Why Am I So Tired?

Why Am I So Tired? Top 10 Reasons Why You’re Tired

There is nothing worse than feeling tired all the time.  Whether you find yourself falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon, no matter that you got to bed at a reasonable time the day before or you find yourself thinking through treacle, unable to formulate a coherent thought persistent tiredness can be a truly miserable experience.

However, in order to get to the root of what is causing the problem you need to work out what your symptoms are and what you mean when you say you feel tired.  Do you feel as though you have not had enough sleep (sleepy) of as though you just do not have any energy (fatigued).  Each of these symptoms may be down to different underlying causes and you might, of course, have both symptoms at the same time.  If you find that you are unduly exhausted after physical activity then you are likely to be looking at an underlying physical issue whereas if you find it hard to get motivated or are lacking the ability to concentrate then you may be looking at a mental issue.

10. You could be pregnant

If you're tired and you know it you're probably pregnant. Maybe.
If you’re tired and you know it you’re probably pregnant. Maybe.

Sudden onset excessive tiredness can be one of the most reliable early signs of pregnancy.  In the first trimester a woman’s body starts to work hard to produce more blood and make the uterus hospitable to the growing fetus, your metabolism will increase and with that the demands on your body.  In addition to this hard work the corpus luteum (the location on the ovary from where the egg was released) produces increasing amounts of progesterone which promotes drowsiness.  When you add in the potential for morning sickness it is no surprise that pregnancy can really take it out of you.

If you have taken a test and you know that you are pregnant then you can expect to suffer from this extreme tiredness up until week 12-14 of the pregnancy.  Once you enter the second trimester you will probably find your energy levels returning to normal.  This is usually the most pleasant phase of pregnancy and you can expect the tiredness to return as you approach the third trimester.

If you have not taken a pregnancy test but your symptoms of tiredness have come on suddenly it would make sense to take one (if you are female of course).  For some women (as many as 1 in 450) pregnancy symptoms do not show until the 20th week and they are completely unaware that they are pregnant.  If you are sexually active, even if you are taking contraception and have had menstrual bleeding, you should take a test to rule out pregnancy as a potential cause of your tiredness.

If you do receive a positive test result you should start taking pre-natal vitamins immediately in order to ensure that the fetus will be as healthy as possible.  You should also make an appointment with your OBGYN to discuss whether you wish to continue with or terminate the pregnancy.  If you do want to continue with the pregnancy you can manage the tiredness by taking breaks wherever possible during the day and getting to bed a little earlier to top up on your sleep.  You should also aim to eat as healthily as possible, a high protein diet with complex carbohydrates will help to provide you with the extra energy you need in the coming weeks.

9. You could be stressed

Stress and fatigue go hand-in-hand.
Stress and fatigue go hand-in-hand.

Have you noticed a creeping feeling of fatigue in your life?  If that is the case it is worth looking into potential changes that may have left you stressed.  Has something changed at work recently or are there potential home based issues that are contributing to a stressful situation?  If that is the case you could be looking at your fatigue being a physical manifestation of the stress you are feeling.

When faced with a stressful situation the mind and body are able to deal with them, at least initially, because of the support of adrenaline.  It takes a lot of resources to support this level of adrenal response, however, and if we remain in a high stress situation long term the body becomes exhausted and and we start to feel extreme fatigue.

While this fatigue can and does lead to extreme physical exhaustion and a need for excessive sleep (often allied with an inability to get to or remain asleep) it also results in a mental exhaustion that is, if anything, even more debilitating.  If you are suffering from stress related exhaustion you may find it almost impossible to get started on a new task and your reflexes and reactions to all sorts of situations may be slower than normal.  This is likely to cause a negative feedback loop where your inability to work properly causes you to feel even more stress.

Once you know that your tiredness is caused by stress you have already won a big part of the battle.  You can take steps to reduce stress and its influence on you – start exercising, eat more healthy foods and, wherever possible, reduce the stressors you are exposed to.

8. You could be reacting to prescription medication

Tired? You're probably all wacked out on Rx drugs
Tired? You’re probably all wacked out on Rx drugs

A change in prescription drug regimen may be responsible for causing fatigue and exhaustion.  Everyone knows that many pharmaceutical drugs come with the warning that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking a dose and these warnings are not just on the label to cover the drug company’s back in the event of rare reactions, they are there because it is a very real risk.

If you are taking antibiotics, statins, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, tranquilizers, proton pump inhibitors, antihistamines, antipsychotics or diuretics then reactions causing extreme fatigue are not unlikely.  Try to think back to when the symptoms of tiredness became most evident; does it correspond with the time that you started taking the medication?  Even if it doesn’t the medication may be exacerbating an underlying tendency to tiredness and you should speak to your doctor and ask her to look into alternative prescriptions for you.

7. You may not be eating enough

Try eating a huge burger. Hold on, that sounds like it will make me sleepy. What is this?
Try eating a huge burger. Hold on, that sounds like it will make me sleepy. What is this?

We all need food to give us the energy to get through the day.  The average woman needs to ingest about 2,000 calories and the average man 2,500 a day.  It is tempting for those who are overweight to think that restricting their daily calorie intake to a fraction of this average will lead to weight loss.  The truth is that sustained and successful weight loss can only come from a combination of exercise and portion control.  If you restrict your caloric intake to more than 500 calories below the average figure you will, quite simply, not have the energy to exercise.

Sadly there are a number of diets that play to this desire for a quick fix, the 5:2 Diet is just such an example, requiring followers to fast for 2 days out of every five.

While it is a good idea to cut out junk food such as calorie heavy but nutrient weak sodas and candies you should make sure that you eat a healthy diet including lots of complex carbohydrates, proteins and leafy vegetables.  A good diet will ensure not only that you get sufficient energy in the form of carbohydrates but that you also get enough vitamins and minerals, such as the important B vitamins that are responsible for boosting energy levels and iron which helps hemoglobin to transport oxygen around your body.

6. You may be anemic

If you're tired at work, you might be anemic.
If you’re tired at work, you might be anemic.

This point follows on very neatly from number 7 above.  If you do not have enough of certain vitamins and minerals then you may be susceptible to anemia.

Your blood is made up of a number of different types of cell, the most common of which is the doughnut shaped red blood cell.  This uses hemoglobin to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your internal organs to allow them to function.  Hemoglobin, in turn, relies on iron to function efficiently.  People who are anemic do not have enough healthy red blood cells to properly oxygenate their blood which can leave them feeling exhausted and run down as well as very tired.

While anemia is most common amongst women of childbearing years (due to the monthly blood loss that comes with menstruation) it can affect almost anyone.  To complicate matters, while a poor diet is a cause of anemia there are other causes and risk factors that may result in a person developing anemia even if they eat a healthy diet.

If your tiredness has come on slowly but surely and your nail beds, gums and pinks of the eyes are all pale then you may be suffering from anemia.  A quick trip to the doctor is essential, he will be able to run tests to confirm the diagnosis and help you identify the underlying cause.  Once you are receiving the right treatment to combat the anemia you should notice your energy levels returning to normal once more.

5. You may not be getting enough sleep

Maybe you're suffering during the day due to a lack of sex, I mean sleep.
Maybe you’re suffering during the day due to a lack of sex, I mean sleep.

Are you getting enough sleep?  We all know that toddlers and young children get cranky and unreasonable if they do not get a full night’s sleep so is it any wonder that adults will suffer ill effects if they do not get a reasonable amount of time in bed?

Of course there are some times when we expect to be suffering from a lack of sleep.  Parents with a new baby or a sick child, for example, will expect to have a broken night’s rest.  It is, however, vital that the burden of care is, wherever possible, split amongst more than one person to ensure that a sleep deficit does not build up.

The recommended amount of sleep for a normal adult is 8 hours a night.  Sadly many of us become acclimatized to existing on far less than that, whether it is because of shift work or long hours behind the desk or simply needing time that should be in bed to catch up with household chores or extra study.  Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to disrupted sleep patterns.  The demands of a growing body mean that they actually need more hours in bed than adults but often sacrifice this either to work (for income or school) or to party.

If you are getting less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night you may find that, over time, your ability to concentrate starts to suffer, you will become more irritable, more prone to illness as your immune system is unable to fight off bugs.  Try to work out how you can reschedule your day to ensure that you have more time to sleep.  It can be tempting to stay up late to watch your favorite program and unwind after a hard day at work but sleep is more important and you will feel better for it.  If your sleep is typically disturbed you may need to invest in ear plugs or black out blinds to make it easier for you to stay asleep.

If you are getting enough hours of sleep but still feel tired you may be getting poor quality sleep.  One of the most common causes of this is a condition known as sleep apnea.  This is a condition where your breathing during sleep is interrupted and you do not get enough oxygen to your system.  If you are a bad snorer you are likely suffering from sleep apnea but it is not necessarily a symptom.  If you are concerned that this may be the cause of your tiredness speak to your physician.  You may need to be assessed at a sleep center but your sleep can be improved through use of a sleeping mask which will help keep your airways open.

4. You may have thyroid problems

Have your thyroid inspected by a strange man with lady hands and a pink tie.
Tired? Have your thyroid inspected by a strange man with lady hands and a pink tie.

The Thyroid is a gland that is responsible for producing the hormones that regulate how our bodily cells and tissues function.  Tiredness and fatigue can be an early symptom of an underactive Thyroid.  It is often easily overlooked as the majority of suffers are women who may expect to be tired in any event from juggling the competing demands of caring for children and the home (even in this day and age most women remain the primary carers for their children) while holding down a job or career.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include pain in the joints, constipation, loss of appetite and sometimes an increase in body weight.  Women may notice changes in their menstrual cycles.  If left untreated it can lead to depression, confusion, hair loss and a weakness in the limbs.

If you are concerned that your tiredness may be connected to a thyroid problem you should approach your physician to ask for a blood test to confirm (or rule it out).  The condition is easily treated by taking artificial hormones once a day.  Once the treatment starts the symptoms typically disappear on their own.

3. You may have a food intolerance

You've been getting too much Vitamin G. Gluten.
You’ve been getting too much Vitamin G. Gluten.

Food intolerances are a bit of a modern fad.  Seemingly everywhere you look some celebrity is cutting out wheat or dairy and claiming that they feel better for it.  The truth is that while these diets are jumping on a bandwagon there is some truth behind them.  Most people are able to tolerate eating most foods but some people do have a level of sensibility to some foods.

The most common food intolerances seem to be related to a difficulty digesting dairy, gluten (in its severe form this becomes celiac disease), yeast, and corn.  If your body has some level of intolerance to a food it will have to work extra hard to digest it and will still not be able to glean all the potential nutrients from it.  This will leave you feeling bloated, sluggish and tired.  It is a vicious cycle, the food you eat for energy just ends up causing your fatigue.

If you think this may be a cause of your tiredness think about keeping a food diary to identify whether your symptoms are worse after particular meals.  If that is the case consider excluding a particular food such as wheat from your diet for one week and see whether your tiredness and general health improve.  You may want to speak to your Doctor and get her support and advice while doing this.

2. You may be developing diabetes

Maybe you're just coming down with a small case of diabetes.
Maybe you’re just coming down with a small case of diabetes.

Tiredness and fatigue are a common symptom of both Type I and Type II Diabetes.  If you are a diagnosed sufferer then you will be aware of it and know what to watch out for and how to deal with it.

If you have not been diagnosed as a diabetic extreme tiredness can be an early symptom that can lead to a diagnosis.  The reason diabetics feel extreme tiredness is due to the problems they have in regulating their blood sugar which in turn leads them to feel completely washed out.  Sadly Type II diabetes has become more prevalent in our society due to a poor diet and lack of exercise.  If your tiredness is accompanied by a feeling of thirst, an increased need to urinate and an increase in weight then you may be in the early stages of diabetes.  A doctor can confirm or exclude the diagnosis and advise you on the best way to manage your blood sugar.

1. You may have Mono or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 

Perhaps you have a made up disease like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Or Unicorn poisoning.
Perhaps you have a made up disease like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Or Unicorn poisoning.

Glandular Fever or Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus and is typically contracted through kissing, coughing and sneezing.  The disease typically presents in the same way as flu but as the disease progresses the glands of the neck start to swell making it very difficult to breathe or eat.  The disease itself clears up in a few weeks but the fatigue associated with it can last for several more months.  There is a belief amongst some people that they never truly recover from Mono but remain easily fatigued.  It is also thought that Mono can develop into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which is a sudden onset relapsing/remitting unexplained fatigue.

 

The reasons for excessive tiredness and fatigue can be hard to pin down.  To a certain extent we are all at risk from becoming tired due to the exigencies of everyday life or the choices we make.  If you are making the most of your youth by partying every night or you are the parent of a fussy newborn who just. won’t. sleep. then you can expect to feel tired and under the weather.  The type of grinding, never ending tiredness that leaves you wooly headed and unable to complete even the simplest of tasks is, however, something very different.   Whether it is a sudden onset fatigue or something that creeps up on you, barely noticed at first against the background stresses of everyday life it is something that you should take steps to address.

If you find that you are feeling more fatigued than circumstances warrant and your attempts to improve your sleep have not made any difference then you should consider speaking to your doctor.  Before you go try to keep a diary for a week or two detailing, for each day, the time you get up and the time you go to bed, the food you eat and the time you eat it.  For every hour you are awake note your level of tiredness 1-10, your dominant emotion and what you are doing.  This will help your doctor to narrow down the possible causes and give him a starting point from which to decide which tests to order.

Once your doctor is able to give you a diagnosis for the cause of your extreme tiredness he will be able to prescribe the appropriate medication to help alleviate the symptoms and potentially put you in touch with help groups that will be able to advise you on managing and living with the condition.

Good luck and we hope you feel better (and more rested) soon!