There may be several reasons why you are constantly tired and feeling sleepy or lacking in energy. The problem is so common that the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) has given an acronym to this condition: TATT, which means “tired all the time.”
As most of us juggle our commitments at work, home, and relationships, we might be able to attribute our burnout to a fast-paced lifestyle. If you’re constantly feeling tired and anxious, it could not only affect your quality of life but might also indicate underlying medical problems.
Causes of Constant Sleepiness and Tiredness
If you’re waking up feeling sleepy and tired, some possible reasons include chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep quality and quantity, diet, and medical issues.
1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), comes on quickly and strongly as its symptoms can last for at least six months. The exact cause is unknown. CFS can be accompanied by the inability to focus, weakness, headache, muscle, and joint pains, and tender lymph nodes.
2. Sleep Quality and Quantity
One in three Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You could be waking up a lot at night, which affects your sleep quality. The reasons could vary from insomnia to menopause to external factors like noise.
When you sleep too much, it disrupts your body’s circadian pacemaker, which is the group of cells in your brain that control your body’s rhythm. The pacemaker is triggered by the light signals from your eye, indicating it’s daytime and the time to wake up. When you sleep too much or go back to sleep after the alarm clock rings, the pacemaker is thrown off its schedule, and you wake up tired and feeling it all day long.
If you’ve been sleeping during the night and still waking up tired and sleepy, the cause may be sleep apnea. It is a condition where your throat relaxes and narrows, and you have intermittent pauses in breathing during your sleep. This condition prevents you from going into the deeper phases of sleeping, such as the REM stage, and you wake up feeling tired.
Sleep apnea is usually accompanied by snoring and a reduction in your blood’s oxygen levels. It can lead to serious conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. So, if you are concerned that you may have sleep apnea, consult your physician to evaluate the need for a sleep study.
3. Nutrition and Exercise
If you feel tired even after your meals, your diet could be the problem. You might be suffering from several nutritional deficiencies because of an unbalanced diet that leads to tiredness. Lack of deep sleep and low energy levels can be traced back to deficiencies in magnesium, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
For example, fatigue is one of the first signs of a B12 deficiency. Magnesium is needed to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an essential component for energy production. Low magnesium levels are linked to sleep problems as well.
Dehydration could be another possible reason for your tiredness. Check your daily water intake as consuming less water can make you feel tired. Also, check your daily tea or coffee intake. Caffeine can stay in your body for several hours and affect your night sleep.
When you exercise too much, it can lead you to feel tired for days, and even weeks if you don’t recover from it soon. It’s important to nourish your body before and after exercising and schedule rest days.
4. Medical Issues
Health problems can make you feel sleepy and constantly tired. Here are some common medical reasons why you might be tired all the time.
Anemia and Haemochromatosis
Iron or folate deficiency anemia is a common medical reason for heaviness in your muscles, loss of interest, and fatigue.
Your body uses iron to make two kinds of proteins: hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the other parts of the body, and myoglobin, which carries oxygen to the muscles. An iron deficiency means the lack of these two vital proteins and makes it harder for oxygen to reach the muscles and tissues in your body. It puts extra strain on your heart to circulate the blood around your body, making you feel weak and tired.
Pregnant and nursing women and those who have periods are prone to iron deficiency anemia. But iron deficiency anemia can also affect men and postmenopausal women when it is connected to stomach and intestinal problems.
If you have excess iron in your body, you could be having a rare genetic disorder called hemochromatosis that can be the cause of your tiredness.
Your thyroid gland is found in the front of your neck and produces thyroxine hormones that regulate your metabolism. When there is an imbalance in these hormones, it can play havoc with your body, causing you to feel constantly fatigued.
An excess of thyroid hormone that causes your metabolism to speed up is called hyperthyroidism.) A deficiency of thyroid hormone that causes your metabolism to slow down is called hypothyroidism. Both these conditions can cause fatigue.
Glucose sugar is fuel for our body. People with diabetes cannot effectively use glucose as it builds up in their blood. Tiredness is one of the first warning signs of diabetes.
Glandular fever is a common viral infection that affects mostly teenagers and young adults, and it causes fatigue. While its other symptoms usually clear up within four to six weeks, fatigue can linger for several more months.
Coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten-related disease that affects the immune system and is characterized by tiredness.
Restless Legs Syndrome
If you have restless leg syndrome, you may experience a crawling sensation or pain and an overpowering sensation to move your legs that keep you awake at night. It may leave you feeling sleepy and tired during the day.
Anxiety and Depression
Experiencing anxiety is usually normal. However, if you experience constant, intense feelings of anxiety that get in the normal functioning of your daily life, you could be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). You may feel tired often if you experience GAD.
Depression is more than just sadness. It is a major illness that affects your daily life. The symptoms can last for years if left untreated. Among other symptoms, sleeplessness and constant tiredness are characteristic of depression.
Other medical conditions, such as low blood pressure and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), could be the reason for your tiredness. There are certain medications like antihistamines that may be the reason for your constant sleepiness and tiredness.
How to Stop Feeling Sleepy and Tired
If you’re constantly feeling sleepy and tired, it’s time to listen to your body and take action. We list our top suggestions to help you beat fatigue and stay energized all day long.
1. Maintain a Journal
Writing down how you feel is the first step towards gaining control of your life. Write every minute detail, including how you feel when you wake up, what you eat and drink, your current sleep schedule, and other relevant details.
Soon, you may start connecting the dots and find the missing links. You may find out what is draining your energy and why.
2. Adopt Sleep Hygiene
A common reason for constantly feeling so sleepy and tired is poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to the set of practices you need to follow to maintain the ideal conditions that support a good night’s sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep at night. However, one in three Americans is not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of daily night sleep.
Here are my suggestions for good sleep hygiene practices:
Have a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Adults need bedtime routines as well. So, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you’re not getting the recommended sleep hours, it’s time to sneak in a few extra hours to get back on track so you can feel alert and energetic all day.
Even if you manage to sneak in an extra 30 minutes each day consistently over time, it can make you feel much better than you previously did. If you have a sleep debt, it will take time for your body to align completely with the new schedule, and get back on the right track.
Taking power naps in the afternoon for around 10 to 20 minutes can also help you feel more refreshed and energetic during the day.
Keep Your Environment Conducive for Sleep
Let your bedroom be your sleep sanctuary that is meant only for sleeping. Keep your workstation and all electronic devices away from the bedroom.
Make your environment conducive for good sleep by setting the right temperature in your bedroom. The recommended temperature for optimal sleep is around 60 – 67°F or 15.6 – 19.4°C. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow that will aid your relaxing night’s sleep.
You can aid sleep by making sure your bedroom is quiet and free of all distractions by using thick blinds, curtains, or shades in darker hues. You can have a white noise machine or put on some earplugs or an eye mask if you are a light sleeper.
If you have a problem with sleeping too much, then let there be lots of natural light coming into your bedroom in the morning. An alternative is to get a sunrise alarm clock that simulates sunlight. This will trigger the circadian pacemaker, making you more likely to wake up naturally and be alert all day.
Avoid the Light From Street Lamps and Electronic Devices
Melatonin is a hormone that’s released in your brain naturally after dark to promote sleep. The high-intensity LED light from street lights, blue light from devices, and TV screens disrupt melatonin production and stimulate our brain. The American Medical Association issued a warning about street lights. You can block the street lights by using blackout curtains.
You can shut off television, mobile, and laptop at least an hour before you sleep. The blue light from these devices can delay the melatonin release by up to three hours.
Find Healthier and More Soothing Ways to Relax Around Bedtime
One of the common reasons for insomnia is anxiety. Find relaxation rituals and techniques such as taking a warm bath before bedtime, meditation or prayer, or reading a book that soothes you to sleep. Spending time on your mobile, laptop, or TV can make you feel anxious or stimulated and delay sleep.
3. Watch What You Consume
What you consume has a direct relationship with your energy levels.
Aim to have a healthy, balanced diet that includes:
- At least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily
- Complex carbohydrates like whole grains and beans
- Eight glasses of fluids apart from your solid food intake
- Dairy or dairy alternatives like almond milk
- Small amounts of unsaturated fats
You can gain a head start early in the day by having a healthy breakfast consisting of fruit, protein, whole grains, nuts, and protein. This may keep you alert and help you beat morning fatigue.
So, remember to make time for breakfast as it can jumpstart your metabolism, even if it’s just fruit and cereal or toast. A carbohydrate-rich, high-fiber breakfast is a smart option as your brain is dependent on glucose for energy.
Iron, magnesium, and Vitamin B12 are some key nutrients for energy. So, include iron-rich foods such as spinach, kale, chickpeas, kidney beans, liver, and lean red meat, as well as magnesium-rich foods like nuts, leafy vegetables, chocolate, and magnesium butter.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in eggs, dairy, meat, and shellfish. Vegans and vegetarians tend to lack B12 and iron. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you need to talk to your doctor about assessing your iron and B12 intake.
Foods with high antioxidant levels, also known as superfoods, are not only great for your immune system but will also help you feel energetic. Superfoods include berries, melons, whole grains, dairy, and meat.
Avoid processed foods with a lot of glucose and fructose and long ingredient lists. Limit or avoid highly refined or simple carbs such as white bread and pasta that spikes your blood sugar levels and makes you feel sluggish. Instead, opt for whole foods wherever possible. Reduce fat, sugar, and salt in your foods.
Eating at regular intervals such as three meals and one snack every day will help sustain your energy. Having small portions as heavy meals can make you feel sleepy and divert your energy from the digestion process.
You can keep your blood sugar balanced by having protein in every meal. While carbohydrates provide glucose that makes you feel energetic, proteins make you attentive and alert. Most protein sources also contain iron, which is a bonus. Seeds, nuts, pulses, eggs, fish, and meat are good options for protein.
Pay attention to your snack time. You tend to crave carb-rich foods when you’re tired. While carb-rich foods give you a quick burst of energy, they will also leave you feeling sleepy and tired sooner after a while. Instead, pair your carbs with protein to sustain your energy longer. Trail mixes or crackers with peanut butter are healthy snack ideas.
Our body is composed of nearly 70% of water. So, it is not surprising that the cause of our tiredness may be linked to our insufficient water intake. Drink the recommended water intake of around three liters daily and you will see a difference.
You should avoid all kinds of stimulants, be it coffee, alcohol, or tobacco several hours before bedtime, especially if you’re feeling tired or having sleep issues. Your last cup of coffee should be no later than 3 PM. If you tend to feel tired after drinking caffeine, stop all caffeine products for a few weeks and pay close attention to how your body responds, and you may feel less tired without it.
Green tea is a better alternative to coffee. While it also contains caffeine, green tea has l-theanine, which suppresses the stimulant effects of caffeine.
There is a misconception that drinking alcohol before bedtime aids sleep. Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep, making you feel tired the next day. If you drink during the daytime, the alcohol produces melatonin, lulling you into a low-energy state. Be cautious of alcohol consumption.
Oxygen mixes with glucose in your body to produce energy. When you smoke, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the oxygen in your blood, making you feel more tired and sleepy. Also, smoking contains nicotine, which is a stimulant, affecting your quality of sleep.
4. Minimize Stress Levels
You can assess your current stress levels and take measures to manage them. Whether a trusted friend or doctor, talking about your current issues can help you feel better.
There are various ways to manage stress daily. You need to check in with your body regularly during the day, and poor posture can contribute to tiredness. Conscious breathing every hour or so can help improve your posture, boost your energy, and keep your oxygen and blood flowing all day.
If you are on the computer or mobile phone for long periods, take periodic breaks as staring continuously at these devices can zap your energy and make you feel anxious. Give your eyes and mind a break. You can do something or nothing during these breaks. During your short breaks, you have so many options to choose from, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, smelling the energizing scents of essential oils like rosemary, peppermint, or lemon, listening to music, dancing, or taking a walk outdoors.
Staying indoors for prolonged periods can make you feel blue. Spend some time outdoors in the sunshine and nature preferably. This can boost your mood and energy.
Exercise may add to your energy levels. Make a plan to eat before you start and factor in rest days during the week. It helps reduce stress and makes you sleep better. However, you may want to avoid doing it before bedtime.
5. Consult Your Doctor
If you have unexplained tiredness, it’s best to consult your doctor. Your doctor should be able to diagnose the cause of your tiredness.
Certain exams and screenings can help detect the cause, be it thyroid disease, coeliac disease, or depression. Based on the cause, your doctor may prescribe counseling, talk therapy, medication, or a combination of these.
Feeling tired and sleepy occasionally is normal. But if it’s a regular aspect of your life that’s adversely affecting your life, it’s time to assess the possible reasons and take action. You may need to work on your sleep habits, lifestyle, and consult your doctor.
I have listed several strategies you can use to fight constant sleepiness and tiredness. But daytime tiredness can be a sign of an underlying medical problem. So, it’s best to consult your doctor to understand the exact cause and find the best solution for you.
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Featured photo credit: Bruno van der Kraan via unsplash.com