Why am I so tired? 6 common reasons for tiredness

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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02 April 2019

Why are we all so tired?

Fed up feeling tired? Well, you are not alone! According to an independent survey of 300 UK GPs carried out by the Natural Hydration Council, tiredness and fatigue is the primary cause for one in five GP visits.1

But what is driving so many people to seek help from their doctor for their tiredness? There are a number of things which can cause you to feel tired, sluggish and drained of energy. Let’s take a look at some of these and what you can do to fix the problem and feel more energised.

1. Poor sleep

You won’t be surprised to hear that poor sleep is one of the top reasons for tiredness. We have all experienced a sleepless night or two and had to deal with the sluggish aftermath the next day, but a good night’s sleep can usually set us right again. However, on-going poor sleep is where the problem lies when it comes to feeling tired on a regular basis.

The average adult needs between 7 -9 hours’ sleep to function best the next day. However, a recent study by chemist-4-u.com found that the average UK resident fails to achieve this recommended amount of sleep per night, with only 6% of us managing it.2 So, it’s no wonder that so many people feel tired all the time.

Being too tired to sleep can also be a problem! According to our sleep advisor, Marianna, when you feel overtired, you can feel too wired or restless to be sleepy, making it difficult to ‘switch off’ at night, even though you may feel drained and mentally tired. You can read more in her blog ‘Can you be too tired to sleep?’.

What can help?
Stick to a good sleep schedule by going to bed (and getting to sleep) at a regular time, and get up at the same time each morning - even at the weekends. This helps your body to establish a wake and sleep cycle, which can help your body understand when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

The herbs Valerian and Hops, which can be found in our Dormeasan Sleep tincture, can also help you regulate your sleep pattern and help you to sleep better.

For lots more tips and advice, explore this sleep article by Marianna: ‘Tips for a good night’s sleep’.

What else to be aware of?
If you still feel tired all the time and no other issue is obvious, you should consult your doctor.  This could also be a sign of sleep apnoea, a disorder where airflow can be interrupted for 10 seconds or more while sleeping. These repeated sleep interruptions can make you feel very tired during the day.

2. Dehydration

While many people blame lack of sleep for their tiredness or lack of energy, something as simple as not drinking enough water could really be the culprit here!

Tiredness and fatigue are actually one of the most common early warning signs that you are dehydrated, but why is this? Well, when you’re dehydrated, your blood pressure can drop. This decreases blood flow to the brain, which can make you feel sleepy and fatigued.

Tiredness as a result of not drinking enough water is more common than you may realise. In the same survey conducted by the National Hydration Council, it was reported that, in more than one in ten cases of tiredness and fatigue (12 %), GPs believed dehydration to be the primary cause.1

The survey also reported that in almost half (49%) of instances where a patient’s symptoms of tiredness and fatigue had been linked to dehydration, the patient had been surprised that dehydration was the diagnosis. Plus, in more than a third (35%) of cases, patients reported feeling better after drinking more water.

What can help?
Simply put, drink more water! You can use the recommended water intake of between 1.5 and 2 litres each day as a goal.

In her article ‘Can not drinking enough water make you feel tired?’, our health advisor Annmarie takes a closer look at the impact dehydration can have on our energy levels and offers her advice on how to get hydrated quickly, including why plain water is best and which drinks can be problematic.

Not sure if you are dehydrated? I explain what you should look out for in my article ‘How can you tell if you're dehydrated?’.

3. Blood sugar

Ever noticed that your energy levels slump quickly if you skip a meal or after eating a sugary treat? Dips and spikes in your blood sugar levels can have a huge impact on your energy so, if you are not eating regularly or if you’re eating the wrong things, then tiredness can be a common occurrence.

It’s not just diabetics who need to understand the role of blood sugar in the body, everyone does! So, what is it and why is it so important, especially if you are feeling tired? Well, put simply, blood sugar, or glucose, is found in the bloodstream, which circulates to all cells in the body to serve as its main energy source.

We get this glucose from the foods we eat, and the complex process of absorbing, storing and producing it is regulated by the small intestine, liver and pancreas. Our blood sugar levels naturally change throughout the day, but there are things which can cause them to rapidly increase and decrease, thus causing our energy levels to rise and dip.

After eating, our blood sugar levels increase and then settle again after an hour or so. However, this can be dependent on what we eat. Foods such as refined carbs (e.g. white bread, white rice and white pasta), as well as refined sugary foods (e.g. cakes, biscuits and chocolate) can cause our levels to rise quickly and then dip sharply. So, while they may make you feel full or energised initially, the inevitable crash that follows drains your energy and often leaves you hungrier than you were to start with.

Also, your blood sugar is usually at its lowest first thing in the morning after you have fasted during the night. So, it’s little wonder we feel tired until we refuel our bodies with breakfast.

What can help?
Firstly, don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Aim to have regular meals every 3-5 hours and also think about what you’re putting on your plate.

Avoid foods which cause your blood sugar levels to spike dramatically; instead, eat foods which help to stabilise your blood sugars and provide a slow release of sustainable energy. To keep your blood sugar levels steady, I recommend a diet rich in soluble fibre, protein and good fats.

Some good foods to consider include:

  • Wholegrain, multigrain, rye and sourdough bread
  • Oatmeal and bran cereals
  • Fruit and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, apples, pears and strawberries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes and pulses (lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans are good options)
  • Chicken, pork, eggs, salmon, sardines and prawns.

Tip: One of my favourite energising snacks is toasted pumpkin seeds with a splash of soy sauce. Another great snack is roasted chickpeas. So, if you are looking for a snack to boost your energy in the afternoon, then try this recipe for dry-roasted curried chickpeas.

For more information on good food options to help regulate your blood sugar, take a look at my article ‘8 foods that can help to lower your blood sugar levels’.

4. Vitamin or mineral deficiency

One of the most common and simplest causes of tiredness and fatigue is a vitamin or mineral deficiency, with the main culprits including low iron, magnesium, vitamin D, B12, potassium and iodine.

Poor or restrictive diets can often contribute to these deficiencies, for example, if you’re not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables, good proteins or healthy fats. Many vegetarians and vegans can risk becoming deficient, especially in vitamin B12 and iron, because they don't eat meat or dairy, which can result in them becoming tired more easily.

Stress, poor sleep and recovering from an illness can also deplete the body of these essential nutrients and impact your energy levels.

In my article ‘Feeling fatigued? You could be suffering from a deficiency!’, I delve a little bit deeper into how iron, magnesium and B12 deficiencies can affect your energy.

Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of vitamin D deficiency - a unique vitamin that most people don't get enough of, especially in the UK. Our bodies  naturally create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin; however, during the darker months (from October to early March), we aren’t able to produce vitamin D from sunlight. Therefore, people are often deficient and need to look to other sources of vitamin D during these months, such as diet and supplements.

What can help?
If you think you may have a nutritional deficiency, you can ask your doctor to test your iron, vitamin D and B12 levels. A simple blood test can confirm if you have a deficiency. Thereafter, you can easily increase your nutrient intake, through your diet or with a supplement, if your doctor recommends this.

Your doctor may also consider testing your thyroid function, which may suggest that you need an extra dose of iodine.

Doctors often don’t routinely test for other minerals, such as potassium or magnesium, but, if you feel like you need to support your levels, then you could try a gentle supplement such as our Balance Mineral Drink. This contains magnesium, vitamin D and potassium, as well as calcium and zinc, which not only help to curb deficiencies but also work to promote healthier energy levels.

My Top Tip:

Packed full of fatigue-fighting electrolytes and vitamins, including calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, this strawberry-flavoured drink is ideal for helping to boost your energy.

You can drink it whenever you feel most tired, such as in the morning or when your energy slumps in the afternoon. It also makes a good post-workout drink.

"I am now a regular purchaser of this product, it's really helped me with fatigue."

 

Read what other people are saying about Balance Mineral Drink.

5. Poor digestion

Another common, but less obvious, cause of tiredness or fatigue could be poor digestion. Firstly, we rely on good, strong stomach acid to help properly break down the foods we eat. Not only will sufficient stomach secretions aid smooth digestion, but  they will also allow us to break our food down into its very simplest units more successfully, and ensure that we absorb all the essential nutrients it contains.

So, please note, if you’ve been taking strong acid-reducing medication such as PPIs for some time, and have noticed a dip in your energy levels, this may be something worth talking over with your GP.

Next, as food travels out of the stomach and into the small intestine, we rely on the proper movement of bile from our gallbladder, in order to assist with proper fat absorption. It’s a common misconception that low-fat diets are healthier but, actually, we need sufficient healthy fats in our diet in order to support the absorption of vital fat-soluble nutrients. These include vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K, many of which also play an important role in supporting our energy levels.

Finally, if the balance of bacteria in your gut is a little off, this could also be making you feel more sluggish. The bacteria residing throughout our digestive tract are responsible for metabolising many of the starches and sugars from the carbohydrate portions of our diet but, also, an overgrowth of bad bacteria could more directly affect our energy levels and contribute to fatigue.

If your gut bacteria are out of balance, infections such as candida can more easily take hold and give rise to a range of common symptoms including brain fog, tiredness or fatigue.

What can help?
Ensure that you chew your food properly to help get those all-important digestive processes off to the best start. Also, separate your drinks from meals – this means you won’t risk diluting your gastric secretions.

Finally, consider adding a herbal bitter remedy into your regime if you feel your stomach may need some support. Taking Yarrow bitters 5-10 minutes before meals in a small splash of water can help to support the efficacy of digestion.

6. Your life load

Man feeling stressed at work“I’m just so busy” is the war cry of so many of us these days! Too many personal and work commitments have our busy lives loaded to the max, which risks depleting our energy levels. And the main culprit for this often comes down to stress!

Many studies have found that fatigue is strongly linked to stress.3,4 So, why can stress make us feel both mentally and physically exhausted?

When we are stressed, energy is diverted from normal muscular and cognitive functions into the stress response trigger; this involves increasing our heart rate, blood pressure and sweat production, whilst blocking out all other factors that don’t relate to the stress trigger. This can wear us out quickly, leaving us with little energy afterwards.

On top of that, feeling stressed can also result in sleep problems and can strip us of essential nutrients such as magnesium, a fatigue-fighting mineral which is not only essential for our energy levels, but also for good sleep and stress management.

In her article ‘Is fatigue a sign of stress?’, our mood advisor Marianna takes a closer look at why stress can cause fatigue and what you can do to fix the problem.

Other life loads which can impact your energy levels and leave you feeling tired and drained include financial problems, depression, bereavement and grief, moving home, divorce, recovery from illness, family commitments, long-distance travel and strict fitness regimes.

What can help?
Give yourself a bit of time to relax each day. I recommend trying to switch off and relax for the last hour of the day before you go to bed. This not only allows you to have some time to yourself, it also helps your body to wind down before bedtime.

If you feel as though you need an extra helping handle to tackle stress, you could try a gentle stress remedy like our AvenaCalm tincture.

Made from oats and traditionally used to support the nervous system during times of stress, this supportive remedy may also help to improve sleep.

To sum up

There are many causes of tiredness, so it’s little wonder so many of us are struggling to fight fatigue on a regular basis. If you are concerned about feeling tired all the time, I would recommend that you speak to your doctor because there may be other underlying issues or health concerns at play.

References

1. https://www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/press/gps-reveal-uk-tired-all-the-time/
2. https://www.chemist-4-u.com/sleep-study/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21774803
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26143479

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