By Dr. Joseph Mercola,
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I so tired all the time?” If the answer is yes, there are many possible reasons why you’re feeling this way. Fatigue can impact your life to the point where it’s negatively affecting your work, relationships and other aspects. Read on to learn the potential causes and how they can be addressed.
Why Am I so Tired?
There are many possible reasons for why you feel tired all the time. Some causes are very simple and easy to address, while others may be rooted in chronic conditions that require a more thorough approach. Here are some of the most common reasons:1
- Lack of sleep — One of the most common reasons why people feel tired is chronic sleep deprivation. A good night’s sleep can give you the energy you need to do your day-to-day activities but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults doesn’t get enough of rest.2
- Unhealthy diet — When you eat healthy food, your body is better able to perform at its peak. Conversely, unhealthy foods can contribute to a loss of energy and cause you to feel drained. For example, junk food with added sugars and carbs and other sugar-rich foods can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels, which can lead to sugar crashes that result in fatigue.3
- Sedentary lifestyle — Not moving around can actually make you feel more tired. According to one study, you can actually boost your energy levels even by just performing 21 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.4
Aside from the ones mentioned above, fatigue can come from myriad underlying medical conditions. The list below sheds light on the most common culprits:5
- Acute liver failure — Research indicates that fatigue stems from changes in neurotransmission within the brain. One suggestion is that a patient’s psychological well-being can manifest in feelings of fatigue after a diagnosis of cirrhosis or liver failure is confirmed.6
- Anemia — Fatigue may develop due to your body being starved of oxygen, when you don’t produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body efficiently.7
- Traumatic brain injury — Fatigue is a common complication after experiencing a brain injury. Mental fatigue can occur because the brain is trying to process plenty of information but cannot do so efficiently.8
- Cancer — Tumors can produce cytokines that cause tiredness. Other cancers can slow down the production of red blood cells, which can result in anemia.9
- Chronic fatigue syndrome — The fatigue caused in this disease may stem from immune system problems, hormonal imbalances or viral infections.10
- Chronic kidney disease — Fatigue may manifest as a symptom of chronic kidney disease due to anemia and inflammation.11
- Concussion — Suffering from a concussion may give you mental fatigue. You may feel that your reactions are slower or that routine tasks suddenly become difficult.12
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — Patients suffering from COPD develop fatigue due to impaired lung function, which may impact their quality of life.13
- Depression — Negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness and helplessness can lead to sleep problems, which eventually lead to fatigue.14
- Diabetes — This metabolic disease can cause dehydration or kidney disease, both of which can eventually cause fatigue.15
- Emphysema — Shortness of breath is one the most common symptoms of this condition, which can eventually make you feel tired since you’re lacking energy.16
- Fibromyalgia — The pain in your muscles when fibromyalgia strikes can result in fatigue afterward.17
- Grief — According to a report from The Atlantic, bereavement can weaken the immune system due to the stress you may be experiencing from the loss of a loved one, and leave you feeling excessively tired.18
- Heart disease — Defects in the way your heart works, such as a cardiac infection, can cause weakness or fatigue.19
- Hyperthyroidism — An overactive thyroid may cause muscle weakness, which directly leads to fatigue.20
- Hypothyroidism — An underactive thyroid can affect your biological processes in many ways, such as making you feel tired all the time.21
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two diseases that make up IBD, can cause fatigue due to the pain experienced by the patient. In other cases, it is a side effect of inflammation or a nutritional deficiency.22
- Medications — Many medications can cause fatigue as a side effect. Common examples include antihistamines, antidepressants, anxiety medications, beta-blockers and opioids.23
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) — Eighty percent of people affected with MS develop fatigue as a complication, and it can reach a point where it affects a person’s quality of life and ability to work.24
- Obesity — Having excess weight in your body can make normal activities harder to do, which can tire you out quicker. It can also cause joint and muscle pain.25
- Stress — Emotional stress can take a toll on your physical well-being, which can lead to fatigue.26
Why Do I Get Tired After I Eat?
Feeling sleepy after a meal is common for many people around the world. In other countries, such as Spain, cultural practices have revolved around this phenomenon. Spaniards commonly take short midday or afternoon naps, known as “siestas,” often after a large lunch.27 Dozing off may feel great after a big meal, but why does this happen?
According to a report from HuffPost, the main reason people feel tired after a meal is because the body uses moderate amounts of energy to digest the food. Once food enters the stomach, your body undergoes several processes that can result in sleepiness.28
Another reason why you feel tired after eating is the consumption of carbohydrates. Once digested, carbohydrates convert into glucose that enter your bloodstream. This causes spikes in insulin production, which cause tryptophan to move into the brain. From there, tryptophan causes your brain to produce more serotonin and melatonin, which are hormones responsible for calming and making you feel sleepy.29
Why Am I Always Tired and Cold?
In some cases, you may feel cold or experience shivers at the same time as fatigue. One probable cause for this is hypothyroidism, a condition wherein your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones. As a result, you may feel tired and cold all the time, and may notice gradual weight gain. A blood test can help determine whether you have this condition or not.30 There are other diseases that may simultaneously cause shivering and fatigue, such as:
- Anemia — A condition wherein your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body, leading to other symptoms such as dizziness, irregular heartbeats, pale skin and shortness of breath31
- Tuberculosis — A bacterial disease that infects the lungs, causing symptoms such as chest pain, night sweats, blood in the cough and fever32
- Flu — Becoming infected by the influenza virus can cause fatigue and chills, as well as headaches and muscle aches33
- Toxic shock syndrome — A life-threatening disease that occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and releases toxins. Aside from fatigue and chills, the condition may also cause drowsiness, diarrhea, breathing problems and a high fever34
Why Do I Wake Up Tired?
Getting a full night’s sleep is one of the best ways of making you feel invigorated for the upcoming day. But sometimes, even if you do get enough shuteye, you may still wake up tired. This frustrating experience can put you in a bad mood, and there are several probable causes for this phenomenon:
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS) — Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS causes uncomfortable sensations in your legs with an irresistible urge to move them. It often occurs late at night, which can disrupt your sleep.35
- Irregular circadian rhythm — Your circadian rhythm is largely responsible for dictating when you should be awake and sleeping, and it is influenced by several physical and environmental stimuli. Having an irregular sleeping pattern can result in lack of sleep or an excess of it.36
- Diabetes — Diabetics tend to wake up at night several times to urinate, thus preventing them from getting a consistent good night’s sleep.37
Why Am I Always Tired and Sleepy?
If you’re getting a full night’s sleep, but you still feel tired all the time, you may have a condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or myalgic encephalomyelitis), a long-term illness affecting many biological processes that prevents you from performing at your full potential. Some of its most common symptoms include:38,39,40
- Severe fatigue not improved by rest
- Problems in sleeping
- Post-exertional malaise, a condition wherein the symptoms worsen after physical or mental activity
- Cognitive problems
- Muscle pain
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Sore throat
- Recurring sinus problems
Experts are not sure of the exact cause of CFS, and coming up with an accurate diagnosis can be problematic at times because the symptoms often mirror other diseases. However, an article published by Harvard Health Publishing mentions that people affected with CFS typically have abnormalities in the brain, especially the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Other diseases that can be confused with CFS include:41
- Side effects from medications
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disorders
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
Why Am I so Tired in the Morning?
Sometimes, when you wake up, you can’t help but feel tired already. According to Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D., a professor at The Ohio State University, there are several factors that influence your fatigue in the morning:42
- Neurobiological aspect — While you’re dreaming during rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain consumes large quantities of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As ATP gathers in your brain, the degree of drowsiness increases.
- Time of sleep — Staying up late at night and waking up late can affect sleep quality and influence daytime dysfunction. In young people, late-night sleeping is associated with a smaller hippocampal size, an effect known to impair learning and memory function.
- Your partner — Evidence suggests that who you sleep beside can influence your quality of rest. According to Wenk, women who are sharing a bed with a man are more likely to experience negative sleep quality, even if preceded with sexual intercourse. Men, on the other hand, do not experience loss of sleep efficiency.
Practical Solutions to Help Prevent Feeling Tired All the Time
As you have learned, there are many reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and, as such, there are multiple approaches to help mitigate this problem.
Easy Tips for Sleeping Better at Night
It’s easy to give into temptation and reach for sleeping pills to get effective rest, but there’s actually no need for that. You just need to focus on optimizing your melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone secreted from your pineal gland, and is responsible for letting your body know whether it’s night or day. The following practices can help improve sleep without you needing to spend a single dollar on anything:
- Avoid using electrical devices an hour before bed — Gadgets such as TVs and cellphones emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Make it a habit to stop using these devices by 9 p.m., as this is the time when your brain starts secreting melatonin.
- Get regular sun exposure — Your pineal gland also plays a role in your sleep cycle. By getting regular sunlight exposure, your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. Another benefit of sunlight exposure is producing vitamin D that benefits your health.
- Sleep in complete darkness — Even the slightest glimmer of light from any source can disrupt your body clock while you’re sleeping. It’s important that you move all light sources at least 3 feet away from your bed. These include cellphones and radio clocks.
- Install a low-wattage light at night if needed — Using a low-powered yellow, orange or red light bulb for navigating in the darkness will not hamper melatonin production.
- Maintain optimal room temperature — Research indicates that the ideal room temperature for best sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Don’t rely on loud alarm clocks — Being jolted awake by loud sounds can stress you out first thing in the morning. If you get regular sleep, you might not even need an alarm clock because your body is following a natural routine.
- Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before sleeping — The bath increases your body temperature. When you step out of the bathroom, the drop in temperature signals your body that it is ready to sleep.
- Get sun exposure in the morning — Exposing yourself to sunlight once you wake up sends a strong message to your internal clock that the day has started. This makes your body less likely to be confused by weaker light signals once the night arrives.
- Remove sources of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom — EMFs can hamper melatonin production and cause a host of other health problems in the long run. Ideally, you should turn off devices in your room that emit EMFs before sleeping, such as your wireless router.
Dealing With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Since the cause of CFS has not been determined, modern medicine has been stymied in finding a cure. Instead, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms using various approaches to help maintain a certain level of quality of life. Here are some safe approaches that you can employ:43
• Pain management techniques — Patients affected with chronic fatigue syndrome often feel pain in their muscles and joints, thus causing them to feel tired constantly. Here are some methods you can try to help manage pain:
◦ Acupuncture — This ancient art is still practiced today, as evidence shows that it may help offer drug-free pain relief.44
◦ Removing grains and sugar from your diet — Avoid grain- and sugar-based foods, as they can increase insulin resistance that can lead to chronic inflammation.
◦ Consume high-quality omega-3 fats — Research has shown that omega-3 fats from krill oil or wild-caught Alaskan salmon can help manage pain, as well as offer other health benefits.
◦ Get sun exposure — Aside from optimizing melatonin production, exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D in your body, a nutrient that has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits.
◦ Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — EFT can help bring out and resolve negative emotions that are mentally taxing you due to the pain you’re experiencing.
• Cognitive behavior therapy — Consult with an experienced counselor to help you figure out what behavioral changes need to be made in your life regarding your current health condition. You may need to adjust your work, school or hobbies, while also crafting a support system that can help you feel you’re in control of your life.
• Adjust your eating habits — It’s no surprise that eating healthy, organic food is one method to help boost your health. But equally important is how you consume your meals, especially in the context of CFS. Here are some tips to follow:45
◦ Eat small, frequent meals, at least every three to four hours
◦ Eat around five portions of fruits and vegetables every day
◦ Keep healthy snacks around in case you crave something to eat
◦ Maintain a healthy weight by adjusting your diet; for example, a ketogenic diet can help this
• Graded exercise therapy (GET)46 — The goal of GET is to gradually improve your ability in carrying out a physical task. Exercises involve increasing your heart rate, such as walking or swimming until you get better.
The program will depend on your current capabilities, and it will be carried out with the assistance of an experienced physical therapist.
• Take care of your mental health — CFS can also take a toll on your mental health. Depression, stress and anxiety are common mental issues that come with CFS. Seeking guidance from a mental health professional can help improve your overall well-being as well.47
• Orthostatic intolerance — In some cases, people with CFS may experience orthostatic intolerance, which is marked by frequent dizziness and lightheadedness, changes in vision, weakness and a feeling that your heart is too fast. When these symptoms appear, your doctor might refer you to a cardiologist or neurologist to determine the appropriate treatment course.48
Try the Ketogenic Diet for Better Overall Health
In a study published in Medical Hypotheses, researchers suggest a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is mitochondrial dysfunction due to the activation of immune-inflammatory pathways that burden the mitochondria. The researchers went on to suggest that the ketogenic diet may help in reducing the symptoms of CFS.49
The ketogenic diet is an eating plan wherein the majority of your calories come from healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein, while sugar and carbohydrate consumption are minimized as much as possible. As a result, your body enters a state known as nutritional ketosis, wherein it begins to burn fat as the main energy source instead of glucose.
Numerous studies suggest that the ketogenic diet can be good for most people, as it may help assist with weight management,50 fight inflammation,51 reduce appetite52 and manage insulin levels,53 which can be very beneficial for diabetics (one major cause of fatigue). To get you started, here are a few of the best foods you can eat, broken down by category:
- Fats — Coconut oil, raw grass fed butter, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, extra virgin olive oil, avocados and organic pasture-raised eggs
- Protein — Grass fed red meats, pasture-raised eggs, cooked beans, and various seeds and nuts
- Vegetables — Broccoli, spinach, kale, arugula and Brussels sprouts
- Nuts — Macadamia, pecan, walnut and Brazil nuts
- Beverages — Filtered water, organic black coffee and coconut milk
Fatigue Can Come From Anywhere, but There Are Ways to Keep It at Bay
Fatigue can strike you at any time, so it’s important to know how you can treat it. There are plenty of ways to help manage fatigue, such as getting quality sleep and eating a healthy diet. You may also enlist the help of medical professionals to work with issues that you are unable to address on your own.
Ultimately, you have the power to decide what approach to take, but it’s also important to be open to suggestions so you can come up with the best plan to remain awake and alert.