Why am I so tired all the time? 16 possible reasons you’re feeling exhausted

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  • There are a number of reasons why you could be feeling so tired all the time, from too many late nights and early mornings to more serious conditions such as insomnia

    While more people than ever before have reportedly felt this way during the pandemic, feeling tired all the time is actually so common that the NHS has already made it into an acronym. TATT stands for “tired all the time” and it’s linked to a lack of sleep, among other issues like waking up too early in the morning.

    Tiredness and exhaustion in the long-term doesn’t only make it harder to live your life to the full, but can cause health problems in the future.

    Why am I always tired?

    1. Lack of a balanced diet

    If you feel tired after eating and throughout the day, you might be suffering from an unbalanced diet.

    Woman planning a balanced diet to stop feeling so tired all the time

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    Eating foods with high antioxidant levels, also known as superfoods, improve your immune system and prevent you from feeling run down and tired. Common superfoods include fruit and vegetables, dairy products, melons, berries, dark and fibrous vegetables, whole grains and meat.

    Feeling tired has also been linked to nutritional deficiencies that come with having an unbalanced diet. According to nutritionist Kim Pearson, “Common deficiencies that can lead to tiredness include iron and vitamin D. Opt for iron-rich foods such as spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas or grass-fed red meat, and take a daily vitamin d supplement. Vegans and vegetarians may lack iron and B12, two key nutrients for energy.”

    She adds, ““Vegans should take B12 and iron supplements, as well as vitamin D, while fussy eaters should consider a good quality multivitamin and mineral.”

    A lack of magnesium is another deficiency that could be to blame for a lack of deep sleep. “Low energy levels have been linked to low magnesium levels, as it’s needed to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for energy,” nutritionist Rick Hay explains. When magnesium levels are low, it’s harder to stay asleep too. So, up your intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and dark chocolate.

    Some people also use magnesium butter which has properties that have been proven to improve sleep quality.

    2. Too much exercise during the day

    It’s normal to feel tired after working out, but fatigue is something different. This escalated feeling of tiredness, that effects the mind and body, happens when you don’t fully recover from the exercise. It normally leads to people feeling drained and exhausted, especially during or immediately after exercise.

    Woman exercising to stop feeling so tired all the time

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    Doing too much exercise is a natural contributor to this feeling. Try to cut back on the hours spent in the gym or in the swimming pool, make sure you’re fully hydrating after working out and restoring essential electrolytes, and be sure to get a good night’s sleep after intense physical exercise.

    Additionally, fatigue and exhaustion can occur when you don’t fuel up before exercise. Without carbohydrates to feed off of during exercise, your body has to use its reserves of protein, fat and carbohydrates for energy – which can lead to you feeling tired.

    However, exercise is still important for your general wellbeing. “Fresh air and brisk walks are effective ways to boost your energy, as they get the heart pumping and increase your blood flow,” says GP Dr Roger Henderson. So instead, opt for work outs three to five times a week and be sure to schedule in proper rest days.

    3. Heavy periods

    If you feel tired before your period starts, you could be suffering from a lack of iron or even anaemia.

    The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. It also helps to make myoglobin, another protein that helps to provide oxygen to the muscles.

    A lack of iron means a lack of these two proteins and this makes it harder for oxygen to reach your tissues and muscles. Deprived of energy, the heart has to work harder to move the blood around your body which makes you feel tired.

    You can also suffer from anaemia all month long, not just when you’re on your period. Try eating foods that have a lot of iron in them like liver, baked beans and curly kale or taking supplements. Talk to your doctor or health provider if you are concerned.

    4. Too much sleep

    Too much sleep can make you feel tired when you wake up as you’re disrupting the body’s biological clock. Otherwise known as the circadian pacemaker, this group of cells in the brain controls hunger, thirst, sweat and internal rhythms, including tiredness.

    The pacemaker is triggered by light signals from your eye, signalling that it’s daylight and the morning. It then sends out chemical messages to the rest of the body to suggest it’s time to wake up.

    When you have too much sleep, the pacemaker is thrown off it’s regular schedule, which can make you feel fatigued as your body began to wake up hours ago.

    Woman feeling tired at work

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    To help combat this, sleep expert James Wilson (aka The Sleep Geek) recommends including natural light in your morning routine to help you feel more alert in the mornings. He says, “Having natural light earlier in the day helps your body to understand it is now daytime.

    “It will reduce your lethargy and improve your alertness. This can be done by getting outside earlier in the day and using a sunshine alarm clock which has a light that rises like the sun and pulls your body out of sleep.”

    5. Waking up a lot in the night

    A lot of us wake up in the night so briefly that we can’t remember doing it. It makes us think we’ve slept right through but in the end, waking up more than five times a night can be the equivalent of losing an hour’s sleep. So while there might be plenty of reasons for waking up in the middle of the night, including the symptoms of menopause and insomnia, there are other more natural reasons like noises in the house or outside.

    So if you fit into the latter category, check out this simple technique used by registered nutritionist and army veteran, Rob Hobson.

    How to fall asleep in 2 minutes:

    Rob Hobson shared the following trick with us that has reportedly used by the US military in the past to get to sleep in difficult circumstances.

    “This technique is said to work for around 96 per cent of people after practising for around six weeks,” he said.

    • Relax the muscles in your face, such as tongue, jaw and around the eyes.
    • Drop shoulders as low as they will go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time.
    • Breathe out, relaxing your chest then legs, working downwards from the thighs to the feet.
    • Say ‘Don’t think, don’t think’ for 10 seconds to clear your mind.

    By setting a proper routine for yourself, it’s also possible that your body will adapt better to times when it should be asleep and awake so you’ll feel less tired. To do this, it’s important to fix your sleep schedule and go to bed at the same time every night, then wake up at the same time every morning.

    6. Too hot or too cold in bed

    If you’re too hot or too cold to get to sleep, this is going to affect the quality of sleep you manage to get overnight.

    It’s also going to leave you feeling less than refreshed come the morning. “Getting a comfortable night’s sleep can be more challenging during the hottest months” says Thom Hemelryk founder of the Drowsy sleep company.

    “Increased temperatures make it harder for us to drift off and mean we toss and turn more than the usual. But then sleeping with the windows open also increases outside light and noises that can keep us up.”

    Thom says the key to how to sleep in the heat is all about regulating your body temperature, “Your body temperature naturally peaks in the evening and then drops when you are asleep. Even slight changes to your normal patterns can be disruptive. So, it’s important to be aware of your temperature patterns and prepare accordingly.”

    Young woman looking out through window

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    He suggests these 3 hacks for summer temperature control:
    • Invest in a good fan, it keeps the temperature down and blocks out external noise.
    • Sleep with a light cotton sheet instead of a quilt. If temperatures really soar, try rinsing it in water to keep you cool.
    • Don’t sleep naked as this could actually make you hotter.
    • Have your own bedding! In the winter it might be great to cuddle up to your partner to keep warm, but in the summer the heat from your two bodies can make you more uncomfortable. Regulate things by having separate bedding for both of you.

    While keeping your bed cool or warm is vitally important for good sleep, it’s also a good idea to make sure that you keep your house cool to ensure proper temperature regulation.

    7. You need a new pillow or mattress

    A new mattress should be purchased every 7-10 years. If your one is starting to reach the end of its life cycle, it could be impacting your sleep.

    Before buying a new one, it’s important to understand your own preference and the different options available when you shop.

    Woman looking at phone in bed

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    Even if you go to bed early and think you’re sleeping through until morning, your pillow could be undoing all this good work. The right pillow will support your neck and spine and prevent back pain. An old or uncomfortable pillow means that you’ll toss and turn all night which stops your body getting the rest it needs, making you feel tired.

    Pillow test: Place the middle of the pillow over your arm, if the sides hang down it’s time to buy a new one!

    8. Smoking or drinking alcohol before bed

    We often feel sleepy after drinking a lot of alcohol, so you’re fooled into thinking it aids sleep. But actually, our quality of sleep is affected after having a few drinks and you’ll feel tired the next day. Similarly, smoking last thing at night can mean your quality of sleep suffers – even though you think you’ve had enough sleep. This is because like alcohol, nicotine is a stimulant.

    Tom Hemelryk explains, “Stimulants like alcohol, tobacco and heavy foods in the run up to bed will disrupt the chemical balance in your brain needed for restful sleep.”

    If you do smoke, try to have your last cigarette at least four hours before bedtime. Nicotine patches or chewing gum can also affect your sleep. It’s also best to avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol close to bedtime if you are feeling tired or having sleep problems.

    Woman drinking alcohol

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    9. Watching too much TV before bed

    Rebecca Small, assistant medical director at Bupa says, “Television, laptop and computer games can all stimulate the mind and therefore can prevent a good night’s sleep. Reading, meditation and exercise such as yoga can have a relaxing affect, helping prepare your body for sleep.”

    Even having the light from street lamps come through your windows can disrupt your sleep, as the high-intensity LED light emits the same blue light as a screen, although it’s a smaller quantity. The American Medical Association have even issued a warning about street lights.

    “The blue light emitted from phones, laptops and TVs can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin by up to three hours,” says Dr Vishal Shah, medical director at Thriva.

    To avoid this blue light from screens, try limiting your TV watching and texting to an hour a night, and don’t let it be the last thing you do before you go to bed and don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping. It’s not a good idea to watch TV in bed, or anything else like sorting out bills, make shopping lists or arguing. Let your body recognise that when you get into bed it’s time for sleep.

    As for the street lights, make sure to use black-out curtains to ensure that no light creeps through!

    Woman, man and child watching television

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    10. Certain medications

    There are a lot of tablets and pills that can make you drowsy. Antihistamines, for example.

    Many of us don’t automatically link the two, even if it says so in the side effects. If you’re on medication, this could be making you tired. Or it might be a mixture of tablets which on their own wouldn’t affect you but together they might.

    Have another look at the leaflets you get with tablets to check and if you’re worried have a chat with your doctor, who might be able to suggest a solution.

    11. Spending too much time indoors

    If your day is made up of waking up, getting in the car, working in an office or staying at home all day and then going to bed, you probably don’t get enough fresh air or sunshine.

    Woman watering plants

    Credit: Getty

    Fresh air gives you a burst of oxygen and sunshine gives you vitamin D. Both these elements boost your energy levels and wake you up. They also boost your immune system, so you’re less likely to get colds, bugs and other illnesses which make you feel run down.

    Try getting out of the office at lunchtime or going for a walk in the evenings. When it’s warm enough, open windows and doors too to let the air and sunshine go through your house.

    12. Work and money worries

    It’s not new to us that worrying about our jobs and our finances makes us feel exhausted. But a study has confirmed that work and money worries can also cause sleep problems, saying that nearly 1 in 3 of us are having problems sleeping more than once a week. And those who took part in the study said work and money worries were the biggest problems when it comes to nodding off.

    Try setting some time aside with your boss or manager to talk through your concerns if you’re stressed about work. If you’re feeling overworked or not supported, and they should be able to help you. Even a small step like this will make you feel like you are doing something about it and you’ll feel better.

    13. Feeling unwell

    The most common theory on why you feel tired when you’re unwell is that the body is forcing you to slow down. By slowing down and making you feel more tired, and so sleep more, the body has the chance to heal and fight off the infection.

    Woman holding pills

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    14. An underlying health problem

    Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and going through menopause can all make you feel tired, fed up and sluggish as well as disrupt your sleeping pattern.

    People who have SAD need a lot of sunshine to boost their mood and energy levels, so much so that many buy light boxes to simulate sunshine during the winter. And if you suffer from depression or are struggling with the symptoms of the menopause there are natural ways you can boost your energy levels which will make you feel happier, more awake and help you cope with all that the menopause might throw at you!

    There are other health problems which can make you tired too. These include Restless Leg Syndrome, hypothyroidism, diabetes, high and low blood pressure and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Talk to your doctor or health provider if you are concerned.

    “If you’re feeling tired for longer than a couple of weeks, see your GP,” says Dr Shah.

    “As soon as you notice any change in your appetite, you feel pain, notice blood in your stools or urine, or are worried about any other symptoms, go and see your doctor.”

    15. Too much tea and/or coffee

    Caffeine is a quick pick-me-up, but it can stay in your body for five to six hours.

    “This means any consumption in the afternoon and evenings will still affect your brain when you’re trying to sleep at night,” says Dr Alison Bentley.

    Ideally, you want to have your last cup at 3pm. But if you can’t, swap to green tea. “Green tea has caffeine but also l-theanine, which mutes the excess stimulating effect of caffeine,” says nutritionist Dana James. She also recommends avoiding non-organic drinks (ie teabags treated with pesticides, genetically modified organisms or synthetic fertilisers) to beat the afternoon slump. “Pesticide residue ends up in your coffee and that makes you feel tired,” she says. Instead of coffee, try these foods to keep you awake.

    16. Not drinking enough water

    Being dehydrated is one of the most common reasons for feeling tired all the time as your body is trying to work without enough water. This can cause periods of exhaustion, fatigue and low energy – as well as general tiredness.

    Woman drinking water

    Credit: Getty

    The average recommended water intake is around three litres per day.

    Sleeping through the pandemic

    Since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, many of our sleeping schedules have been broken. A new study by Kings College London and Ipsos MORI found that significant numbers of people have experienced changes to their sleep patterns since lockdown was first announced in the UK on 23 March.

    The research showed that half the population has had more disturbed sleep than usual, while three in 10 people say they’ve slept for longer but feel less rested than they normally would.

    Professor Bobby Duffy, who is the director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London has outlined the negative effect that lockdown is having on our sleep. “Nearly two-thirds of the UK public report some negative impact on their sleep from the Covid-19 crisis, clearly showing just how unsettling the pandemic and lockdown measures have been for a very large proportion us.

    “And this is clearly tied to both how stressful we’ve found the virus itself, and how much we fear the impact of the lockdown on our employment and finances.”

    He says it’s actually young people who have experienced the biggest change to their sleep – both for positive and negative reasons. “They are more likely than older people to say they’ve experienced negative impacts on their sleep, but also more likely to say they’ve slept better. As with so much about Covid-19, the crisis is affecting people very differently depending on their circumstances, and that includes the most fundamental aspects of life, such as sleep.”

    One of the ways that our sleep has been impacted is with our dreams. In fact, picking out dream meanings during the pandemic has never been easier as hoards more people are experiencing strange dreams, relating to stress for the most part.

    “Our dreams stem from our daily reality, meaning when something scary happens, we are more likely to carry that anxiety into our dreams. And let’s face it: today’s world of don’t-go-anywhere-without-a-mask-and-social-distance-everything can be the reason you’re having unusual dreams.” People Who Sleep explain, “Our heightened anxiety (externally coping or not) and lack of activity we are currently facing will also likely affect our sleep quality and encourage weird dreams.”

    “Practising pre-bedtime relaxation techniques like guided sleep meditation can help keep anxiety-driven thoughts out of your sweet dreams.”

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