Are you tired of feeling tired? You’re not alone. Feeling tired all the time is so common it has its own acronym: TATT. About a third of us regularly feel sleepy or fatigued. The reasons may be obvious and temporary – such as staying up too late. But if you’re always tired and have no energy it can affect your quality of life and ability to function.
Feeling tired all the time is one of the top reasons people see their GP. It’s important to seek medical advice if you’ve been experiencing fatigue for a long time, in case there’s a physical illness causing it. But in most cases it’s down to everyday lifestyle factors.
There may also be psychological reasons for your fatigue. The key is to identify the cause, then take appropriate action.
Physical causes of tiredness
The NHS recommends that you see your GP if you’ve been feeling constantly tired for more than four weeks. Physical causes can include a wide range of conditions – not always illness-related. Possible causes include:
- Anaemia (iron deficiency). Treated by taking iron tablets.
- Underactive thyroid. Usually treated by taking daily hormone tablets.
- Diabetes. Treatable with insulin and/or dietary changes.
- Pregnancy. Particularly in the first 12 weeks.
- Weight. Being overweight or underweight can affect your energy levels.
Lifestyle factors that cause tiredness
Many lifestyle factors can leave you feeling tired all the time. These can include habitually working late, staying up too late, having a poor diet or not getting enough exercise.
- Late nights. Try to avoid long hours if possible – whether that’s due to work or leisure. The National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy adults need 7-9 hours’ sleep a night.
- Diet. If you’re tired, it can be tempting to drink more coffee or eat a chocolate bar as a quick fix. This may help in the short term – but can make things worse long term. If you’re always tired, try cutting down on sugar, caffeine and carbs.
- Alcohol. Regularly drinking in the evening can make us spend more time in deep sleep – which might seem a good thing. But we spend less time than we need in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is essential to feel fully rested.
- Water. Are you tired or are you dehydrated? Most of us don’t drink enough. The recommendation is to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day.
- Exercise. Are you getting enough exercise? It may be the last thing you want to do if you’re feeling tired. But even a short walk can do wonders.
Waking up tired and no energy
Do you often wake up tired and drag yourself through the day? This can be the result of a disrupted sleep pattern, or a sleep disorder. Try to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ – or bedtime routine:
- Don’t drink coffee in the evening. If you have too much sugar or caffeine too close to bedtime day, this can make it hard to get to sleep.
- Stick to a regular sleep pattern. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day – even at weekends.
- Avoid blue light. The ‘blue light’ that your laptop, phone or TV screen gives off can keep you awake. Try to avoid screens for an hour before bed. If you really can’t, there are settings that can give many smart screens an orange tint in the evening.
- Put your phone away. Do you take your smartphone to bed with you, and endlessly scroll through Twitter? Try leaving it in another room – or at least at the other end of your bedroom.
Sleep disorders that can disrupt your sleep and leave you waking up tired include sleep apnoea. This is obstruction of the airway during sleep, which causes a lack of deep sleep – and often snoring! Seek advice from your doctor if you think you might have a sleep disorder.
Always tired no matter how much sleep I get
What if you’re getting enough sleep – but still feel tired? One possible reason could be chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – which used to be called ME. The causes of this are not fully understood, and it’s often a diagnosis given when everything else has been ruled out. But it’s commonly understood to be a post-viral condition.
If you’ve had a viral infection – anything from glandular fever to Covid – it could result in temporary or longer-term post-viral fatigue. Recent research has confirmed chronic fatigue as the main symptom of ‘long Covid’ – a condition we’re learning more about. Consult your GP if you think this could apply to you.
Another possible cause could be depression. This can result in a lack of energy and disturbed sleep – whether not sleeping enough or sleeping too much.
Always tired in the winter
Are you only tired in the winter? If you only experience fatigue in the colder, darker months, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We all get the ‘winter blues’ to some extent, but SAD can be more debilitating. In most cases it can be well-managed.
- Take Vitamin D. The NHS recommends that all adults take a Vitamin D supplement in the winter months.
- Go for a walk. Going for a walk, particularly at lunchtime when the sun is at its brightest, will help you get more of the natural daylight you need.
- Use a lightbox. Many SAD sufferers also use a lightbox that mimics the sunlight you’re missing.
Psychological reasons for fatigue
Psychological causes of tiredness are more common than physical causes. If you’ve ever lain awake worrying, for example, you’ll know how drained you can feel the next day. Common psychological causes of tiredness include stress, anxiety and depression.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to situations that are demanding or which may be threatening, such as financial difficulties, work-related issues, or problems within personal relationships.
When we experience a sense of threat, our bodies go into ‘fight or flight’ mode where they release stress hormones to prepare for emergency action to protect us from danger. If you’re under chronic stress, this can be exhausting. Learning to manage your stress will help your energy levels. Try the following:
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can help calm your mind in stressful situations.
- Set boundaries. Don’t take too much on, set realistic goals and strive for a healthy work-life balance.
Anxiety is a basic, human emotion that we all experience when our bodies anticipate threat or danger. But if feeling anxious and worried is keeping you awake, it can leave you feeling exhausted.
If it’s been happening for a long time, and you feel like your worries are consuming you, it’s possible you may have an anxiety disorder. There are all kinds of treatments available, so it’s really important that you seek the right support as soon as possible.
- Consult a therapist. Find out more about how you can get started with My Online Therapy.
- Practice self-care. Try our Self-care courses which can help you understand and manage your anxiety.
We don’t all experience depression in the same way. While it’s most obvious effect may be negative emotional feelings, it can also have physical symptoms including feeling tired all the time and having no energy.
Depression can also result in poor sleep – which causes tiredness. The relationship between sleep and depression is a complex, two-way one. The good news is that depression is treatable – and people who have been treated for depression often report better sleep and feel less tired.
- Consult a therapist. Our highly-trained team at My Online Therapy are experienced at helping individuals suffering from depression.
- Practice self-care. Try our Self-care courses which can help you understand and recover from depression.
Whatever the reason for your fatigue, there’s likely to be a solution that will help you. While it’s important to see your GP to rule out any physical cause, you may also want to try addressing some lifestyle factors or consider possible psychological causes of your tiredness.