Why am I so tired all the time and have no energy? I’ve noticed lately that when I ask friends how they’re doing, half the time their response is either “tired,” “exhausted,” or “beat”—it’s almost as though being worn out is just another part of our busy, modern-day lives that we’re somehow supposed to get used to.
But I believe that when our bodies and minds are in sync and healthy, we should feel amazing and energized even when our schedules are full. If we’re getting enough rest, exercising, and eating foods that fuel us, we should feel strong, satisfied, and alert. But as most of us know, that’s easier said than done, and there are several reasons why you may be feeling mysteriously tired.
Scroll on to find out some of the most common causes—then make some lifestyle changes (or get to your doctor ASAP) so you can rediscover the energy you need to feel your very best!
Even slight dehydration has been shown to cause moodiness and fatigue in women; other signs can include headaches and inability to concentrate. It’s an easy fix: just drink more fluid throughout the day! Women should consume, on average, 2.7 liters of fluids (or about 11.5 cups) a day, more if it’s hot outside or you’ve been exercising. I try to keep a big bottle of water on my desk while I’m working or in the car when I’m driving, so I can continuously sip throughout the day.
Not getting enough sleep
Before you roll your eyes at how obvious this one is, think about it: are you really getting seven to eight hours every night? Because that’s the amount the National Sleep Foundation recommends most people need. Well actually, that’s the suggestion for people over age 64—they advise seven to nine hours for people between the ages 18 to 64. And if you’re not getting that much, then it’s probably the main cause of your fatigue. Make an effort to get to bed earlier, and stick to a regular nighttime routine that encourages a restful nights’ sleep.
Sometimes people think they’re getting a good night’s sleep, but if you suffer from sleep apnea, you experience short bursts of wakefulness through the night caused by brief interruptions in your breathing. It’s also not a condition that should be taken lightly. The Mayo Clinic states that sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder because your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea. Since people often aren’t even aware that they have it, a doctor may order a sleep test to diagnose.
Not fueling your body with the right food
Eating too little is an obvious issue, but eating the wrong foods can also be a major drain on your energy levels. Data shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat, and more sugar throughout the day is linked with lighter, less restorative sleep. In one study, researchers tracked diet, and sleep for a group of healthy adults over the course of five nights and found that indeed, food choices during the day did affect sleep. So, including protein (eggs, fish, meat, lentils), healthy fats (avocado, nuts), and good-for-you-carbs (fruit, slower processed grains like quinoa and oats) will give you long-burning energy. Simple carbs and sugar will make you crash and burn.
In particular, iron deficiency anemia is one of the common reasons for fatigue in women and is more common during pregnancy. While initially, it can be so mild it often goes unnoticed, once the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify. Some of these symptoms include extreme fatigue, weakness, headaches/dizziness, cold hands and feet, and more. See your doctor for some blood tests on your iron levels then take a high-quality supplement, and incorporate iron-rich foods into your diet.
Not getting enough exercise
It may seem counterintuitive, but anyone who regularly works out will tell you that breaking a sweat actually gives you more energy throughout the day. And The Mayo Clinic backs it up: “Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.” It just makes sense—when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores. I try to get my heart rate up every morning, and even better if it’s outside (sunshine is one of the most effective natural energizers!) On days where I skip my AM workout, I definitely feel more sluggish by the time the afternoon hits.
Your thyroid controls how fast or slow your body converts fuel into energy, and hypothyroidism (a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones) means that it’s under-active which can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease. Fatigue is also a side effect of this condition. Head to the doctor for a blood test if you think you may need to get your thyroid checked.
Food allergies or sensitivities
If you have an undiagnosed food allergy or sensitivity or suffer from environmental allergies, you could be in a cycle of inflammation and fatigue also known as brain fog. Allergist and immunologist Mark Aronica, MD told Cleveland Clinic that this disconnected feeling is fatigue, and it’s caused by the inflammation that results when your body tries to counteract your allergy symptoms. Try eliminating certain foods to test your intolerance levels (a simple elimination diet is a good start), and see if your fatigue improves. You can also see a functional medicine doctor (Dr. Will Cole has a whole book on inflammation) who can run a full spectrum of tests to help you pinpoint any sensitivities.
Many people don’t realize that depression has physical symptoms as well as emotional ones. If you’ve been feeling down and tired for a few weeks, especially combined with a loss of appetite or headaches, consider seeing a doctor or speak with someone that can help. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service. Call: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
This post was originally published on July 26, 2016, and has since been updated.