By: Linda Hepler, BSN, RN1374001798-shutterstock_90594424
Sure, we all feel tired sometimes. And it’s normal to feel tired – but happy – after a hard workout or a long and productive day at work. But when you fail to wake up refreshed day after day, when fatigue is overwhelming and longstanding, it can be debilitating – even dangerous, said Emerson Wickwire, PhD, the Sleep Medicine Program Director at Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Associates in Columbia, Maryland, and an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Fatigue has caused or contributed to man-made disasters ranging from Exxon Valdez to the chemical explosion in Bhopal, India, as well as thousands of smaller scale industrial accidents,” he explained. “And doctors who have worked longer than 24-hour shifts commit fatal medical errors far more often than well-rested doctors. It’s safe to say that fatigue is a major risk problem.”

Fatigue puts a major damper on your life, zapping your energy and leaving you too pooped to participate. And all too often we ignore our fatigue, said Dr. Wickwire. “When we feel tired, it’s easy to think, ‘I can push through this,’ or ‘this is normal,’ and that’s why fatigue can kill so quickly.”

The good news? Taking time to track down the reason for your fatigue can most often lead to a fix – and restored energy levels. Here are some causes of fatigue you may want to consider:

1. Poor quality sleep. Sure, you know that you need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. And you may well be in bed for that length of time. But there are several conditions that interfere with sleep, according to Derek Ochiai, MD, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon from Arlington, Virginia. “People often don’t realize their sleep is interrupted due to a breathing issue like sleep apnea,” he said.

Sleep apnea is a condition where you have brief interruptions of airflow and loss of oxygen during sleep, explained Dr. Ochiai – a situation that can lead to chronic daytime drowsiness.

The fix: If you’re not waking up feeling refreshed despite adequate hours in bed, consider an evaluation by a sleep specialist to rule out sleep disorders.

2. Too much caffeine. Yes, that cup or two of java gets you moving in the morning. It even helps a little bit with your workout. But too much caffeine and your body (which is always seeking a balance between stimulation and sedation) produces counter-caffeine chemicals to sedate you back to center, causing a post-caffeine slump.

The fix: It’s hard to cut back on caffeine, said David Marks, MD, former health and science editor and chief medical reporter for CBS News and currently chief medical officer of InBalance Health in New York. “We’re a hyper-caffeinated society,” he said. “We drink cola, tea and coffee all day long.”

But it’s worth a try to substitute water or other non-caffeinated drinks at least some of the time to see if this improves energy levels, he added. “And stop drinking caffeine at least by 4 p.m. or it can interfere with sleep.”

3. Poor nutrition. Many of us, especially if we’re athletes, think we’re eating all the right things. But we may not be eating enough. Research shows that a large percentage of athletes get insufficient calories, carbohydrates and protein for muscle growth and recovery, leading to both muscle and body exhaustion. Many others eat insufficient amounts of iron, which is found in lean meats, shellfish, beans and enriched cereals. This can cause anemia, especially in women, who already may have their stores of iron depleted due to monthly menstrual blood loss, further complicating the fatigue picture.

The fix: Take a look at your diet and your general health. If you’re not building muscle, if you’re feeling exhausted following your workouts or if you become sick easily, it’s smart to check in with a nutritionist to find out exactly how much of what foods you should be eating for maximum performance and energy.

4. Undiagnosed illness. Fatigue is a symptom of many diseases, said Dr. Marks, including some you may be unaware that you have, such as diabetes, heart disease, urinary tract infection or rheumatoid arthritis. Hormonal issues, such as low thyroid or low testosterone levels, can also leave you zapped of energy.

The fix: If changes in sleep and nutrition don’t have you feeling more energized, consider visiting your doctor to rule out illnesses that may cause fatigue.

5. Overtraining. It’s no secret among athletes that you have to work hard to improve performance. But as healthy as working out is for your body, it also acts as a stressor. Studies have shown that athletes who train hard without including sufficient rest to allow for recovery have increased cortisol levels, decreased testosterone levels, an altered immune status and an increase in muscular break down products – all of which can result in fatigue.

The fix: Listen to your body, said Dr. Marks, and make sure to build recovery time into your training program. “Your body uses as much energy to recover as it does to work out,” he added.

6. Undiagnosed depression. You’d know it if you were depressed, right? Actually, many people don’t realize that they’re depressed because they may not recognize the symptoms. Most of us think of depression as a feeling of sadness, but many people, especially men, experience low energy levels as the major symptom of depression, along with irritability and inability to make decisions.

The fix: Both genetic factors and life stressors can contribute to the development of depression. Recognize that you don’t have total control over your mental state and talk to your doctor about the possibility of depression, which can be treated.


Facts About Fatigue
According to David Marks, MD, former health and science editor and chief medical reporter for CBS News and currently chief medical officer of InBalance Health in New York, fatigue is one of the most common complaints that bring people to the doctor’s office.

A new study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that fatigue causes 20 percent of car crashes. More surprisingly, the number of fatigue-related accidents is higher during daytime hours than during the night.

Studies show that people need between seven and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for maximum performance and energy, yet 30 percent of people sleep less than six hours per night.

A 2011 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 20 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 29 are awakened at least a few nights a week by calls, texts or emails. In addition to the sleep interruption, the blue lights emitted by these electronic gadgets suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.

Recent research suggests that in addition to fatigue being a symptom of depression, it can also cause depression.

Moderate physical activity can zap fatigue in many cases. But it doesn’t have to be strenuous. A study through the University of Oregon found that a regular routine of gentle yoga can boost energy levels substantially.

Dehydration zaps energy and reduces performance. And thirst is not always an indicator of dehydration; if your urine is darker than straw colored, you need a water fix. MS&F

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
  • Pinterest

There are no comments yet, add one below.

Leave a Comment