Feeling tired on a regular basis is extremely common. In fact, about one-third of us report regularly feeling sleepy or fatigued. Fatigue is a common symptom of several conditions and serious diseases, but in most cases it is caused by simple lifestyle factors. Fortunately, these are most often easy things to fix. Below are 8 potential reasons why you’re tired and provides recommendations for ways to get your energy back.
1. Consuming Too Many Refined Carbs
Carbs can be a quick source of energy. When you eat them, your body breaks them down into sugar, which can be used for fuel. However, eating too many refined carbs can actually cause you to feel tired throughout the day. When sugar and processed carbs are consumed, they cause a rapid rise in your blood sugar. This signals your pancreas to produce a large amount of insulin to get the sugar out of your blood and into your cells. This spike in blood sugar levels — and subsequent fall — can make you feel exhausted. Craving quick energy, you instinctively reach for another serving of refined carbs, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Several studies have found that minimizing sugar and processed carbs at meals and snacks typically leads to greater energy levels.
2. Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
Inactivity could be the root cause of your low energy. But many people say they’re too tired to exercise. In fact, in one recent study, this was the most common reason that middle-aged and older adults gave for not exercising. One explanation could be chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which is characterized by extreme, unexplained fatigue on a daily basis. Research suggests people with CFS tend to have low strength and endurance levels, which limit their exercise ability. However, a review of studies including more than 1,500 people found that exercise may reduce fatigue in those with CFS.
To boost your energy levels, replace sedentary behaviours with active ones. For instance, stand rather than sit down whenever possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk instead of driving short distances.
3. Not getting enough high quality sleep
Not getting enough sleep is one of the more obvious causes of fatigue. Your body does many things while you sleep, including store memory and release hormones that regulate your metabolism and energy levels. After a night of good sleep you typically wake up feeling refreshed, alert and energized. Adults need an average of seven hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Importantly, sleep should be restful and uninterrupted in order to allow your brain to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. To improve the amount and quality of your sleep, go to bed at roughly the same time every night, relax before sleeping and get plenty of activity during the day.
4. Not getting enough calories
Consuming too few calories can cause feelings of exhaustion. Calories are units of energy found in food. Your body uses them to move and fuel processes like breathing and maintaining a constant body temperature. When you eat too few calories, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve energy, potentially causing fatigue. Your body can function within a range of calories depending on your weight, height, age and other factors. However, most people require a minimum of 1,200 calories per day to prevent a metabolic slowdown. In order to keep your energy levels up, avoid drastic cuts in calorie intake.
5. Sleeping at the wrong time
In addition to inadequate sleep, sleeping at the wrong time can reduce your energy. Sleeping during the day instead of at night disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm, which are the biological changes that occur in response to light and darkness during a 24-hour cycle. Research has found that when your sleep pattern is out of sync with your circadian rhythm, chronic fatigue may develop. This is a common problem among people who perform shift or night work. Sleep experts estimate that 2–5% of all shift workers suffer from a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness or disrupted sleep over a period of one month or more. What’s more, even staying awake during the night for a day or two can cause fatigue. It’s best to sleep during the night whenever possible.
6. Inadequate hydration
Staying well hydrated is important for maintaining good energy levels. The many biochemical reactions that take place in your body every day result in a loss of water that needs to be replaced. Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough liquid to replace the water lost in your urine, stools, sweat and breath. Several studies have shown that being even mildly dehydrated can lead to lower energy levels and a decreased ability to concentrate. You should about 1.5 – 2 litres of water daily, you may require more or less than this depending on your weight, age, gender and level of activity. The key is drinking enough to maintain good hydration levels. Common symptoms of dehydration include thirst, fatigue, dizziness and headaches.
7. Relying on energy drinks
There’s no shortage of beverages that promise to provide quick energy. Popular energy drinks typically include the following:
Large doses of B vitamins
It’s true that these beverages may provide a temporary energy boost but these energy drinks are also likely to set you up for rebound fatigue when the effects of caffeine and sugar wear off. One review of 41 studies found that although energy drinks led to increased alertness and improved mood for several hours after consumption, excessive daytime sleepiness often occurred the following day. Although the caffeine content varies widely among brands, an energy shot may contain up to 350 mg, and some energy drinks provide as much as 500 mg per can. By comparison, coffee typically contains between 77–150 mg of caffeine per cup. However, even at smaller dosages, drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon may interfere with sleep and lead to low energy levels the following day. To break the cycle, try cutting back and gradually weaning yourself off these energy drinks. In addition, limit coffee and other caffeinated beverage consumption to early in the day.
8. High stress levels
Chronic stress may have a profound effect on your energy levels and quality of life. Although some stress is normal, excessive levels of stress have been linked to fatigue. In addition, your response to stress can influence how tired you feel. One study in college students found that avoiding dealing with stress led to the greatest level of fatigue. While you may not be able to avoid stressful situations, developing strategies for managing your may help prevent you from feeling completely exhausted.
The bottom line
There are many possible causes for feeling chronically tired. It’s important to rule out medical conditions first, as fatigue often accompanies illness. However, feeling overly tired may be related to what you eat and drink, how much activity you get or the way you manage stress. The good news is that making a few lifestyle changes may very well improve your energy levels and overall quality of life.