According to recent data from the Sleep Foundation, almost half of all workers report being tired regularly. Even further, over one-third of people admit to sleeping less than seven hours each night.
Given this insight, poor sleep may be why many feel tired, but is that the only cause? The broader data on the current mental, emotional, and physical state of U.S. adults suggests that other factors, such as stress, may also play a role in chronic fatigue.
For example, The American Institute of Stress reports that 55% of adults are feeling the current political and socioeconomic pressures, making the U.S. one of the most stressed nations in the world. Not to mention, remote workers still account for nearly 30% of all jobs, generating new sources of stress—like childcare, zoom fatigue, and social isolation. Then there’s the myriad of factors (like lack of vacation time, lack of work-life balance, and poor time management) causing 77% of employees to experience work burnout.
When stressed, your nervous system becomes flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, switching your body into “fight or flight” mode. This is healthy when employed in the presence of actual danger. However, remaining in this state long-term can affect more than just your blood pressure—it can strain relationships, affect productivity, and ultimately reduce your quality of life.
If you’ve been asking yourself, “Why am I always tired?” even if you’re getting decent sleep, consider these 15 other possible causes.
- Stress is one of the leading causes of fatigue.
- 24 million people with sleep apnea aren’t diagnosed.
- 9 out of 10 people with kidney disease aren’t aware they have it.
- Nearly 15 million employees work night shifts or otherwise irregular hours.
- 280 million people globally are affected by depression, some of which are misdiagnosed.
Why Am I Always Tired?
Poor or irregular sleep patterns can certainly be the cause behind feeling tired. However, other factors like lifestyle, underlying health conditions, medications, and stress, can also lead to fatigue. If your energy levels have been low for a while, you may have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from one or several other possible causes.
It’s during sleep that our minds and bodies slow down enough to engage in processes of recovery and healing. Yet, with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a person never feels rejuvenated. This is because the symptoms of chronic fatigue, such as depression, muscle pain, and insomnia, often prohibit a person from getting high-quality sleep, regardless of the cause.
What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), is characterized by feelings of low energy that persist for six months or longer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 2.5 million people battle Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
When a person has chronic fatigue, their sleep quality isn’t the only thing that becomes impaired. CFS disrupts multiple systemic and metabolic processes, including cognition, physical functioning, sensory intolerance, immune function, and even the gastrointestinal system.
While the National Institute of Health reports that in many cases, those with CFS first experienced an acute infection, the specific factors that propagate CFS aren’t precisely known. As Rhesus Medicine explains, “Due to some presentations beginning after influenza-like illness or gastroenteritis, some have hypothesized an infectious cause, but no definitive evidence has been produced.”
Symptoms of chronic fatigue:
- Sensitivity to light
- Being easily distracted
- Confusion and forgetfulness
- General fatigue and feeling weak
- Tender lymph nodes and joint pain
Researchers at John Hopkins Medicine further report that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome occurs in women four times more than in men, and affects middle-aged people most often.
15 Other Factors That Cause You to Feel Tired
It’s normal to feel stressed sometimes. It’s our body’s way of responding to threats and protecting us from danger. However, when stress persists, it can begin to have negative effects on our cognitive, emotional, and physical health.
As SciShow Psych explains, “People under chronic stress are at higher risk for all kinds of ailments, like heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and mental disorders like anxiety and depression. That’s because in addition to it being super unpleasant to be stressed out all the time, the stress response is constantly sapping your energy.”
Healthy ways to manage stress:
- Go outside: Studies show that being outside, particularly in nature and in green settings, can reduce stress and improve health.
- Exercise regularly: Research by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America links regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, with reduced tension levels and a more stabilized mood.
- Avoid toxic productivity: Combat toxic productivity by allowing yourself not to feel guilty for taking breaks or having shorter to-do lists.
- Laugh: A theoretical review published in the National Library of Medicine found that laughing effectively boosted mental health by decreasing cortisol levels.
2. Viral or Bacterial Infection
Having a cold or virus stresses your body. This is because your body must pool its resources to fight off the infection and restore homeostasis. As SciShow Psycho shares, “The resources used by fight-or-flight have to come from somewhere, and one of the places they come from is your immune system.”
The strain on your immune system can cause you to feel tired. Of course, if you have a cold or flu that persists, it can begin to feel like chronic fatigue.
Tips for preserving your energy levels while sick:
- Prioritize sleep
- Reduce how much you interact with others
- Eat immune-stimulating foods like kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt
3. Poor Kidney Function or Anemia
According to the American Kidney Fund, 9 out of 10 people with kidney disease aren’t aware they even have it. Poor kidney function, if left untreated, can lead to anemia, a blood disorder that currently affects more than 3 million people.
If you’ve been feeling tired lately, consider visiting your physician to assess your kidney function and red blood cells. If you don’t have an iron deficiency, having it checked at least rules this out as a potential cause of chronic fatigue.
Other possible symptoms of poor kidney function and anemia:
- Chest pain
- General weakness
- Cold hands or feet
- Spells of dizziness
- Shortness of breath
The CDC’s National Diabetes Statistics Report found that 37.3 million people have diabetes or about 11.3% of the population. Further, according to the American Kidney Fund, diabetes is the top cause of poor kidney function, serving as the primary culprit in 47% of cases.
To understand how these conditions influence energy, it’s essential to understand how insulin and blood glucose impair the body. It comes down to two particular conditions of diabetes—hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia—both of which can tax energy.
Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia:
- Hyperglycemia: This describes when too much sugar is in the blood, resulting in high blood glucose. When this happens, it takes your body longer to circulate the blood to the muscle and tissue cells.
- Hypoglycemia: This condition describes when there is not enough sugar in the blood, resulting in deficient blood glucose levels in the cells. Most often, this occurs in those receiving diabetes treatment and can also occur in those who are non-diabetic.
Diabetes results when sugar builds up in the bloodstream (hyperglycemia). This happens when there isn’t enough insulin—the hormone that circulates the sugar to the cells—produced from the pancreas. In these cases, a person can develop one of two types of diabetes: Type 1, which is genetic and they were likely born with, and Type 2, which is lifestyle-related and develops over time.
Lifestyle habits that can thwart Type 2 Diabetes:
- Exercising regularly
- Prioritizing quality sleep
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Choosing not to smoke cigarettes
- Opting for a healthy and balanced diet
Certain medications are known to lead to fatigue. If you struggle with depression, diabetes, an underactive thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), or anxiety, you may be taking medications that are impairing your energy levels.
Common medications that can cause chronic fatigue:
- Blood pressure medications
Dr. W. Steven Pray, with U.S. Pharmacist, explains: “If prescription medications are suspected to be the cause of fatigue or of CFS, patients should be asked to visit their prescriber for a full evaluation and consideration of alternative medications.”
Pregnancy takes a toll on one’s energy levels. When pregnancy progresses, various hormones and physiological processes begin taking place to support a growing fetus. As this happens, your natural energy can begin to fain, especially in a woman’s first trimester when progesterone levels are higher.
Jess of the Pocketful of Parenting YouTube channel shares, “When you get pregnant, there are obviously so many things happening to your body as it works to grow a baby, which all contribute to feeling tired.”
3 Tips for boosting your energy while pregnant:
- Do 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise (like brisk walking).
- Be sure to take prenatal vitamins, especially a Vitamin B complex which can help restore energy.
- Take a 10–20 minute nap (no later than 2:00 p.m., as it can disrupt your nightly sleep cycle).
Similar to pregnancy, the body’s hormones fluctuate greatly during menopause. These fluctuations, combined with reduced estrogen levels, can cause poor sleep, discomfort, and frequent urination. These factors can exacerbate already-low energy levels. Fortunately, there are some ways to help mitigate these symptoms and restore energy healthfully.
Dana LaVoie, LAc, explains how menopause fatigue is a bit different from regular fatigue: “When it’s strictly hormonally-based, and it’s not about the amount of energy you have, it’s just about the energy that you can’t even use that’s inaccessible to you, you need a full-on hormonal solution to that . . . if it’s this regular fatigue where you’re just tired because you’re burning the candle at both ends . . . that is an energy management and energy replenishment fatigue.”
Ways to boost energy naturally during menopause:
- Engage in regular moderate to high-intensity exercise.
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Avoid caffeine midday or alcohol close to bedtime.
- Make time each day to do something relaxing.
8. Personal Relationships
Fatigue from spending too much time with others—also called relationship fatigue—can cause a person to feel emotionally drained. Whether you’ve been working from home alongside your partner, been inundated with social obligations, or caretaking for a loved one, these interactions can wear on your energy.
As Psych2Go shares, “When you find yourself dreading to interact with someone, that’s a definite red flag. It means that every time that you spend time with this person, you’re left distressed and emotionally spent.”
Tips for overcoming emotional exhaustion:
- Learn to stop exhaustion before it starts by increasing emotional intelligence.
- Establish healthy boundaries with others to protect your energy.
- Schedule alone time each day, doing something you enjoy.
9. Nutritional Deficiency or Imbalances
Your body needs certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. If you aren’t getting enough Vitamin B12, which comes from meat and dairy, for example, your red blood cell count may become low. This reduction in red blood cells can cause fatigue and even lead to anemia if untreated. The best way to combat the potential for a nutritional deficiency or imbalance is to eat a varied and balanced diet.
Foods that give you energy:
- Greek yogurt
Learn if you have a nutritional deficiency by visiting your physician or contacting a nutrition expert near you.
10. Lack of Exercise
If you sit at a computer most of the day, this could be contributing to feeling tired. Studies have linked highly sedentary lifestyles with an increased likelihood of chronic fatigue syndrome. Fortunately, other studies have also shown that engaging in regular exercise can effectively reduce feelings of fatigue.
Dr. Toni Golen and Dr. Hope Ricciotti explain in an article for Harvard Health, “Exercising also boosts oxygen circulation inside your body. This increase in oxygen not only supports the mitochondria’s energy production, it allows your body to function better and to use its energy more efficiently.”
4 Anywhere-Exercises That Boost Energy:
- Jump squats: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lower into a squat, and then jump up explosively.
- High knees: Stand with feet hip-width apart and lift your knee high up to your chest, alternating knees.
- Mountain climbers: Begin in a plank position, then lift your right knee and draw it to your elbow, then your left knee. Continue switching knees for several rounds.
- Lateral lunges: Standing tall with feet hip-width apart, take a large step to the left, bending your knee almost to a squat position; then go to the right.
11. Irregular Schedules
A report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showed that nearly 15 million employees work a full-time night, evening, or rotating shift. If you work a shift outside of normal working hours, like doctors, firefighters, or truck drivers do, you’re likely more affected than you think. While shift work can allow many the freedom and flexibility to pursue school during the day or earn additional money, according to the Sleep Foundation, several drawbacks exist.
Without proper planning, night shifts can cause poor sleep patterns, strained relationships, and hormonal imbalances, all of which can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome. If working standard hours just isn’t feasible, there are fortunately things you can do to cope.
Strategies for coping with shift work:
- Optimize daytime sleep by setting a consistent sleep schedule.
- Avoid eating foods during your shift that are difficult to digest.
- Reduce your overall caffeine intake.
Being dehydrated is another possible cause of low energy. In fact, fatigue is the most common sign of not having enough water in your system. Drinking plenty of water helps your body to get rid of waste, digest, circulate oxygen to the cells, regulate body temperature, and much more. If you’re not consuming enough water daily (roughly 2.7 liters for women and 3.7 liters for men), you become less able to function efficiently.
Use this daily water intake calculator to see exactly how much water you should drink based on your weight and lifestyle.
Symptoms of dehydration:
- Dark yellow or brown urine
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
- Less frequent urination
13. Underactive Thyroid
Your thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormone, which regulates your body’s metabolism, digestion, and brain function. When your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough of this hormone, your metabolism can decrease, resulting in symptoms like tiredness, depression, and cold intolerance. This is called hypothyroidism, a condition that affects nearly 5 out of every 100 people.
A person should consult their physician immediately for a thyroid function test if an underactive thyroid is suspected. If hypothyroidism is confirmed, the physician will likely prescribe a hormone replacement medication called levothyroxine. There is, unfortunately, no way to prevent hypothyroidism. However, a person can learn about the certain factors that may make them more susceptible.
Factors that increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism:
- Radiation therapy
- Thyroid surgery
- Radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medicines (like Tapazole)
- Family history of hypothyroidism
14. Sleep Apnea
While about 30 million people have sleep apnea, only 6 million are diagnosed, according to the American Medical Association. Sleep apnea is when a person’s airways either partially or fully collapse during sleep several times throughout the night. In its early stages, someone can have sleep apnea and not know it, as it may only occur a few times per hour. However, even a few times per hour can unknowingly cause a person to feel fatigued the next day.
As Dr. Kwan, a sleep specialist, explains in a video for Harvard Medical School: “We find that people who have a history of snoring and sleep apnea in their family are more likely to have it themselves. The other thing is that people who are overweight get sleep apnea at a much higher rate than people who aren’t overweight.”
Signs you might have sleep apnea:
- Tossing and turning at night.
- Snoring, snorting, or gasping.
- Often or always feeling tired during the day.
- Matching the profile of factors commonly associated with sleep apnea.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, you should consult a sleep specialist or take this sleep apnea test.
Depression is a mental disorder that affects about 280 million people worldwide. Those diagnosed with depression no longer enjoy things as they once did, placing a strain on themselves and their relationships with others. For most, depression manifests in daily episodes that last for a while. During an episode, a depressed person can feel sad, empty, withdrawn, and tired.
However, it’s important to note that chronic fatigue syndrome is sometimes misdiagnosed as depression. Dr. Ramani Durvasula explains further: “Depression’s on a continuum . . . so at the milder levels of depression, you might see somebody whose energy is a little lower than usual, they might be having negative thoughts about themselves . . . and in those milder levels of depression, you’re much more likely potentially to see either if not a misdiagnosis, a co-occurring diagnosis.”
Effective treatments for diagnosed depression:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of psychological therapy guides a person through their harmful thoughts and learned destructive behaviors and provides healthy strategies for changing one’s perspective.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): IPT improves interpersonal function by relieving the psychological symptoms—such as grief, tension, and distress—caused by everyday life events, conflict, and interactions.
- Behavioral activation: A method of CBT, behavioral activation targets depression by identifying the behaviors that cause it. It then works to restructure these behaviors for positive outcomes.
- Problem-solving therapy: This therapy aims to identify the specific stress-inducing problems that arise in one’s life and provide practical tools for minimizing their impact.
It’s Normal to Feel Tired Sometimes, But Not Always
“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.”Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Feeling tired is part of life. Feeling tired all of the time, however, is not. If you’ve had low energy for a while, begin dialing into what your body might be trying to tell you. You may need better stress management techniques, vitamins, more water, social boundaries, or permission to rest. Whatever it is, it’s important to increase your self-awareness and become conscious of the state of your health.
Resources for self-assessment:
- Complete this Wheel of Wellbeing Quiz.
- Begin using a Health and Wellness Log.
- Do a 30-minute guided body scan meditation.
- Read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.
If you are tired and working a lot, continue reading “15 Habits Workaholics in Denial Have in Common.”
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