While many of us accept droopy lids and constant yawning as a daily reality, your lagging daytime energy could be a bigger deal than you think. Whether you feel lethargic during the day or consistently have trouble falling and staying asleep at night, these symptoms of exhaustion could be indicators of a number of health problems, from over-exercising, to a chronic infection, to depression and many more.
“Fatigue is personal and individualized,” says Adam Rindfleisch, MD, University of Wisconsin, Department of Family Medicine, Integrative Medicine. “Since there are a number of reasons why someone could feel fatigued, it’s important your doctor tailors his or her diagnosis to your individual symptoms and needs.”
Not sure what’s causing your drowsiness? Here are some of the most common reasons you may be feeling tired all the time.
1. You’re overtraining.
Whether you stepped up your workout routine to train for a long-distance race (or just swimsuit season) and you feel absolutely spent during the day — or you’re experiencing trouble falling asleep at night — it could be a sign that you’re overdoing it. “The longer you train, the more rest and recovery your body needs,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames, CFT, RDN, CDN, coauthor of The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure. “If you don’t provide your body with adequate rest and nutrition, muscles and cells are continuously breaking down, eventually leading to exhaustion.”
The fix: Sleep at least eight hours a night and try to go to the bed at the same time to keep your internal clock in check, says Lakatos Shames. Also, consider having a 20-minute nap during the day to help you recover if you feel you need it. Make sure you’re providing your body with ample calories from quality carbohydrates and lean protein such as skinless chicken breasts, fish, fat-free Greek yogurt and nuts to charge your training, suggests Lakatos Shames.
2. You’ve got allergies.
When the small intestines become damaged from inflammation, your body isn’t able to absorb nutrients into the blood-stream, which can lead to malnourishment and fatigue.
Allergies are a common culprit behind daily yawning sessions for the 50 million Americans who suffer from them. Allergies take a toll on energy when congestion interferes with your breathing and ability to get a good night’s sleep or if the antihistamine meds you’re taking to relieve symptoms make you feel groggy.
Histamine is a neurotransmitter that helps you feel more awake so if your body is sensitive to antihistamines you’re more likely to feel wiped out from the drugs.
The fix: It’s important to learn what’s causing your allergies so you can remedy the problem, says Dr. Rindfleisch. If the issue is indoor allergies caused by dust mites, mold or pet dander, cleaning and vacuuming might help. If you suffer from outdoor allergies due to pollen and mold spores, take over-the-counter medicine to help and limit your outdoor activities on high pollen count days. If you think antihistamines are making you sleepy, ask your doctor about non-sedating meds to control your symptoms.
3. You’re gluten intolerant.
Food intolerance occurs when your body is unable to digest a certain component of a food, such as the protein called gluten. “When you truly have a food intolerance like celiac disease or are non-celiac gluten sensitive, the gluten can cause your small intestines to become inflamed,” says Lakatos Shames. When the small intestines become damaged from inflammation, your body isn’t able to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, which can lead to malnourishment and fatigue.
The fix: “If your doctor diagnosed you with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, eliminate all forms of wheat, rye and barley from your diet since they contain gluten that will damage the intestines,” says Lakatos Shames. Look for gluten-free alternatives and be sure to read food labels carefully, suggests Lakatos Shames.
4. You’re anemic.
Anemia can happen when your body isn’t producing enough red blood cells or the red blood cells don’t contain enough iron-rich hemoglobin, says Amy L. Doneen, ARNP, medical director of the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center. That lack of oxygen-rich blood in your body can make you feel tired and weak. While iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, other causes include heavy periods, sluggish bone marrow, vitamin B12 deficiency or a lack of folate in the diet, says Dr. Rindfleisch.
The fix: When your anemia is caused by an iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend an iron supplement and suggest eating more iron-rich foods like fish, poultry, cooked beans, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and baked potatoes, says Lakatos Shames. If you suspect your fatigue might be tied to anemia, ask a medical professional to test your iron levels, folate levels and B12 so they can tailor your treatment based on what your body needs, says Dr. Rindfleisch.
5. You’re insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance means the hormone insulin isn’t able to get nutrients, particularly glucose or sugar, into the body’s cells. Since your cells aren’t properly absorbing blood sugar, they can’t transfer energy throughout the body sufficiently, says Dr. Rindfleisch. “There’s a strong correlation between body weight and fat levels increasing and your insulin levels increasing, too,” says Dr. Rindfleisch. “High insulin also creates inflammation which can prevent healing, confuse your body, and affect energy levels,” says Dr. Rindfleisch.
The fix: Get a fasting glucose test during your routine screenings, suggests Dr. Rindfleisch. If your fasting glucose levels are higher than usual, that could be a sign that you’re having insulin resistance issues. Therefore, you should adopt healthy lifestyle changes, like exercising and making healthier food choices to lower your body weight.
Depression affects every aspect of life, from your sleep patterns, to exercise motivation, and food choices — all of which can affect your energy levels.
6. Your thyroid is out of whack.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck that controls the functioning of many of the body’s organs, including the brain, heart, liver, kidneys and skin. When someone’s thyroid levels are low, it affects energy levels because it alters the chemical reactions that get things moving in the body and can also have an effect on blood pressure, how fast the heart beats, chemical pathways, bowel movements, and it can lead to dry skin, says Dr. Rindfleisch.
The fix: Explain your symptoms to your doctor, especially if you’ve been feeing tired and depressed, and ask for a thyroid test, says Dr. Rindfleisch. Thyroid problems are often treated with daily medication to help regulate the gland so it’s functioning properly.
7. You’ve got periodontal disease.
One in two adult Americans is likely to have periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gum tissue and bones supporting the teeth. “Any bleeding whatsoever in the gums when you floss or brush, or puffiness of the gum line isn’t normal and could be a sign that you have a chronic infection which could lead to chronic fatigue,” says Doneen. Gingivitis and the advanced stage of it, periodontitis, indicate there’s inflammation in the body, says Dr. Rindfleisch. “The immune system thinks it’s fighting off an infection and with that comes fatigue,” says Dr. Rindfleisch.
The fix: “I recommend getting fully assessed for the presence of bacteria in the gum line and mouth by going to the dentist every three months, flossing teeth twice a day, and using an electric sonic toothbrush,” says Doneen.
8. You’ve got restless legs syndrome.
The neurological disorder restless legs syndrome can make you feel like you have the urge to move your legs often. You might have a desire to stretch them, bounce them, fidget, or experience aches or pains and feel relief when you get up and walk around. These daytime symptoms might indicate you’re suffering from periodic limb movement during sleep, jerking and twitching throughout the night. This could cause you to wake up frequently or prevent you from going into proper cycles of rest which can affect overall sleep quality and health, says Doneen.
The fix: “You have to settle the legs down so you can keep the body still at night and improve sleep quality,” says Dr. Rindfleisch. Share your symptoms with your doc to determine if restless legs syndrome could be a reason why you feel tired frequently. Since it’s hard to know if you’re doing it at night, you might not get an official diagnosis until you participate in a sleep study or evaluation to see if you move a lot in your sleep, says Dr. Rindfleisch. If you’re diagnosed, your doc might prescribe medication to help the legs settle down.
9. You’re depressed.
When neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, aren’t balanced in your brain, they can have a direct effect on sleep and energy levels, says Dr. Rindfleisch. The sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin, is created from serotonin, so if that conversion isn’t happening like it’s supposed to, it affects your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, he says. “Depression affects every aspect of life, from your sleep patterns, to exercise motivation, and food choices — all of which can affect your energy levels,” says Doneen.
The fix: If you notice you’re not finding pleasure in the things that normally make you happy, talk with your doctor so they can determine if you’re suffering from depression. If he or she thinks your neurotransmitter levels are off, they might prescribe an antidepressant medication to boost serotonin levels. Once your serotonin levels are back up to normal, they can make enough melatonin so you can sleep better, says Dr. Rindfleisch.
10. You’re anxious.
Those never-ending worries about your finances or job could be zapping your energy. One of the main symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder is feeling tired all the time, according to the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. Anxiety creates a sense of alarm in the body and ignites that high-adrenaline “fight or flight response,” which affects hormone levels, creates heart rate variability and blood pressure fluctuations, all of which can lead to fatigue, says Doneen. Your body releases hormones to prepare for that intense response and then the fall from that “high” can create fatigue, says Doneen.
The fix: Talk to your doctor to determine if you’re suffering from anxiety disorder or whether any medications you’re taking may be increasing your heart rate and uneasy feelings. Your doctor may recommend pills to help with anxiety and/or therapy to help you relax and think positive thoughts.
“It’s not OK to be tired all the time,” says Doneen. And it’s totally OK to schedule a doctor’s appointment with the complaint of, “I’m tired.” Be specific when you talk to your health professional though to help identify what’s causing your fatigue. Let them know if it’s muscle weakness, if it feels like sleepiness, general fatigue all day long, before or after meals or any other specific details that might help them diagnose the problem, says Dr. Rindfleisch. This will help them determine the cause and remedy the situation so you can get back to soaring energy and high-quality sleep in no time.