It seems like the disease of modern life: more and more of us complain of feeling tired all the time, week after week. Exhaustion takes a physical and emotional toll on all of us.
A National Sleep Foundation study found 60% of adults had driven while drowsy in the prior year and more than one-third had actually fallen asleep at the wheel! Studies tie sleep deprivation to a higher incidence of car accidents, obesity, diabetes and heat problems, and psychiatric conditions.
If you're consistently tired for more than a couple of weeks it's time to take action. You owe it to yourself to learn what is causing your fatigue. Here's a starting list of potential causes for you to check out.
Lack of Sleep
Well, this one seems pretty obvious doesn't it? We all know that if we don't sleep enough we'll be tired. But what is “enough”?
Individual sleep requirements vary, but most of us need between 7 and 8 hours sleep per day. The first and easiest step on your path to more energy is to make sure you consistently get between 7 and 9 hours sleep every night.
Be sure to give this plan at least two or three weeks before you decide if your new sleep quota is working. If you've deprived yourself of z's for a while you've built up what's known as a "sleep debt" that can take a few weeks to clear.
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts your sleep without you even knowing it's happening. With sleep apnea, your breathing gets shallow or pauses completely multiple times throughout the night. These episodes can happen tens of times per hour all night, hurting the quality of your night's sleep and leaving your exhausted the next morning.
Untreated sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure and diabetes. Stroke and heart disease are concerns as well -- some sources point to an increased likelihood of heart failure, though the studies are still evolving..
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include
Sleep apnea is more likely if you are over forty, have a large neck, or are overweight. It is diagnosed with a sleep study, where your breathing patterns, air flow, and brain activity may be monitored. My husband's sleep study diagnosed his sleep apnea within a few hours' sleep.
If diagnosed with sleep apnea you will probably be fitted with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to help keep your airway open while sleeping. Expect to start feeling better within a matter of days. Complete energy recovery is usually a matter of just a few weeks (you'll be clearing out your sleep debt during this time).
Few people realize how closely dehydration ties to fatigue. According to this article at WebMD dehydration thickens the blood. This then forces the heart to pump harder to move your blood, resulting in fatigue.
A side note to remember if you travel: airplane air is quite dry - it's worth making an extra effort to hydrate before and during flights. I used to fly almost 100,000 miles per year – I learned that my water intake when traveling made a huge difference in my energy level once I arrived.
Hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid) will slow your metabolism and leave you feeling drained. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, and having trouble concentrating. Hypothyroidism can occur at any age – I was barely 40 when diagnosed with hypothyroidism – but is most often seen in women over fifty.
Your thyroid levels are easily checked with a blood test. If diagnosed you will be prescribed a pill containing synthetic hormone to replace the gap.
Unlike hypothyroidism, anemia is more often seen in women still in their childbearing years. Childbirth, breastfeeding, and menstruation all impact a woman's iron levels and contribute to the likelihood of iron deficiency anemia.
Symptoms of iron anemia start primarily with fatigue, followed by other symptoms including weakness, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat.
If you are also feeling sad and have a poor appetite, you may be depressed. Depression may strike once in your life or may be a recurring factor. You will benefit from seeking out a doctor to determine whether depression plays a cause in your tiredness. The doctor will usually begin with a physical screening. Doctors often look first for physical reasons for their patients' fatigue -- reasons such as those we've described here within this article.
At the end of the day it's important to believe, deep in your heart, that feeling tired all the time is not normal and does not have to be how you live. There are many possible causes of your exhaustion. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to investigate why you are tired. Let this be the beginning of your road to a new level of energy and well-being.