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16 Causes of Fatigue & How to Overcome

Constantly battling a loss of energy? Discover what causes fatigue and just how to overcome them!

16 Causes of Fatigue & How to Overcome


Always tired? Feeling a consistent loss of energy? Sleepy after eating post-lunch?

Though tiredness is common on a day-to-day basis, consistent and debilitating exhaustion may have an unsurfaced meaning. While one should always consult with their personal healthcare team to get to the root issues of fatigue, some common reasons for fatigue can be fixable.

Wondering what may be causing fatigue? Read on for the top fatigue causes and how to overcome these reasons for loss of energy.

Top 15 Reasons for Fatigue

Exhaustion and fatigue likely stem from poor lifestyle choices and underlying health conditions. If you continually keep asking yourself "Why am I always tired?" you may be able to link exhaustion to the following causes.

1. Alcohol in Excess

Though alcohol can induce sleep initially, its overall effects may disrupt sleep cycles. Especially if consumed in excess, sleep disturbances can ultimately impede sufficient energy levels the following day. 

Thus, drinking too much alcohol consistently can lead to chronically feeling fatigued.

How to Fix It: Stick to the alcohol recommendations - with a limit of two drinks for men and one for women each day. Drinking sufficient water can further keep you hydrated and energized the next day. (See fatigue cause #5 for more info on hydration.)

2. Allergies

Though allergies are known to trigger congestion, runny noses and eyes, and sneezing, the unpleasant immune responses may also lead to fatigue. Common symptoms of allergies make it difficult to breathe with ease, especially when lying down, ultimately making it difficult to sleep.

How to Fix It: It is essential to verify what you are actually allergic to, whether it be indoor or outdoor dusts, molds, or pollens. This may take consulting with an allergist to get to the root cause of an allergy. 

Minimizing exposure to identified allergens and utilizing medications and nasal strips and sprays can lessen the symptoms, further encouraging a better night's rest.

3. Anemia

Anemia or iron deficiency is classified by low levels of iron, the mineral required for nourishing blood flow. Iron is critical for hemoglobin production, the blood protein essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body. Insufficient oxygen compromises energy levels and creates feelings of exhaustion. 

Iron deficiency can be more common in women and/or those following a vegetarian diet.

How to Fix It: A primary care physician can assist in determining if an iron deficiency or anemia exists, primarily by vialing blood labs. If low levels and a true diagnosis present themselves, an iron supplement might be recommended.

A dietitian can further education on a diet for anemia with iron-rich sources, including meat, poultry, and eggs.

4. Anxiety and Depression

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and may also cause exhaustion. Depression can plummet energy while anxiety is not only shown to cause sleeping problems, but research suggests sleep deprivation can even cause an anxiety disorder.

How to Fix It: Especially if depressive and anxiety-related symptoms impede daily activities and life quality, seeking out professional help is recommended. Treatment options may include cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and related medications.

5. Dehydration

Not getting enough fluid can leave you feeling fatigued and generally low energy. Dehydration lessens blood volume, thus lessening oxygen-rich blood supply to vital organs needing functional energy. 

Inadequate hydration can also alter mood, further increasing feelings of tiredness.

How to Fix It: Drink up! And not on the sugary beverages, as too much sugar (and even caffeine!) can actually make you more tired. Stay hydrated with these four easy hacks to drink more water.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cells are unable to utilize energy from food, primarily in the form of carbohydrates breaking down into glucose. When the cells are not able to uptake glucose, the cells become deprived of their much-needed fuel, consequently causing fatigue. 

Unregulated blood sugar may be going on without noticing, as you do not "feel" high blood sugar levels. Other signs of potential diabetes can be unexplained weight loss, increased hunger, increased thirst, and increased urination.

How to Fix It: If also experiencing prediabetes symptoms a healthy lifestyle change can mitigate a full-blown diabetes diagnosis. If diagnosed, medications may be prescribed along with nutritional guidelines, often provided by a dietitian. Nutritious foods and implemented workouts can largely keep blood sugars within normal levels.

7. Inadequate Diet

Food is the body's primary source of energy but not all foods are created equal. Especially after eating a large meal, you might feel sleepy after eating as the body is putting in extra effort to break down the food.

Also if feeling tired after eating a meal rich in carbs, particularly refined, you might experience a spike and consequent dip in blood sugar. Dips in blood sugar levels likewise dip in energy levels, which leads to feelings of fatigue. 

How to Fix It: To avoid or ease post-meal sleepiness, try to stick to proper portions. Also balance each meal and snack with protein, fiber, and healthy fat to lessen dramatic dips in blood sugar.

8. Fibromyalgia

Identified as a medical syndrome causing widespread pain and stiffness in muscles and joints, fibromyalgia can further initiate sleep disturbances. 

The National Sleep Foundation explains "the combination of pain and sleep disturbance is a double-edged sword: the pain makes sleep more difficult and sleep deprivation exacerbates pain." This disruption in sleep quality along with pain and stiffness can set the stage for chronic fatigue.

How to Fix It: If diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a wide variety of treatment options are encouraged to manage the associated symptoms. These include self-care, therapies, medications, and visiting specialists. Sleep aids are also widely used by individuals managing fibromyalgia.

9. Food Intolerances or Allergies

Especially if undiagnosed or unmanaged, food allergies and intolerances can cause fatigue. When the body is intolerant of food, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract chiefly responds and mostly causes malabsorption. 

When foods are unabsorbed, valuable calories and nutrients are excreted quickly, ultimately compromising energy levels and increasing the risk for nutrient deficiencies. 

How to Fix It: If undiagnosed with a food intolerance or allergy, it is imperative to seek out professional help and guidance. Once a source or culprit is pinpointed, a treatment tailored to the diagnosis can reduce and eliminate unpleasant symptoms. 

For example, avoiding lactose-containing products to manage lactose intolerance and gluten if diagnosed with Celiac disease.

10. Hypothyroidism

Also meaning underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism can cause major fatigue. The thyroid hormones are predominantly responsible for all aspects of metabolism and energy levels with the potential to further disrupt heart rate and body temperature.

How to Fix It: A lab blood test is critical in diagnosing hypothyroidism. It is needed to measure thyroid levels. If related labs are low or high, a primary care provider endocrinologist may prescribe medications to fix the hormone imbalance.

11. Inadequate Sleep

Always tired? You may be a part of one in three American adults not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. 

Adults should be getting an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, the average number of hours slept each night can easily fall short of this. 

Quite understandably, inadequate sleep results in compromised energy levels, with further implications on health and weight gain.

How to Fix It: Although life can get busy, try establishing a sleep schedule. Additional tips for a restful night's sleep include limiting caffeine consumption and minimizing screen time leading up to bedtime hours. 

A sleep study can also help diagnose any sleep disturbances and lead to a treatment plan from a medical expert, especially if managing a sleep disorder. 

12. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Also recognized as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body essentially attacks its own joints, ultimately causing inflammation. According to the Arthritis Foundation, most people with RA have fatigue associated with a wide variety of factors that include pain, depression, and medication side effects.

How to Fix It: Primarily, medications are used to treat and manage symptoms that may negatively impact life quality. Additionally, a rheumatoid arthritis diet may lower levels of inflammation and ease and lessen joint pain. 

Supplements, sleep aids, or medications may also be prescribed by a physician to help with RA-related fatigue.

13. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is characterized by an obstructed airway, ultimately causing loud snoring. However, it has the potential to be quite serious, as breathing repeatedly starts and stops. 

Periods of shallow breathing and pauses during sleep can compromise both sleep quantity and quality. Such disruptions can make one feel fatigued day after day. Sleep apnea can lead to inadequate sleep, as mentioned above, but not all inadequate sleep is from sleep apnea.

How to Fix It: Lifestyle changes are largely encouraged to facilitate weight loss, as overweight and obesity are risk factors in developing sleep apnea. A breathing assistance device, also known as a continuous positive positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, may also be used to manage sleep apnea.

14. Lack of Exercise

Finding the time and energy to exercise may sound even extra exhausting when overcoming fatigue. However, research from the University of Georgia suggests some exercise can actually help battle fatigue and increase energy levels. 

Low-intensity exercise was especially shown to help study participants improve fatigue. Researchers suggest exercise can positively affect neurotransmitters in the brain and also aid in sleep quality to help battle fatigue.

How to Fit It: If exercise is not a habit, first consult and talk with a doctor before starting. Other tips for starting an exercise plan include starting small and trialing a variety of exercises. For instance, walking is an excellent way to get exercise without overexerting energy levels.

15. Crisis Fatigue

Crisis fatigue can be defined as what happens when someone experiences a stressful situation. Their bodies respond to said stress, often with a fight or flight response, only to have no practical way to return to a restful, calm state. 

In a state of crisis fatigue, the normal and everyday routine can be interrupted by an inability to function and an increased sense of fatigue.

How to Fix It: Find ways to relieve stress when feeling overwhelmed. Focus on helping when and where applicable and practice self-care and mindfulness. Also seek out support from friends, family, and health professionals. 

16. News Fatigue

Similar to crisis fatigue, news fatigue is caused by overexposure to the news or social media. Overexposure often occurs during times of crisis or unrest in communities, local or global. The amount of bad news that can be found on a daily basis can feel overwhelming and lead to feeling mentally fatigued and drained.

How to Fix It: Find a good balance of seeking information from the news and social media. Besides just current events and "bad" news, seek out positive news topics that can get overlooked. Set time limits for watching the news and check-in with a mental health professional if desired.

Causes of Fatigue Summary

Constant fatigue, as opposed to occasionally feeling tired, can have many underlying issues that may need medical and/or mental health expertise and testing. Some common reasons for fatigue may be addressed with changes in lifestyle habits related to sleep, exercise, overexposure to news, stress management, and shifts in diet.

Other medical conditions may also contribute to fatigue including diabetes, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, depression/anxiety, or allergies.

References:

1 in 3 adults don't get enough sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 16, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

Andrews E. UGA study finds exercise decreases fatigue. The Red and Black. Published September 11, 2014. https://www.redandblack.com/uganews/uga-study-finds-exercise-decreases-fatigue/article_e403f54e-36e4-11e4-a2b5-001a4bcf6878.html

Fibromyalgia and sleep: Sleep disturbances & coping. Sleep Foundation. Published November 20, 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/fibromyalgia-and-sleep

How to Beat Arthritis Fatigue. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/fatigue-sleep/how-to-beat-arthritis-fatigue.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on June 03, 2022. Updated on June 20, 2022.

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