Fatigue: Why Am I So Tired?

We all get that drained feeling every once in awhile. Usually, we can pinpoint the cause -- perhaps a restless night's sleep, a hard day's work, or a long drive through uninteresting country. Most people can perk up with a little well-deserved rest. But if fatigue is following you throughout your day, you need to find out what's going on with your energy supply.

Here's a look at ways to overcome common causes of fatigue.

  • Don't skimp on bed time. If you're like most people, you'll need at least seven solid hours of sleep each night to fully recharge your battery. If you aren't giving yourself enough rest, you shouldn't be surprised if you drag through the day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends scheduling at least eight hours in bed every night.
  • Overcome insomnia. Some people have trouble getting enough sleep no matter how much time they spend in bed. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to overcome insomnia. Try getting more exercise during the day. You should also go easy on caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol in the hours before bedtime. (A little alcohol can be relaxing, but too much can throw off your sleep cycle and make it hard to reach a deep, restful sleep.) It's important to not spend too much time lying awake in bed. If you can't sleep after a half hour or so, get up and do something quiet -- such as reading a book or watching TV -- until you're sleepy. If these steps don't get you the sleep you need, you may have to talk to your doctor about a prescription sleep medication.
  • Get help for apnea. Sleep apnea is a common cause of fatigue. People with sleep apnea are usually apt to snore, often loudly. Many times throughout the night, perhaps even hundreds of times, they stop breathing for seconds or even over a minute before finally gasping for air. Not surprisingly, apnea really puts the brakes on a good night's sleep.

Most people with sleep apnea are overweight. Often, losing weight will open up the airways and restore sleep. Simply sleeping on your side might help, too. For serious cases, a doctor may recommend a mask that delivers air throughout the night. It can be a little uncomfortable at first, but it can do wonders for sleep during the night and energy during the day.

  • Check your medications. Fatigue and drowsiness can be side effects of many medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, and beta blockers. Ask your doctor if any of your medications could be causing your tiredness. In many cases, a simple switch could make a big difference.
  • Get your iron up. Anemia -- a shortage of iron in the blood -- is another common cause of fatigue. If you're tired for no apparent reason, you might want to get your iron levels checked. Other symptoms of anemia include weakness, fatigue, and dizziness.

Your doctor can help you come up with a plan to get your iron levels back in line. Depending on the source of your anemia, you may need to take iron supplements. Too much iron can be dangerous, so it's best to talk to your doctor to figure out the dose that will work for you. If your anemia is caused by an underlying medical problem such as bleeding ulcers, you'll obviously have to that fixed.

  • Don't take depression lying down. A lack of energy can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of depression. To get back your drive, you'll have to get help. A combination of exercise, counseling and/or antidepressant medications can very likely help lift the cloud and get you back to action.
  • Fine-tune your thyroid. Your thyroid is like the thermostat for your entire body. If it's turned down too low, you'll feel tired and sluggish. You might also notice unusual weight gain, a slowing heart rate. Oddly, you can also feel run-down if your thyroid is overactive. Weight loss and sweating are other possible signs. Fortunately, both under-active or overactive thyroids respond well to medication. Sometimes, it takes radiation or surgery to really slow down an overactive gland.
  • Get checked for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). If fatigue is keeping you from your normal routine, and if it's been going on for at least six months for no apparent reason, you could have a case of chronic fatigue syndrome. This syndrome has no known cause -- although researchers have found that dysfunctional signalling in the cells of people who have it, which may impede cell activity -- and there is no consensus on the best way to treat it. However, a general approach to good health -- regular exercise, a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes, going easy on alcohol and caffeine -- can definitely help you find new energy.

References

Teilah Kathryn Huth, Donald Staines, Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik. ERK1/2, MEK1/2 and p38 downstream signalling molecules impaired in natural killer cells in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients. Journal of Translational Medicine, 2016; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12967-016-0859-z

Mayo clinic. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/DS00395

National Sleep Foundation. Fatigue and excessive sleepiness. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/excessive-sleepiness-and-sleep

Anne Simons, MD, Bobbie Hasselbring, Michael Castleman. Before You Call the Doctor. Fawcett Columbine New York.

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