Ever felt like getting out of bed in the morning was super difficult, despite having had a good night’s sleep? Or you’ve been inexplicably grumpy for no reason. Perhaps you’ve had to fight off falling asleep at work (and drooling all over your keyboard). If this happens frequently, it can considerably lessen your productivity and, more importantly, your quality of life and relationships. It’s actually not unusual to feel tired a lot of the time, and though it can be a symptom of serious disease, more often than not it can be prevented with some small lifestyle changes. Here are some common reasons you’re always tired, and what you can do to change that.
1. You’re not getting enough quality sleep
It seems pretty intuitive that if you’re tired, you need more sleep. But simply spending more hours in bed isn’t going to cut it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of us aren’t getting enough sleep. Most of us need about 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but even putting in those hours doesn’t guarantee you’ll wake up with the energy to take on the world.
What really matters is the quality of our sleep. “High-quality sleep allows your brain to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle,” writes Zee Krstic, citing the National Institute of Health. This high-quality sleep lets you “store memories and release hormones to regulate your body’s energy levels the next day”, but any nighttime interruptions can get in the way of this.
In order to create situations which promote high-quality sleep, we need to think about something called “sleep hygiene”.
It sounds pretty strange, but according to SleepFoundation.org, “strong sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene”.
Some things to focus on when considering your sleep hygiene include sticking to a fixed wake up time regardless of the day of the week (none of that sleeping in on weekends nonsense), avoiding napping too much during the day, and making gradual adjustments to your sleep schedule instead of trying to change things up in one fell swoop. It’s important to keep your nightly routine consistent in order to power your brain down before bed time. I’m sure you already know that screen time before bed is generally not recommended.
2. You need to adjust your daytime habits
Many of the things we include in our daily routine may actually be interfering with our sleep, and as a result our energy levels. SleepFoundation.org recommends reducing alcohol consumption, especially in the evening. While it may seem easier to nod off after a couple of drinks, the effect wears off and disrupts sleep later in the night, leaving you feeling sluggish the next day.
Smoking can also cause numerous sleep issues and result in chronic fatigue. Likewise, drinking coffee in the afternoon and the evening may negatively affect your brain’s ability to switch to sleep mode when you do go to bed. Best to save that latte for the morning.
Another habit that may negatively impact your sleep is eating dinner too late. According to SleepFoundation.org, “eating dinner late, especially if it’s a big, heavy, or spicy meal, can mean you’re still digesting when it’s time for bed. In general, any food or snacks before bed should be on the lighter side”.
3. You’re too sedentary
Being stuck under lockdown for months didn’t help much, but many of us spend too much time sitting on our butts, whether that be in front of the PC for work, in the car, or in front of the TV.
According to Healthline, being too tired is a common reason that older people give for not exercising. The fact is, though, that getting in a quick daily workout can do wonders for your energy levels.
“Research has also shown that exercising can reduce fatigue among healthy people and those with other illnesses, such as cancer. What’s more, even minimal increases in physical activity seem to be beneficial,” the article says.
Some tiny adjustments you can make – especially if you’re still working from home and stuck in the same chair all day – include standing instead of sitting when possible, walking instead of driving short distances, and trying to fit in short bursts of exercise in between long periods of being seated. Personally I like to get a few squats or jumping jacks in every hour just to get the blood flowing, but remember to turn off your camera and mute your mic if you’re busy with long calls!
4. You’re not eating right for you
What we put into our bodies determines the energy we get out, but that won’t look the same for everyone.
One common, food-related sources of fatigue is eating too many refined carbohydrates. “Your blood sugar balance plays a critical role in your energy levels throughout the day, which is why not all carbohydrates are created equal,” Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s registered dietitian explains in a GH article. Eating a lot of breads, pastas and other carbs, or indulging in a lot of sugary snacks will initially cause your blood sugar to spike, but later it’ll come crashing down. “When the body realizes it has more sugar than it needs, it’ll rapidly produce insulin which results in a sharp drop in blood sugar, or that sugar crash you know so well,” Sassos says in the article. “This abrupt fluctuation in blood sugar levels can lead to symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and even irritability.”
Alternatively, you may not be eating enough. According to Healthline, most people require at least 1200 calories per day to prevent the metabolism from slowing down, and this can cause fatigue. Those trying to shed a few kilos may be restricting their calorie intake, and lacking the energy they need as a result. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, eating a sustainable amount of high-quality calories is important to keep your body running properly and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
Food sensitivities may also contribute to you always feeling tired. Fatigue is an often overlooked symptom of intolerance to food like gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, or corn. If you feel particularly tired of after a healthy meal, consider that perhaps something in that meal triggered it, and try to cut that food out for a while to see if you feel any better.
Everyone has different needs when it comes to food, and we’ll all have to figure out what works, or doesn’t, through trial and error.
5. You’re dehydrated
Studies have shown that being even mildly dehydrated can have negative effects on our ability to concentrate and our moods, and definitely impacts our energy levels. Being dehydrated can also cause headaches and dizziness, which just sounds generally unpleasant. Why not avoid all that and keep our energy levels up by sipping on water regularly throughout the day?
Note: I wrote water. While we do get a fair amount of our hydration from the food that we eat and from other beverages, relying on energy drinks and coffee are a sure fire way to set ourselves up for fatigue in the long run. Not only do they disrupt sleep patterns at night, but the sugar and caffeine in energy drinks bring on rebound fatigue when they wear off. According to Healthline, “one review of 41 studies found that although energy drinks led to increased alertness and improved mood for several hours after consumption, excessive daytime sleepiness often occurred the following day”.
There could be a number of reasons you’re always tired, but know that you’re not alone! Try adjusting your lifestyle slightly and see which changes work for you. There’s really no reason to be feeling miserable and fatigued every day when some small lifestyle changes could have you operating more efficiently and enjoying a better quality of life. Even in 2020 we should all be living our best lives…just in masks and with bottles of hand sanitizer in our bags.