Do you find that daily life is a constant struggle because of a lack of energy? Do you always seem to feel tired, perhaps much more than you used to in the past?
The temptation is to blame a lack of sleep when you feel tired all the time. However, it’s not always a simple lack of sleep that leads to this level of exhaustion, with many possible reasons that could lie behind your low energy levels.
So it’s important to work out whether your fatigue is caused purely by a lack of sleep, or if something else is behind it.
In this article, I’ll be looking at 12 possible explanations, which might help you work out the cause and hopefully do something about it. Please note that many of these require a medical diagnosis rather than self-diagnosis, as well as medical treatment to manage.
I ran a poll to find out what readers of this article suspect could be behind their tiredness. The results are shown in the chart below:
1) Not getting enough restorative sleep
The word restorative is important because there’s a difference between just being in bed and getting some sleep, and having enough good quality sleep.
There are many different kinds of sleep disorders – more than 80 in fact. Sometimes you might feel that you’re sleeping for long enough, but actually your sleep might be more disrupted or of poorer quality than you think it is.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder which can leave you feeling constantly tired. If you snore regularly, or if you or your partner notice any breathing difficulties at all during your sleep, you should ask your doctor about it.
And it could be that like many adults in the busy modern world, you just don’t allow yourself enough time to sleep. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night, but many try to survive on much less.
Depression not only affects your emotional state, but can have a significant impact on your physical state. Some symptoms of depression include loss of appetite, headaches, muscular pains and fatigue.
The loss of appetite can then again contribute to further problems with a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time.
Moreover, depression often goes hand in hand with stress, anxiety and worrying. These can all be major factors in not falling asleep at night.
Being able to switch off your mind is important for falling asleep. So if you do have difficulty turning off your thoughts at night, you may find it useful to try some relaxation exercises for sleep.
3) Heart disease
Your heart is the engine driving your body. If it’s not in top condition, then you’re likely to feel much more tired than usual when doing everyday tasks.
If you’re finding it a struggle to do simple tasks like walking up and down stairs, doing housework or shopping then it could be a sign that your heart is struggling.
If this sounds familiar, it’s very important to speak to your doctor to have a check up and ensure that all is well with your heart.
If the heart is the engine driving your body, then sugar is one of the main fuel sources. Diabetics have a problem with the body keeping the sugar in the bloodstream instead of being converted into energy in the body’s cells.
This can then result in extreme fatigue when the body has no energy left to function. If you feel perpetually tired, ask your doctor to perform a simple blood test to discover if you have diabetes.
Diabetes can be controlled, but it’s important to catch it as early as possible to hold off the more long-term damage it can cause the body.
5) Underactive thyroid
The thyroid is a gland in your neck which is responsible for your metabolism. This is the speed at which you convert food and liquid into energy for the body.
If it’s underactive, then your metabolism will be considerably slower. The result of this is that you may feel tired, along with other possible effects such as weight gain.
You can have this tested by a doctor and, like diabetes, it can be managed with medication.
6) Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – or Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME)
If your tiredness continues for many months it may be that you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, sometimes known as Myalgic Encephalopathy. CFS or ME for short.
The principle symptom of this is extreme fatigue which remains an issue and has no other identified cause. It’s not so easy to treat, and relies heavily on the patient taking action to alter their daily routines and lifestyles.
Unfortunately, this is something which people have trouble motivating themselves to do because they lack energy and motivation – a vicious circle that can be hard to beat.
For more information about this, you can visit the excellent UK site of the ME Association.
7) Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections are commonly associated with pain, such as a burning sensation, and a more regular need to urinate.
However, sometimes these symptoms aren’t present, and instead the only clue is feeling unusually tired. A doctor will normally treat this with antibiotics and the tiredness should dissipate soon after.
8) Food intolerance
Many people have an intolerance to certain types of food. How many more people these days are discovering that they can’t eat or drink dairy products for example?
If you have an intolerance to certain foods, the result of eating them can be excessive tiredness afterwards. You can ask a doctor to help you identify which you may need to to cut out of your diet.
You could also experiment to work out what food types are causing you to feel tired after eating them. Try cutting out specific food types a few days at a time and see if you notice the difference.
As long as you keep a sensible and balanced diet while doing this, there should be no harm in experimenting.
9) Poor diet
There are 2 main issues here which you could experience:
- Simply not eating enough. You could be on a diet, experiencing a lack of appetite, too busy to monitor your diet, away from home, traveling, feeling bad about your image, or simply struggling to pay for the ever-increasing weekly shop. There are many reasons why people sometimes don’t eat properly. But it’s essential to keep your body and mind happily fueled to see you through your days. Don’t skimp on the meals.
- Your choice of food can also play an important part in your energy levels. It’s important to try to keep a balanced energy intake throughout the day. So for example, eating healthy low-GI breakfasts instead of high sugar cereal. Avoid sweets and cakes in the afternoon, and instead try to eat more fruit, nuts or yogurt to avoid a sugar crash in the afternoon.
And there are some food types which are great for boosting energy levels, and keeping your body stocked with all the vital vitamins and minerals it needs, for example:
- Green leafy vegetables – great for energy boosting vitamins and minerals.
- Vitamin B12 – found mainly in animal products, but also nuts and soya. Lack of B12 can also lead to fatigue.
- Folic acid – again found in leafy greens, but also eggs can increase energy levels.
- Potassium – a good source is bananas.
- Make sure you have a good mix of vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses in your diet generally and you’ll be on the right track.
Anemia can lead to a lack of energy because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. Anemics have less red blood cells in the body, meaning less oxygen gets transported around the body to keep their organs, muscles and tissues functioning at maximum potential.
Anemia can be diagnosed by a doctor, and treatment will depend on the exact cause. For many people the cause is iron deficiency, which can be dealt with by taking supplements or eating foods rich in iron, such as meat or leafy green vegetables
11) Too much exercise
A common piece of advice for people struggling with low energy is to make sure they try to do exercise regularly because it can help boost energy levels.
If you try to do 30-40 minutes exercise 4 times a week, then after a few months you should see a considerable boost to your overall energy levels.
It seems odd that by expending more energy, you will get more energy overall, but it really does work.
Some people, however, end up at the other end of the spectrum and exhaust themselves with too much exercise. Over-training can be a problem for people doing extreme amounts of exercise, particularly exercises like weight training or long-distance sports.
So if you’re training a lot, it’s important to make sure you give yourself rest days and keep to a very healthy diet.
12) Lack of water
Around 60% of your body is made up of water, so you need to constantly keep it topped up. Not drinking enough water during the day can lead to headaches, muscular problems, concentration, memory problems, and fatigue.
Everyone is different, and working out how much water you need depends on many factors. But the average recommended amount for a man is around 3 liters per day, and a woman just over 2 liters. Have a look at the Mayo Clinic’s guidance on water consumption for more information about this.
Are you suffering from chronic tiredness? What do you think might be causing it? And if you have ways of coping which you feel might help other readers too, it would be great to hear from you.