It’s a common scenario: the alarm goes off in the morning and you hit the snooze, sometimes multiple times. But even on those nights when you get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye, you feel sluggish and fatigued, and it’s a feeling that stays with you all day. That’s because feeling tired isn’t always about not getting enough sleep.
There are a number of reasons you always feel tired that could be linked to underlying medical issues, nutrition deficiencies and lifestyle factors. We’ve narrowed down seven of the most common culprits that could be at the root of your fatigue in an effort to help you make the necessary changes that could kick your energy levels into high gear.
Anemia is the result of having low levels of hemoglobin in your blood, which is the core component of red blood cells that carry oxygen. In this case, the blood in your system is incapable of delivering enough oxygen to your organs.
“You’d be really fatigued because the blood can’t deliver substantial oxygen to your brain, heart and other important organs,” says Dr. Brett Belchetz, medical director of Maple medical clinic in Toronto.
Although iron deficiency is one of the most commonly discussed causes of anemia, it’s also just one of many.
“Your medical professional needs to understand if your anemia is due to losing hemoglobin or because your body doesn’t produce enough of it. You could be bleeding somewhere — like a microscopic gastrointestinal tear — or for some women, it could be excessive menstrual bleeding,” he says. “All these should be dealt with because if you can stop the hemoglobin loss, your body can [catch up].”
The thyroid is a part of the endocrine system that releases hormones that control metabolism. It’s responsible for regulating vital functions like heart rate, breathing, body weight, muscle strength, body temperature and more. If it’s too low, you’ll feel sluggish and have low energy levels, in addition to experiencing other side effects like weight gain, constipation and dry skin.
“The good thing about this is that it’s easy to check with a simple blood test,” Belchetz says. “Thyroid medication is also very effective and most people will get back to their former energy levels quickly.”
Type 2 diabetes is commonly under-recognized because it comes on gradually. It’s the result of the body being incapable of properly using the insulin that’s naturally created by the pancreas or the inability to produce enough insulin. The result is sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy.
“It’s one of these issues that affect almost every organ and if it’s not well managed, it can do damage to a number of things including the arteries, brain, heart, kidney and limbs,” Belchetz says.
Fatigue is a result of diabetes and it stems both from the disease itself as well as its outcomes.
“What’s happening is when the body doesn’t regulate insulin properly, it’s not processing sugar properly, meaning there’s either too much or too little sugar in the system. Our organs are designed to work within tight blood-sugar ranges, and when we go out of those bounds, our organs don’t work as well, leaving us feeling fatigued in addition to other things.”
You might think that you’re too tired to go out and hit the running trail, but by not doing that, you’re only perpetuating your fatigue. That’s because exercise stimulates your cells to increase overall energy.
It doesn’t have to be an intense workout, either. A 30-minute walk around your neighbourhood will help to shake off the sluggishness.
In a small study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, researchers found that sedentary adults who engaged in low-intensity exercise for six weeks reported increased feelings of energy.
“I find that people tell me they’re feeling tired when they’ve cut carbs from their diet or they’re skipping meals altogether,” says Jessica Begg, a registered dietitian at Shift Nutrition in Calgary. “Your brain needs carbs to function.”
The problem with cutting out carbohydrates is that it will lead to feelings of sluggishness that can trigger a desire for something sugary to combat the afternoon lull. Begg says it’s best to follow a well-balanced diet that includes meals combining starch, vegetables or fruit, and protein, as well as a couple of snacks throughout the day.
Feeling fatigued may inspire you to reach for a caffeinated beverage, but the answer is most likely in water. In fact, researchers believe parts of our brain may actually shrink when they’re low on liquids, so getting enough hydration is key to being alert.
Begg says it’s OK to include herbal tea as well as caffeinated tea and coffee in your daily water intake. But those drinks shouldn’t make up the bulk of your water consumption.
“The diuretic effects in these drinks don’t cause people to lose too much water, so I’ll count them in. But on a conservative basis, you can count half of your cup of coffee towards how much water you need,” she says.
It’s no surprise that Canadians don’t get enough vitamin D since we’re geographically situated so far north.
“The intensity of the sun isn’t enough that we get sufficient vitamin D and that will result in feeling tired,” Begg says.
She recommends taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, as well as having your iron levels checked, as these two vitamins are the heaviest hitters when it comes to energy.
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