It’s perfectly normal to have days when you’re flagging – but if you’re feeling permanently exhausted and suffering from tiredness all the time, it might be time to see your GP.
While most of us have days when we want to crawl back to bed, nobody wants to live with prolonged tiredness which leaves you feeling shattered and overwhelmed. For many of us, though, feeling below par is a daily occurrence – research suggests that the average Briton spends 3 hours a day feeling drained and low on energy, and 43% of us feel tired from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. Fatigue can be a symptom of hundreds of different illnesses and conditions – both physical and psychological. So what might be wrong – and when should you worry?
Audit your tiredness
It is perfectly normal to wake up some mornings feeling groggy, and to have to rely on a strong cup of coffee (or two) to prop yourself up. And if you’ve been under a lot of pressure, or sleeping badly, daytime sleepiness is to be expected. If you’re concerned about longer-lasting fatigue, it’s a good idea to take a little time to think through any possible reasons why you might be unusually tired. Then take steps to address these possible triggers.
Are you sleeping badly?
Too little sleep (or poor quality sleep) is an obvious cause of tiredness. We should be aiming for 7-8 hours a night of good quality shuteye, and if you wake often during the night, then this may well be the culprit of daytime exhaustion. But, getting too much sleep can also be an issue. “Oversleeping can also cause fatigue – so-called ‘sleep inertia’,” says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. “Set an alarm and keep your curtains open slightly to allow some light in as the sun rises – nature’s alarm clock.”
Are you anxious?
Are you under a lot of stress? You might not even realise the extent to which low level stress could be depleting your energy levels and jeopardising good sleep. In fact, many mental health issues including anxiety, depression and low mood are strongly implicated in fatigue. Levels of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood, are lower in people with anxiety and mood disorders, all contributing to feelings of tiredness.
Analyse your lifestyle
Is your diet healthy? Are you skipping meals? Grabbing junk food? Drinking too much? Alcohol is a natural sedative and can interrupt sleep. Poor eating habits and diets high in processed foods may lead to low levels of vitamins and minerals like iron, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iodine and selenium, which can impact our energy levels.
Are you active?
No matter how tired you are, exercise of some sort – even if it’s just moving around more – can help. “The main reason why inactivity makes us tired is because our muscles become under-utilised and our energy stagnates,” explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. “The best thing to do is to avoid sitting and staring at screens for too long and move around regularly, even for just a few minutes.” Regular exercise prevents energy flagging. One study found that energy levels increased by 20% and reported fatigue decreased by 65% when people took part in regular low-intensity exercise.
Are your hormones to blame?
Your monthly menstrual cycle can impact tiredness levels due to fluctuating hormone levels. Women in midlife experience falling levels of oestrogen and decreased bone and muscle strength, which means energy levels plummet. Men aren’t immune to hormonal changes, with levels of testosterone falling from their forties onwards. Exercise can help manage this tiredness, and combat loss in muscle mass that often comes with hormonal changes in middle age.
When it’s time to see your doctor about tiredness
If improving your sleep and lifestyle do not improve feelings of fatigue, it’s time to ask your GP’s advice. Prolonged tiredness which leaves you feeling under-par, shattered and overwhelmed day after day could be a sign of an underlying health issue. While many of us feel wiped out from time to time, fatigue that has slipped into the fabric of your life, leaving you completely depleted, that has been going on for weeks, and is affecting your health and safety, is a red flag. It is not normal or right to feel ‘tired all the time’. This level of fatigue can be triggered by a very wide range of conditions such as; undiagnosed diabetes, infection, anaemia, sleep apnoea (a form of snoring), underactive thyroid gland, drug side-effects (check the small print on your medication), menopause in women and dropping testosterone levels in men. A few questions from an expert and a simple blood test will quickly reveal if your tiredness has an underlying cause which can be treated or addressed.
To help you avoid feeling tired during the day, check out our tips on how to improve your sleep quality.
As a Vitality member, you could get 30% off an annual subscription with Headspace. Plus, earn Vitality points from other mindfulness apps. Available with eligible health insurance, life insurance and investments plans. Log in to Member Zone for the details.