9 Surprising Reasons You're Tired All the Time
Last Updated: Mar 28, 2016
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Raise your hand if you’ve felt tired in the past week. It’s safe to assume that approximately 100 percent of us have our hands up. Feeling tired occasionally is not unusual. We’ve all experienced it -- following a long day at work, during stressful times, after staying up too late. What is unusual, though, is when the feeling never subsides, when it seems as if you’re always sleepy or exhausted. But there’s no reason to continue feeling so drained. If fatigue is interfering with your daily activities and preventing you from fully enjoying life, it’s time to find a solution. Start by taking a look at some possible reasons you might be feeling so tired all the time and what you can do to finally get your energy back.
A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE
Sitting at a desk all day (and night) might make you stir-crazy, but it’s not helping your energy levels. “Inactivity not only zaps your energy level, but also hinders your desire to want to be active,” says Scott Weiss, physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist at Bodhizone Physical Therapy and Wellness in New York. To avoid this inactivity trap altogether, it’s important to maintain some activity, even while recovering from an injury. And especially if you’re not injured, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor health and must be corrected through proper diet and exercise, Weiss says. “It can often be a test of will to force yourself out of your own tired rut and into a healthy exercise schedule,” he says, “but the good news is that after a week or so of regular exercise, the body should begin to feel more vigorous and re-energized.”
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Here’s quick biology-class refresher: Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues. When the number of red blood cells drops too low, or if they don’t have enough hemoglobin, you develop anemia. It’s a pretty common blood disorder that affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population (and three million Americans), says the American Society of Hematology. Some of the most common causes are poor diet, certain infections, chronic diseases and intestinal disorders. The lack of oxygen leads to a fatigue, which is the main symptom of anemia, says exercise physiologist Scott Weiss. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches. Fortunately, anemia can easily be detected with a simple blood test. Though the treatment depends on the cause, many cases can be corrected with a healthy diet or dietary supplements.
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In today’s busy world, with its endless demands and distractions, sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice. But adults need at least seven to eight hours each night, says Nishay Chitkara, M.D., assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. He recommends focusing on a basic set of habits to enhance good sleep. Begin with a consistent sleep schedule -- even on weekends and days off. Carl W. Bazil, M.D., director of the sleep disorder center at Columbia University Medical Center, agrees. “Sleeping later on weekends can lead to ‘social jet lag’ -- the equivalent of changing time zones every weekend -- which can clearly leave you tired.” Both doctors recommend turning off electronics in the evening. Also, steer clear of caffeine and nicotine before bedtime, avoid daytime naps and don’t exercise too late in the day.
Learn more about Dr. Chitkara’s research at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Your sleep problems might be more than a crazy schedule, though. Sleep apnea disrupts a sleeper’s breathing for seconds to minutes at a time. While these events don’t usually bring on a full awakening, they do disrupt slumber, affecting sleep quality and causing excessive daytime sleepiness. You'll need a sleep study. And if apnea is confirmed, the doctor will typically prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device, which uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open and allows the sleeper to breathe properly, says Frank Farrelly, principal dentist and owner of Darlinghurst Dental in New South Wales, Australia. Research also shows that a mandibular advancement splint, a simple dental appliance worn nightly, might be an option for some apnea sufferers. “So while a CPAP device is the better treatment,” Farrelly says, “for those who cannot or will not wear a CPAP device, a mandibular advancement splint offers some benefit.”
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The sad truth about depression is that there’s a good chance you or someone you love has experienced it. It affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide and touches nearly every aspect of life. Symptoms include unrelenting sadness, low energy or lethargy as well as sleep symptoms, such as insomnia, says Arthur N. Falk, M.D., sleep specialist at the Face and Skin Center in Albany and Saratoga, New York. Changes in your sleep pattern -- like periods of wakefulness throughout the night, decreased deep sleep and earlier-occurring REM sleep -- are hallmarks of depression, he says. Of course, most people feel sad or tired or can’t sleep at some point, but with depression, these feelings usual persist at least two weeks). The good news is that, once diagnosed, depression can be treated with a combination of talk therapy and medication.
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LOW BLOOD SUGAR
Your constant exhaustion might boil down to an issue with your blood sugar. If you’re also experiencing other symptoms like shakiness, confusion and anxiety, you might have hypoglycemia, a condition in which your blood glucose level is extremely low, says exercise physiologist Scott Weiss. Our bodies need glucose for energy, so when it’s in short supply, you might see symptoms like irritability, nervousness and, above all else, fatigue, Weiss says. If you’re diabetic, hypoglycemia could be a side effect of your diabetes medication, which your doctor might need to adjust or change. If you're not diabetic, hypoglycemia can arise as a result of certain medicines or other conditions. If you suspect you have hypoglycemia, have your doctor run lab tests to determine the cause. The treatment will depend on what is causing your hypoglycemia.
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You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your thyroid. Because, unless it’s not working the way it should, there’s really no reason to notice it. Your thyroid produces a particular hormone that controls the way the body uses energy. If your thyroid can’t produce enough of this hormone, you have hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. This causes normal body processes to slow down, bringing on symptoms like weight gain, dry skin, an increased sensitivity to cold and, of course, feeling tired. It can be causes by an autoimmune disease, surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid or radiation treatment. A doctor can have your blood tested to measure your hormones. If you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you’ll be given thyroid hormone replacement to try to reverse the symptoms, including the daytime sleepiness and fatigue, Dr. Arthur N. Falk says.
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PERIODIC LIMB MOVEMENTS IN SLEEP
Even if you’re logging sufficient hours in bed, your sleep might still be the culprit. Periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS) can disrupt your rest and leave you feeling tired. PLMS sufferers experience involuntary, repetitive movements, typically in the lower limbs, that occur every 20 to 40 seconds. The movements could be flexing, jerking movements or brief muscle twitches and can last anywhere from minutes to hours. Some people with PLMS may also experience restless legs syndrome -- an uncomfortable sensation in the calves or thighs. The exact cause of PLMS is still unknown, but it can occasionally indicate a serious medical condition. While some medications can be effective in managing PLMS, treatment is really only necessary if the condition results in insomnia, daytime fatigue or is accompanied by restless legs.
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CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME OR FIBROMYALGIA
Just like the name implies, chronic fatigue syndrome just might be the source of your constant exhaustion, says sleep specialist Dr. Arthur N. Falk. Or it could be fibromyalgia. The two conditions produce similar symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, chronic pain, insomnia and impaired memory or concentration. With CFS, fatigue is the dominant symptom, and with fibromyalgia, pain is the most prevalent. Because no lab tests exist for either condition, your doctor will try to rule out other causes of your fatigue first. There is no cure for either condition, so the treatment for both is complicated and multidimensional, says Dr. Falk. The aim is to find a combination of therapies that address the most debilitating symptoms.
Learn more about Dr. Falk’s work at the Face and Skin Center.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you feel tired all the time? Have you discovered the reason why? What have you learned about managing or solving the problem? Has anything you’ve done helped? What are some tips you’ve learned from either self-treating or getting help from your doctor? Do you have any suggestions for others who might always feel tired? Share your thoughts with the LIVESTRONG.COM community in the comments below!
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