Are you constantly tired? Do you feel weak? Is it impossible to stay awake? Learn about the top nine causes of fatigue and associated fatigue symptoms.
Have you been feeling like your "get up and go" got up and went? You are not alone, at all. Many individuals complain of fatigue after those energetic years of childhood have passed back when we could eat everything, sleep anytime, and had unlimited freedom full of play and lack of worry about of bills, work, and kids of our own.
Fatigue can be caused by many factors in our demanding, modern world. Blue light, of all things, robs us of sleep quality and quantity; environmental toxins impact hormones that regulate sleep, and technology flies at us so fast it creates levels of stimulation we cannot even fathom anymore. We're constantly assailed with news, emails, and again, more blue light.
Fatigue is not only brought on by excesses in lifestyle factors such as blue light and stress, but also lacks you may feel fatigued, for example, if you're not spending enough energy exercising, eating right, or taking care of yourself.
Common accompanying symptoms of fatigue
If you're experiencing fatigue, it's likely to also experience the following feelings:
- Unable to start or participate in usual activities
- Unable to concentrate
- Emotionally drained/moody
- Nothing to do sounds like such a great idea
- Feeling like your bones are heavy or leaden
Fatigue symptoms affect our abilities to function in our daily lives, impacting work, school, and family performance and dynamics. Let's review some of the common causes of fatigue, and what you can do to overcome fatigue.
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Causes of fatigue
Fatigue can be related to a variety of causes, which are detailed below. This includes common causes, some of which are within your control and some that are related to underlying conditions.
Poor sleep hygiene/sleep deprivation
Sleep hygiene refers to habits that affect the quality of your sleep. Having good sleep hygiene means being a selfish sleeper which is a great thing to be, in this case. It means prioritizing sleep, eliminating lights and even digital clocks from your room, sleeping in complete darkness, avoiding late-night eating that will disrupt sleep, and trying to get to bed early so you can get eight to nine good, deep restorative hours of sleep.
Any infection fungal, viral, or bacterial can cause fatigue. Fighting illness or disease requires a lot of energy. The fatigue symptoms associated with illness are our signal to slow down. Sleeping during illness improves both recovery and survival rates. Sure, you can push through feeling "sick and tired," but chances are, you will just feel sicker, longer.
Fatigue (both mental and physical) can be a symptom of depression. With depression, this loss of energy and feeling of exhaustion often persists even if you have adequate sleep. Some people with depression have bursts of enthusiasm and exuberance, but it is more common to have a loss of energy and great feelings of listlessness and lethargy.
The thyroid is a gland that produces the hormones that regulate temperature and metabolism. Metabolic changes caused by hypothyroidism will cause fatigue because when the metabolism slows, your manufacture of energy slows as well, as you are not processing food into energy.
Lack of exercise/movement
Exercise gets your heart rate up, which will help you feel peppy and energetic. It also heals much of the damage that is done by sitting for long periods of time and sitting, as you might have heard, is now being deemed more harmful to the body than smoking.
Medications and supplements
You may be experiencing fatigue due to medications or supplements you're taking.
- Medications: Individuals who take medications such as bipolar medications or those for allergies, arthritis, and fibromyalgia often complain of fatigue, as these medications tend to make you feel very tired/sleepy.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Being deficient in minerals like iron or vitamins such as B vitamins, like B12, can cause great feelings of fatigue.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Sleep deprivation is also called sleep debt. It is the state of not getting adequate sleep, either in the short term or the long term.
Sleep apnea is a common cause, as is the routine of modern life with too many hours of work and activities.
Symptoms include clumsiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, slow healing, daytime sleepiness, and sometimes depression. Often there is weight gain, partly due to metabolic disturbance and partly due to eating more in an effort to maintain energy and continue working.
Sleep deprivation interferes with quality of life. There is risk of job loss due to inability to concentrate, as well as risk of accidents from becoming sleepy while driving or operating machinery. Weight gain and Type 2 diabetes are both more common in those who are chronically sleep deprived.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and sometimes through a sleep study in a lab.
Treatment involves addressing any underlying medication issues or other causes, as well as establishment of "sleep hygiene" habits and routines that contribute to better sleep.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, daytime sleepiness, sleep duration less than 7 hours, difficulty concentrating
Symptoms that always occur with sleep deprived: sleep duration less than 7 hours, daytime sleepiness
Symptoms that never occur with sleep deprived: nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, fever, unintentional weight loss
Urgency: Wait and watch
Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
Symptoms that always occur with depression: depressed mood
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.
The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.
Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.
Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.
There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.
Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough iron to form hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
The condition can be caused by acute blood loss through injury, surgery, or childbirth;chronic b...
The thyroid is a small, bow-tie shaped gland in your neck. Its main job is to produce thyroid hormone (known as T3 or T4), which serves a wide array of functions throughout the body.
When too much thyroid hormone is released, the body’s metabolism gets ramped up, causing symptoms ..
Insomnia disorder is a short-term or chronic condition whereby individuals have difficulty sleeping. Other common symptoms include fatigue, difficulty with concentration, social dysfunction, reduced motivation, and behavioral changes. The short-term form of the condition is usually ..
Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.
The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.
Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.
Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.
Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive inflammation of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. It is caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases and/or dust particles, most often cigarette smoke.
Symptoms may take years to develop. They include a chronic cough with mucus (sputum), wheezing, chest tightness, fatigue, constant colds, swollen ankles, and cyanosis (blue tinge to the lips and/or fingernails.) Depression is often a factor due to reduced quality of life.
Treatment is important because there is a greater risk of heart disease and lung cancer in COPD patients. Though the condition cannot be cured, it can be managed to reduce risks and allow good quality of life.
COPD is commonly misdiagnosed and so careful testing is done. Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; lung function tests; blood tests; and chest x-ray or CT scan.
Treatment involves quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to other lung irritants; use of inhalers to ease symptoms; steroids; lung therapies; and getting influenza and pneumonia vaccines as recommended.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough and dyspnea related to smoking, cough, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping
Symptoms that always occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd): cough and dyspnea related to smoking
Symptoms that never occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd): rectal bleeding
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a relatively common condition, especially in obese adults. It refers to obstruction (blockage) of the airway during sleep. This obstruction is usually caused by the back of the tongue and the muscles of the palate relaxing and falling ..
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Fatigue treatments and relief
To avoid fatigue, sleep experts recommend:
- Sticking to a schedule: This involves sleeping and waking on a regular schedule. You should also avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening.
- Healthy eating: Eat a very balanced diet rich in plants antioxidants, energy-yielding phytonutrients, and amino acids. A balanced diet will help address any nutritional deficiencies that might be causing fatigue. You should also avoid eating too close to bedtime (within two hours).
- Avoiding caffeine: Especially in the afternoon (it will only disrupt sleep quality, even if you are sleeping long periods of time).
- Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills: These stimulants/drugs ruin sleep quality.
- Limiting blue light: Avoiding all blue light-emitting devices during the two to three hours before going to bed
- Using blackout curtains: This is to eliminate all light that might filter through windows, waking you up and inhibiting sleep quality.
- Activity: You should try to exercise in the morning or afternoon, but not in the evening.
- Getting sun exposure in the mornings: Early morning sun exposure tells your body it's daytime and helps your circadian rhythms "set" so your body will better recognize nighttime as well.
- Sleeping in a cool room
When to see a doctor
You should seek immediate medical care if you have fatigue and:
- Symptoms of depression
- There is no improvement despite adequate sleep
- Potential tick bites
FAQs about fatigue
Why am I so tired?
Fatigue can be caused by many things. Major causes may include psychological disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety, malnutrition), drugs (e.g. antidepressants, drug abuse, withdrawal, addiction), endocrine-metabolic disorders (e.g. hypothyroidism, diabetes), cancers, infections, cardiopulmonary diseases (e.g. chronic heart failure, COPD), rheumatoid disease, and disturbed sleep.
What are the symptoms of fatigue?
Fatigue can be manifested as difficulty or inability initiating activity (feeling generally weak); reduced capacity maintaining activity (tiring easily); and difficulty with concentration, memory, and emotional stability (mental fatigue). Tiredness, lack of energy, and excessive sleepiness are frequently used to describe fatigue.
Why am I sleeping so much?
Many causes can contribute to excessive sleepiness, which include insufficient sleep, sleep disorders (e.g. sleep-related breathing disorders or sleep-related movement disorders), medications (e.g. benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedatives, or antihistamines), certain neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson disease), genetic disorders (e.g. Prader-Willi syndrome), medical conditions (e.g. hypothyroidism or obesity), and psychiatric disorders (e.g. depression or anxiety).
Why do I feel so weak and tired?
A variety of systemic disorders can give you the feeling of weakness without making you truly weak, which include cardiopulmonary (heart/lung) disease, joint disease, anemia, body wasting due to malignancy/chronic infectious or inflammatory disease, depression, and fatigue. Causes for primary muscle weakness include muscle diseases (myopathy), and damages to various parts of the nervous system.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome like?
Key features include easy fatigability and difficulty concentrating, and are often associated with additional symptoms (e.g. difficulty sleeping and muscle aches). Onset is often sudden and associated with a typical infection such as an upper respiratory infection or mononucleosis (mono). Excessive physical activity typically exacerbate the symptoms.
Questions your doctor may ask about fatigue
- Are you experiencing a headache?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
- Have you had any changes in your weight?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Fatigue. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated October 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
- Sleep Hygiene. National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation Link.
- Targum SD, Fava M. Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 2011;8(10):40-43. NCBI Link.
- Rao TSS, Asha MR, Rao KSJ, et al. Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illness. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2008;50(2):77-82. NCBI Link.
- Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation Link.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 8, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.