Far too often in my functional medicine practice, I hear my patients say they are tired all the time. They wake up groggy, spend the day fighting fatigue, and find themselves pounding espresso shots to get through the dreaded 3 p.m. slump.
And it’s not just sleep deprivation that’s to blame, either. Plenty of my patients sleep 8-plus hours a night and still struggle with fatigue; they are too tired to thrive at work, too tired to work out, and even feel lethargic at the thought of socializing with friends.
If you can relate to this, you’re not alone. Our modern lifestyles and the standard American diet — full of processed and refined foods that cause chronic inflammation and gut health issues — can put our energy levels on the chopping block.
The good news is that there is always a reason why you’re fighting fatigue. Here are five reasons why you’re tired all the time — and exactly what you can do about it.
1. Too much coffee
This one might come as a surprise. Isn’t coffee supposed to give you energy? When used correctly, caffeine can provide a helpful boost of energy and brain power. But it’s important to be wary of caffeine dependence and overuse. Too much caffeine can make you feel anxious, spike your heart rate and blood pressure, interfere with your sleep at night, and ultimately put your body under stress, contributing to adrenal fatigue, which can lead to extreme fatigue.
Exactly what to do: Try slowly decreasing your caffeine intake (limiting it to the few hours after you wake up) while simultaneously increasing your intake of healthy fats and protein, which provide stable, lasting energy to your body and brain throughout the day. You can also try Bulletproof Coffee, which can help reduce the negative side effects of caffeine.
2. An irregular sleep schedule
If you’re sleeping 8-plus hours a night but you’re still tired, it may be because your sleep schedule is inconsistent. Your body has an internal biological clock that drives the release of certain hormones, such as melatonin and cortisol, throughout the day. This means that going to bed at 8 p.m. on the weekdays and staying up until 3 a.m. on the weekends can leave your body confused and you feeling like you’re jet lagged all the time.
Exactly what to do: Try to keep your sleep-wake times as consistent as possible throughout the week (and weekend!) and notice how your brain fog clears and your energy levels recalibrate.
3. Lack of exercise
I know, I know. The last thing you want to do when you’re tired is exercise. But most of the time, it actually helps to get your body moving. In fact, it may be the cure to your fatigue that you’ve been hoping for. Studies have shown that exercise, especially mild-to-moderate intensity exercise, can actually lead to decreases in fatigue. In fact, a University of Georgia study showed that low-intensity exercise for 6 weeks led to a 65 percent drop (1) in feelings of fatigue compared to no exercise at all.
Exactly what to do: If you’re feeling constantly tired, try going on a 30-minute walk, playing tennis with a friend, or hitting the gym. You may find that it gives you a newfound burst of energy.
4. Too much sugar
The average American consumes 57 pounds of added sugar per year, which means a lot of us are on a blood sugar roller coaster with daily peaks and valleys. Unstable blood sugar can mess with your mood, cravings, weight, and yes — your energy levels too. In fact, fatigue is one of the primary symptoms of diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Exactly what to do: Use a food diary to take a good look at your daily sugar intake. Then, start replacing added and processed sugars with natural options, like fruit, while increasing your fiber intake — from sources like chia and flax seeds, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables — to help keep your blood sugar stable (2).
5. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
According to American Family Physician, about 4 to 6 percent of people may suffer from winter depression. My guess is that this number is actually much higher (studies have estimated (3) that as much as two-thirds of depression cases are undiagnosed). If you notice that you struggle with fatigue in the winter, SAD might be at least partly to blame — especially if you’re struggling with your mood as well.
Exactly what to do: Consider seeking treatment for seasonal depression and add mood-supporting wellness practices — like herbs, light therapy, and vitamin D supplementation — to your routine.
Dealing with daily fatigue can be an extremely frustrating and disheartening experience. And if your fatigue is extreme, it’s important to consult a medical expert to assess whether you may have an underlying health condition or chronic fatigue syndrome.
The good news is that once you know the reasons for your fatigue, you can start supporting your body in the right ways and get back to enjoying your life.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Puetz TW, Flowers SS, O’Connor PJ. A randomized controlled trial of the effect of aerobic exercise training on feelings of energy and fatigue in sedentary young adults with persistent fatigue. Psychother Psychosom. 2008;77(3):167–174. doi: 10.1159/000116610.
- Riccardi, G., and A. A. Rivellese. “Effects of Dietary Fiber and Carbohydrate on Glucose and Lipoprotein Metabolism in Diabetic Patients.” Diabetes Care 14, no. 12 (December 1991): 1115–25. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.14.12.1115.
- Wamala S.P., Lynch J., Horsten M., Mittleman M.A., Schenck-Gustafsson K., Orth-Gomer K. Education and the metabolic syndrome in women. Diabetes care. 1999;22(12):1999–2003.
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