have shown that dehydration can cause reduced concentration, headaches, migraines, tiredness, and lethargy.
If you’re drinking plenty of fluids, but still feel thirsty, consider the types of fluid you are drinking. It’s best to drink plain water or herbal tea, wherever possible. Juices and shakes can contribute towards your overall fluid requirements but remember that these may also contain a lot of sugar. Moreover, if you’re drinking a lot of caffeine and exercising (particularly in the heat) you’ll need to up your water intake significantly.
Importantly, studies have shown that sipping water regularly throughout the day is much better than drinking a few large glasses of water before bed. If you ‘flood’ your body with too much water at once, it becomes difficult to process and can prevent nutrients from being absorbed effectively. Sipping water throughout the day improves concentration levels and helps support energy levels.
If you drink water too close to bedtime, you may find that you keep waking up to go to the toilet.
How to Stop Feeling Tired
Once you’ve determined the cause of your fatigue, you can set about treating it. It may not be practical to eliminate every cause of fatigue. However, there are steps you can take that will improve feelings of tiredness in most cases. These interventions are geared towards the following aims:
- Boosting Health and Well-being
- Respecting Circadian Rhythms
- Improving Sleep Hygiene
How to Sleep Better
‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the activities and habits we are involved in, in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Good sleep hygiene has two key characteristics. Firstly, ‘good’ sleep hygiene should allow us to exploit light and darkness effectively. Secondly, sleep hygiene can be considered ‘good’ if it is something we commit to consistently.
Many people give up after trying these sleep hygiene techniques for a few days. It’s important to remember that it can take at least a week before you begin to reap any of the energizing benefits.
- Pick a bedtime and try to stick to that time.
- Establish a therapeutic bedtime routine to signal to your body that it is time to relax. This might involve taking a warm bath, having a cup of herbal tea, or massaging with essential oils.
- Reserve the bedroom for sleep only. Do not watch TV, read, or play video games in the bedroom so your brain learns to associate the bedroom with sleep.
- Ideally, do not use electronics for at least 4 hours before bed. Many people cannot commit to this, so a good alternative is to put a ‘blue light’ filter on electronics. Blue light does not stimulate the brain as much as yellow light, so is less likely to interfere with the production of melatonin.
- During your daytime, try to get adequate exposure to natural light.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and comfortable. If you work night shifts, or if it’s not dark outside when you go to sleep, opt for a black-out sleep mask (and curtains or blinds.)
- Limit your caffeine intake after midday.
Psychologists say it takes 30 days to change a habit. However, if you commit to these bedtime habits, you’re likely to see results in less than 30 days. The aim is to build a routine that works in sync with your circadian rhythm so that your sleep/wake cycles become effortless and health-sustaining (rather than draining).
How to Wake Up with More Energy
In addition to improving sleep hygiene, you could consider introducing other strategies to reduce fatigue and wake up with more energy. Options include:
- Melatonin Supplements – Taking melatonin before bed can encourage sleep. These supplements may be particularly useful for night shift workers who may be less able to produce sufficient melatonin. However, they can leave users feeling groggy if their sleep is cut short.
- Rhodiola Supplements – Some studies have shown that these supplements can improve symptoms of fatigue, particularly in women.
- Essential Oils – Essential oils such as lavender are valued for their ‘sedative’ qualities, whereas oils such as peppermint are valued for their ‘stimulative’ properties. As such, essential oils can be used to support sleep as well as boost energy levels.
- Manage Stress – Given that stress is the number one psychological cause of fatigue it is important to manage stress effectively. This can be achieved through mindfulness meditation, yoga, journaling, socializing or creative pursuits.
- White Noise – Some studies suggest that white noise machines can aid sleep by desensitizing the body to external interruptions.
There’s nothing better than waking up with a clear head and a well-rested body. Remember, in order to wake up feeling refreshed, it’s important to try and resist that snooze button! Try to wake as soon as your alarm goes off and face the day with as much energy as you can muster. That feeling of ‘get-up-at-go’ need only be faked a few times before it comes reality.