When You’re Tired of Being Tired
Nodding off in a board meeting? No energy to hit the gym?
If you frequently find yourself in situations like these, read on.
By Rashad J. Gober
• • •
These days, feeling “tired all the time” is pretty universal. In fact, it’s such a common complaint that doctors have resorted to the shorthand TATT. But while you may be one of millions not getting enough zzz’s, feeling tired all the time isn’t something to shrug off. Whether your exhaustion is due to your fast-paced, no-time-for-rest lifestyle or a symptom of a bigger medical issue, it’s hurting your body and your quality of life.
We’re all tired now and then, but at what point is it something to take more seriously?
Dr. Eugene Ryan is an internal medicine physician with Parkridge Health System. He says it’s time to be concerned when you can’t do what you want to do or are having trouble getting work done. “When tiredness interferes with your ability to live everyday life, it’s time to take action,” he says.
Looking Closely at the Clues
If you find yourself run down and weary on a regular basis, start by visiting your general practitioner. He/she will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and discern exactly what you mean by the word “tired.” For example, it can be helpful to begin by distinguishing whether you lean more toward “sleepiness” or “fatigue” (see opposite page for explanation).
Your doctor will also ask you questions related to the duration and severity of your tiredness. How long has your weariness lasted? How intense is it? The longer you’ve been feeling tired, even with adequate amounts of sleep/rest, the more likely it is that there is an underlying emotional or medical cause.
From there, you may look into whether the cause is mental, physical, or both. How does your fatigue feel to you? Are you having trouble concentrating? If so, it may have roots in your mental health. Does your body tire more quickly than it used to? That could point to a physical cause.
“Sometimes, it can be helpful to think about a time in your life when you weren’t tired and ask, ‘What has changed?’” says Dr. Ryan. “When did you not feel tired, and what was different then? Often, you can work to correct what you’ve changed.”
Assessing Your Habits and Routines
In the large majority of cases, tiredness can be traced back to one or more not-so-great personal habits or routines. These include:
An irregular sleep-wake cycle. “Not getting up and going to bed at the same time every day is the number one thing that makes people excessively tired without them realizing it,” says Dr. Vincent Viscomi, a sleep medicine physician and director of CHI Memorial Regional Sleep Center. “This is especially true for people who sleep in on the weekends. Their bodies start to reset, but then when they go back to work on Monday they get thrown off again.”
Technology before (or in) bed.Watching
TV or checking your emails before bed may be another reason you’re tired all the time. “What you do in that half-hour to hour before bed is very important, and the blue light of screens is alerting to the brain,” says Dr. Viscomi. “These days, technology invades the bedroom, when it’s best to keep it outside.”
A carb-heavy or sugary diet. Your diet can also contribute to your fatigue, especially if it’s high in sugar and carbs. “A carb load can make you really tired, especially if it’s at lunch,” says Dr. Viscomi. “Noon time is already siesta time, so adding carbs then will make you extra sleepy.”
No (or ill-timed) exercise. While it might be extra hard to exert yourself when you’re already weary, regular exercise can boost overall energy levels in those who are chronically tired. “Exercise also helps regulate your hormones and mood-wise puts you in a better place for sleep,” says Dr. Viscomi.
The trick, however, is to time it right. Dr. Viscomi says that it’s best to exercise at least three hours before you go to sleep. “If you exercise too late in the evening, that makes your body temperature go up and keeps you awake,” he says.
Your drinking habits. Two of modern man’s favorite correctives – caffeine and alcohol – can play a major role in fatigue. It’s best to limit your caffeine intake during the day so that you’re not still wired at bedtime. And while a glass of wine can help you relax before retiring for the evening, alcohol interferes with the kind of deep sleep (REM) needed to feel energized. “Alcohol will help you fall asleep, but not stay asleep,” explains Dr. Ryan.
Assessing Your Emotions
In other cases, fatigue can be traced to an underlying emotional or psychological issues like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or chronic stress. Depression, in particular, can lead to sleepless nights. “Insomnia is the number one sign of depression,” says Dr. Viscomi. “That’s why often the first thing I ask a patient about is mood.” If you think your sleep issues could be tied to a mood disorder, don’t wait to reach out to your general practitioner or a mental health care professional. A comprehensive treatment plan can help alleviate your emotional burden, which in turn can give you more energy and a better night’s sleep.
Potential Underlying Medical Causes
Depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms, your general practitioner may suggest you see a medical specialist – such as an endocrinologist or sleep medicine physician – to discuss other potential underlying causes for your fatigue, such as:
If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly (either underactive or overactive), you may feel tired and sluggish. “Thyroid disease is a major cause of fatigue, especially for women,” says Dr. Scott Dibrell, an internal medicine physician with Erlanger Bledsoe. “One in every eight women will develop a thyroid issue in her lifetime.” Your general practitioner will be able to administer the appropriate medical tests to check your thyroid.
Anemia, or a lack of iron in the blood, is another common cause of fatigue. “This is another big one for women, especially those of child-bearing age who may have heavy periods and don’t have much meat in their diets,” says Dr. Dibrell.
If you’re feeling tired for no reason at all, getting your blood iron levels checked may be your next step.
Fatigue and lack of energy can also be symptoms of diabetes. If you’re experiencing chronic tiredness and have one or more risk factors for diabetes, it may be a good idea to have your blood sugar checked.
“If the issue is hypothyroidism, anemia, or diabetes, treating these conditions will really help with fatigue,” says Dr. Dibrell.
Sleep apnea is a condition that stops your breathing many times during the night, often without you knowing it. The result is that you’re deprived of a restful night’s sleep and feel tired during the day. While your doctor may not be able to give a definitive diagnosis at your visit, he/she can refer you to a sleep specialist for a sleep study.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a relatively rare medical condition marked by severe fatigue lasting more than six months. There’s no easy fix for CFS, but if this is the underlying cause of your fatigue, changing your daily routines and improving your sleep habits may help.
While the most classic symptom of heart disease is chest pain, for many, women in particular, heart disease begins with nothing more than feeling tired. “You have to look at a person’s overall health to determine whether fatigue might be a viable symptom for heart disease,” says Dr. Dibrell. “However, if you’re feeling tired, it could be worth asking, ‘Do I have other heart health risk factors?’”
Get Help Today
If you’re dealing with feelings of tiredness and fatigue, don’t wait to pay your doctor a visit to discuss your symptoms. There are as many medical causes for fatigue as there are lifestyle ones, and your doctor will be best suited to help you narrow down and treat your case.
“The most important thing is to go get your check up or talk to a physician if you think you could be anemic or have a thyroid issue,” says Dr. Dibrell. “Your doctor can look at your risk factors to help find the underlying cause and do basic lab work to rule out serious conditions.”
Want to learn more? For more information about fatigue and improving your sleep habits, visit www.nosleeplessnights.com.