We’ve all felt tired from time to time. It is common to hear people say they feel tired at some point during the day. However, tiredness has become one of the main enemies of our health since it is highly associated with lifestyle and symptoms of some conditions and diseases.
For example, in the United States, approximately 15.3% of women and 10.1% of men feel constantly tired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Feeling fatigued is perfectly normal, but when this feeling lasts all day, every day, it becomes a symptom of something else.
What is fatigue?
Also known as fatigue or asthenia (medical term), it is a state of physical and mental weakness and exhaustion known for lack of energy to perform daily activities. Tired people with asthenia have problems starting or maintaining any task (physical or mental).
In the same sense, fatigue is a symptom that shows a lack of energy, focus problems, headache, irritability, feeling down, sleepiness, and body weakness. Simply put, it is our body’s way of telling us that it needs rest or that there is a health problem.
How does fatigue appear?
How it occurs is directly related to the cause or factors influencing tiredness. Simply put, mental fatigue appears when you are exposed to constant worries, problems, and stress. In these cases, it is advisable to rest, get enough sleep and engage in fun activities to clear the mind.
On the other hand, physical fatigue is caused by conditions in which the body needs other components, such as vitamins, medications, or treatments that directly treat disease. An example would be fatigue due to heart disease, which disappears – or improves – as soon as the medication is started.
What does fatigue look like?
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Mind or body weakness.
- Feeling of chest heaviness.
- Lack of concentration and memory problems.
- Unexplained muscle or joint pain.
- Problem performing repetitive tasks.
What are the causes of being tired?
Undoubtedly many things influence our energy level, from habits and lifestyles to specific medical situations. It is not easy to specify the actual cause, but there is a simple way to classify them into two main groups: hormonal and non-hormonal causes, which makes it more convenient at the time of diagnosis.
Hormones are chemical substances produced by your body’s glands. They are bloodstream travelers responsible for controlling and regulating different body functions once they reach a tissue.
Therefore, many functions are affected when a hormonal imbalance occurs, resulting in different symptoms, including fatigue.
Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
The thyroid is an endocrine gland (makes hormones) found in the neck of women and men. It produces thyroid hormones in charge of keeping your bodily functions adequately, controlling everything from blood pressure to how your hair grows.
More specifically, this gland controls metabolism, from your heartbeat speed, burning calories, energy levels during the day, and body temperature, among others. Therefore, alterations in it produce body dysfunctions of all kinds.
The most common diseases impacting this gland are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. The first occurs when the thyroid is underactive and does not produce enough hormones; the second is when the thyroid overproduces hormones due to over-functioning. In short, there is no balance in the gland’s performance.
Although both conditions affect the metabolism differently, they share common symptoms, including fatigue and tiredness. An underactive and overactive thyroid can influence sleep quality and contribute to fatigue.
Alteration in the adrenal glands
These two glands are just above the kidneys. They release hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline (stress, survival, fight and flight hormones), which have essential bodily functions, some of them are transforming food into energy, maintaining normal blood pressure, and responding to stressful stimuli.
Thus, when there are problems in these regulatory hormones, symptoms such as unexplained fatigue and tiredness, concentration problems, and lack of memory may appear.
Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder involving elevated blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) caused by either a deficiency in insulin release by the pancreas, body cells unable to use insulin or both.
Glucose is the energy our body’s cells require to execute their functions. Under normal conditions, when we eat, the body extracts it from food and carries it to the cells with the help of insulin.
In people with diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the body cannot use it, or both situations occur. This circumstance leads to a glucose build-up in the blood that does not reach your body cells, so the body is deprived of the energy it needs to function, and physical and mental fatigue sets in.
These causes are usually quite frequent as they include certain habits and lifestyles. Among the most common are:
Not getting enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep is probably the most common cause of fatigue since it has been proven that 1 in 3 American adults sleep far less than the recommended eight hours per night.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to stay healthy.
When we sleep, our body performs multiple functions known as “renewal functions.” The brain process all the information received during the day and stores the learned in memory. The skin is regenerated, muscles and bones are repaired, the gut eliminates toxins early the next day (the reason you go to the toilet every morning), and hormones promoting metabolism and energy levels are released.
The opposite happens when we do not get enough sleep, have interrupted sleep, go to bed too late, or frequently change our sleep schedule. Hence, it is normal to feel sleepy and tired during the day when you get a poor night’s sleep.
Believe it or not, poor nutrition can cause recurrent tiredness. Some of the habits that have an impact on our daily energy level are:
- Drinking too much caffeine. Caffeine can remain for up to 6 hours in our body and speed up its metabolism.
- Drink too much alcohol. Did you know that alcohol interferes with your sleep? Caffeine directly influences the REM sleep phase, a deep state of sleep that promotes metabolism renewal.
- Eating “simple carbohydrates” such as processed and refined flour used in bakeries, pastries, and sugar produces glucose fluctuations.
- Junk food and sweets also impact your sleep. They are low in nutrients and high in fats and sugars, not providing you with the energy your body needs to function.
Not drinking enough water
Drinking little water or replacing it with soft drinks or juices increases blood sugar and leads to dehydration.
When the body is dehydrated, the blood becomes denser, taking longer to carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in fatigue and other symptoms such as muscle weakness and mental fog.
Spending too much time in front of the TV, not exercising, and living an utterly inactive life leads to fatigue, tiredness, and decreased energy levels.
We know you’ve heard it many times, but regular exercise helps balance hormones and metabolism driving better body function. It also releases endorphins, improves mood, promotes blood circulation, activates your whole body, and improves oxygenation and overall health.
Stress is one of the main factors causing fatigue or mental tiredness. Work, family, financial problems, worries, events, and periods of mourning can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion when they become day-to-day.
Anemia occurs when the blood cell count or hemoglobin concentration within red blood cells is lower than expected. Hemoglobin is necessary to provide the cells and tissues the oxygen they need, so when there is a hemoglobin deficiency, symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, weakness, and dizziness, among others, appear as a consequence of poor oxygen distribution.
This mental disorder absorbs people’s energy, motivation, and overall vitality. When suffering from depression, the person has less energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and feelings of hopelessness and negativity.
On the whole, there are many reasons why you may feel constant fatigue. Seeing a doctor can allow you to have any of the above medical conditions diagnosed in time and receive the appropriate treatment.
The following recommendations can help you feel better and less exhausted:
- Stick to a sleep schedule.
- Sleep at least 7 hours at night.
- Provide a suitable environment for sleep hygiene, such as a quiet room and less screen time at night.
- Exercise at least three times a week.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid caffeine after noon.
- Eat a balanced diet, free of processed sugars, bad fats, and soft drinks.
- Do recreational activities when you’re off and take advantage of relaxation techniques.
- Go for a medical check-up periodically.
- Consult your doctor if you have been experiencing tiredness or fatigue for no apparent reason.
Remember that it is not usual to feel tired unless your routine justifies it. Energy, vitality, and motivation are features that we should not lose, as they are part of a healthy and pleased life.