Why Am I So Tired? 9 Surprising Causes
It’s no surprise: among feeling overwhelmed at work, round-the-clock stress, and news headlines that keep the concept of ‘doom-scrolling’ relevant, everyone’s asking: Why am I so tired all the time? Sure, the answer(s) might seem like a mystery, but when we start to take stock of our social media use, sleep habits, and other underlying factors, it becomes obvious that many of us aren’t prioritizing the restorative routines that keep us feeling well. The result? Throughout our day-to-day, we’re operating on empty.
In countless conversations with friends, co-workers, and family, I’ve noticed lately that when I ask how they’re doing, 75% of the time, their response is either tired, exhausted, or simply—beat. It’s almost as though being worn out is just another part of our busy, modern-day lives that we’re somehow supposed to get used to.
Featured image by Riley Blanks Reed.
11 Reasons You’re Tired All the Time
When our bodies and minds are in sync and healthy, we should feel amazing and energized even when our schedules are full. However, as most of us know, that’s easier said than done, and there are several reasons why you may be feeling mysteriously tired. Or… perhaps it’s not so much a mystery. In fact, if we consider underlying health conditions, our sleep habits, sleep schedule, and other lifestyle factors, the reasons for our daytime sleepiness become all the more apparent.
Ahead, we’re diving into some of the most common symptoms and causes behind why you’re feeling so tired. Scroll on to discover the lifestyle interventions that will help you rediscover the energy you need to feel your very best. Good sleep hygiene—and the answers to your workday irritability—awaits.
Dehydration is one of the most common, but oftentimes overlooked, causes of fatigue. Even slight dehydration has been shown to cause moodiness and fatigue in women. Other signs can include headaches and inability to concentrate.
But take heart, it’s an easy fix! Just drink more fluid throughout the day! Women should consume, on average, 2.7 liters of fluids (or about 11.5 cups) a day. (Even more, if it’s hot outside or you’ve been exercising.) I try to keep a big bottle of water on my desk while I’m working or in the car when I’m driving, so I can continuously sip throughout the day. Bonus: you can also up your hydration through your diet. Discover the best hydrating foods, in case you’re tired of the 8-glasses-a-day age.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Before you roll your eyes at how obvious this one is, think about it: are you really getting seven to eight hours every night? Because that’s the amount the National Sleep Foundation recommends most people need. Well actually, that’s the suggestion for people over age 64—they advise seven to nine hours for people between the ages 18 to 64. And if you’re not getting that much, then it’s probably the main cause of your fatigue.
Make an effort to get to bed earlier, and stick to a regular nighttime routine that encourages a restful night’s sleep.
Over the past few years, more and more research is coming out about alcohol’s effects on women’s bodies and minds. But among the impacts on mood, physical wellness, and mental health, it’s understood that alcohol has a negative effect on our sleep.
There’s a longstanding misconception that alcohol is a sleep aid. And while it can make us feel groggy, it disrupts the quality of our sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed causes us to miss out on crucial REM sleep (the most restorative state of sleep). As our contributing editor, Lauren Zielinski, wrote previously, “As the night goes on, there becomes an imbalance between slow wave or N-REM sleep and REM sleep resulting in shorter sleep duration and more sleep disruptions.”
So if you’re ready to ditch the feelings of tiredness throughout the day, consider swapping in a mocktail, sparkling water, or an after-dinner tea in place of your go-to glass of wine. Trust, this simple lifestyle switch can do wonders.
Like alcohol, caffeine can impact how well we sleep at night. When we explored the topic of the optimal time to drink coffee, experts agreed that, in general, 9:30 a.m. is ideal. But of course, health isn’t one-size-fits-all. And because of that, it’s important to be in touch with the messages your body is sending you. If your daily cuppa is a non-negotiable, focus on developing a healthy caffeine routine by journaling about how the stimulant affects your energy and mood throughout the day—not to mention your sleep patterns.
As nutritionist Serena Poon shared with us, “Caffeine has a half-life of about five hours and its effects may be felt for up to 9.5 hours, so you would want to drink coffee at least five hours before you go to sleep. I usually recommend that my clients get their coffee in before 10 a.m.” So, to improve sleep, keep your anxiety at bay, and reap the benefits of drinking coffee in moderation, tune in with yourself to develop your own personal, healthy relationship with coffee.
Sometimes people think they’re getting a good night’s sleep, but if you suffer from sleep apnea, you experience short bursts of wakefulness through the night caused by brief interruptions in your breathing. It’s also not a condition that should be taken lightly. The Mayo Clinic states that sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder because your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea. Since people often aren’t even aware that they have it, a doctor may order a sleep test to diagnose.
Not Fueling Your Body With the Right Food
Eating too little is an obvious issue, but eating the wrong foods can also be a major drain on your energy levels. Data shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat, and more sugar throughout the day is linked to lighter, less restorative sleep. In one study, researchers tracked diet and sleep for a group of healthy adults over the course of five nights and found that indeed, food choices during the day affected sleep.
Including protein (eggs, fish, meat, lentils), healthy fats (avocado, nuts), and good-for-you-carbs (fruit, slower processed grains like quinoa and oats) will give you long-burning energy. Simple carbs and sugar will make you crash and burn. It’s important as well, to keep your blood sugar levels balanced with a diet that prioritizes glucose management. What’s more, you want to ensure that you’re fueling your body with the calories it needs. (Keep that metabolism revving!) Chat with you doctor to discuss a plan that support you best.
In particular, iron deficiency anemia is one of the common reasons for fatigue in women and is more common during pregnancy. While initially, it can be so mild it often goes unnoticed, once the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify. Some of these symptoms include extreme fatigue, weakness, headaches/dizziness, cold hands and feet, and more. See your doctor for some blood tests on your iron levels then take a high-quality supplement, and incorporate iron-rich foods into your diet.
Not Getting Enough Exercise
It may seem counterintuitive, but anyone who regularly works out will tell you that breaking a sweat actually gives you more energy throughout the day. And The Mayo Clinic backs it up: “Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.” It just makes sense—when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.
I try to get my heart rate up every morning, and even better if it’s outside. (Sunshine is one of the most effective natural energizers!) On days when I skip my AM workout, I definitely feel more sluggish by the time the afternoon hits.
Your thyroid controls how fast or slow your body converts fuel into energy, and hypothyroidism (a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones) means that it’s under-active which can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease. Fatigue is also a side effect of this condition. Head to the doctor for a blood test if you think you may need to get your thyroid checked.
Food Allergies or Sensitivities
If you have an undiagnosed food allergy or sensitivity or suffer from environmental allergies, you could be in a cycle of inflammation and fatigue also known as brain fog. Allergist and immunologist Mark Aronica, MD told Cleveland Clinic that this disconnected feeling is fatigue, and it’s caused by the inflammation that results when your body tries to counteract your allergy symptoms. Try eliminating certain foods to test your intolerance levels and see if your fatigue improves. (A simple elimination diet is a good start.) You can also see a functional medicine doctor who can run a full spectrum of tests to help you pinpoint any sensitivities.
Many people don’t realize that depression has physical symptoms as well as emotional ones. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, such as consistently experiencing low mood, exhaustion, a loss of appetite, or headaches, consider seeing a doctor or speaking with someone who can help. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service. Call: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
This post was originally published on July 26, 2016, and has since been updated.