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10 reasons why you always feel tired (and what you can do about it)

By | John Preston

Feeling tired on a regular basis is extremely common. In fact, about a third of healthy teens, adults, and seniors report feeling sleepy or fatigued.

Fatigue is a common symptom of several serious conditions and diseases, but its cause in most cases is simple lifestyle factors. Fortunately, these are the things that can be most easily rectified.

This article lists 10 possible reasons why you always feel tired and offers recommendations on ways to re-energize.

1. Eating too many refined carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be a quick source of energy. When you eat them, your body breaks them down into sugar, which can be used for fuel.

However, eating too many refined carbohydrates can make you feel tired throughout the day.

Eating sugar and processed carbohydrates causes a rapid spike in blood sugar. This tells the pancreas to make a large amount of insulin to move the sugar out of the blood and into the cells.

This sharp spike in blood sugar levels, and the subsequent drop, can leave you feeling exhausted. When you need quick energy, you instinctively reach for another serving of refined carbohydrates, and this can lead to a vicious cycle.

Several studies have found that minimizing sugar and processed carbohydrates at meals and snacks often leads to higher energy levels.

In one study, children who ate snacks rich in refined carbohydrates before a soccer game reported more fatigue than children who ate peanut butter-based ones.

Fortunately, there is research to suggest that some foods may help protect against tiredness.

2. Lead a sedentary lifestyle

Inactivity could be the cause of your low energy.

But many people say they feel too tired to exercise.

In fact, in a recent study, this was the most common reason reported by middle-aged and older adults for not exercising.

One explanation could be chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which is characterized by extreme and unexplained fatigue every day.

There is research suggesting that people with CFS tend to have low levels of physical strength and stamina, which limits their ability to exercise. However, a review of studies that included more than 1,500 people found that exercise could reduce fatigue in people with CFS.

Research has also shown that exercise can reduce fatigue among healthy people and those with other diseases, such as cancer. More importantly, even minimal increases in physical activity appear to be beneficial.

To boost your energy levels, trade sedentary behaviors for other active ones. For example, stand instead of sit whenever possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and walk instead of driving short distances.

3. Not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep is one of the most obvious causes of fatigue.

Your body does many things while you sleep, including storing memory and releasing hormones that regulate your metabolism and energy levels.

After a good-quality night’s sleep, you typically wake up feeling refreshed, alert, and energized.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, adults need an average of seven hours of sleep per night for optimal health.

Importantly, sleep must be calm and uninterrupted to allow the brain to go through the five stages of each sleep cycle.

In addition to getting enough sleep, maintaining a regular sleep routine also seems to help prevent tiredness.

In one study, teens who went to bed at the same time during the week and on weekends reported less fatigue and less trouble falling asleep than those who stayed up later and slept fewer hours on weekends.

Being physically active during the day may help you get a more restful sleep at night. A study in older people found that exercise helped them improve their sleep quality and reduce their levels of fatigue.

Also, taking a nap can help boost energy levels. Napping has been shown to decrease fatigue in pilots, who often experience fatigue from long work hours and lag in their schedules.

To improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, go to bed at around the same time each night, wind down before bed, and get plenty of activity during the day.

However, if you find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep and you suspect you might have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about having your sleep evaluated by a specialist.

4. Food sensitivities

Food sensitivities or intolerances often cause symptoms such as rashes, digestive problems, runny nose, or headaches.

But fatigue is another symptom that is often ignored.

Additionally, there is research suggesting that quality of life may be more affected by fatigue in people with food sensitivities.

Common food intolerances include gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn.

If you suspect that certain foods may be making you feel tired, consider seeing an allergist or dietitian who can test your food sensitivities or prescribe an elimination diet to determine which foods are problematic.

5. Not consuming enough calories

Consuming too few calories can cause a feeling of exhaustion.

Calories are units of energy found in food. Your body uses them so you can move and stimulate processes like breathing and maintaining a constant body temperature.

When you eat too few calories, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve energy, and this can cause fatigue.

Your body can function within a range of calories depending on your weight, height, age, among other factors.

However, most people require a minimum of 1,200 calories per day to avoid a metabolic slowdown.

Aging experts believe that while metabolism slows with age, older people may need to eat the maximum of their calorie range to perform normal functions without fatigue.

Also, it is difficult for your vitamin and mineral needs to be met when your calorie intake is too low. Not getting enough vitamin D, iron, and other important nutrients can also lead to fatigue.

To keep energy levels up, avoid drastic cuts in calorie intake, even if your goal is to lose weight. You can calculate your calorie needs using the calorie calculator provided in this article.

6. Sleeping at the wrong time

In addition to inappropriate sleep, sleeping at the wrong time can reduce your energy.

Sleeping during the day and not at night disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the biological changes that occur in response to light and dark during a 24-hour cycle.

Some research has found that when your sleep pattern is out of sync with your circadian rhythm, chronic fatigue can develop.

This is a common problem among people who do shift or night work.

Sleep experts estimate that 2% to 5% of all shift workers have a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness or interrupted sleep for a period of one month or more.

What’s more, even staying up at night for a day or two can cause fatigue.

In one study, healthy young men were allowed to sleep for seven hours or just under five hours before staying awake for 21 to 23 hours. Their fatigue ratings increased before and after sleep, regardless of the number of hours they slept.

It is best to sleep overnight whenever possible.

However, if your job involves shift work, there are strategies to retrain your body clock, which should improve your energy levels.

In one study, shift workers reported much less fatigue and better mood after being exposed to bright light pulses, wearing dark sunglasses outside, and sleeping in total darkness.

7. Not getting enough protein

Inadequate protein intake could contribute to your fatigue.

Eating protein has been shown to increase your metabolic rate more than carbohydrates or fat.

In addition to helping you lose weight, this can also help prevent tiredness.

In one study, self-reported levels of fatigue were significantly lower among Korean college students who reported eating protein-rich foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and beans at least twice a day.

Other studies have found that high-protein diets tend to produce less fatigue among weight lifters and people who do resistance training.

What’s more, research suggests that fatigue can be reduced with branched-chain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

To keep your metabolism strong and prevent fatigue, try to consume a high-quality protein source at each meal.

8. Inadequate hydration

Being well hydrated is important to maintain good energy levels.

The various biochemical reactions that occur in the body every day result in a loss of water that must be replaced.

Dehydration is when you don’t drink enough fluids to replace the water lost in urine, feces, sweat, and breathing.

Several studies have shown that even mild dehydration can lead to lower energy levels and reduced ability to focus.

In one study, when men exercised on a treadmill and lost 1% of their body mass in fluid, they reported more fatigue than when they performed the same exercise while well hydrated.

While you’ve heard that you should drink eight 8-ounce (237 ml) glasses of water a day, you may need more or less, depending on your weight, age, gender, and activity level.

The key is to drink enough to maintain proper hydration levels. Common symptoms of dehydration include thirst, fatigue, dizziness, and headache.

9. Relying on energy drinks

There are many drinks that promise to provide quick energy.

Popular energy drinks generally include the following:

  • caffeine
  • sugar
  • amino acids
  • large doses of B vitamins
  • herbs

It is true that these drinks can provide a temporary energy boost due to their high caffeine and sugar content.

For example, a study in healthy sleep-deprived adults found that taking an energy shot led to modest improvements in alertness and mental function.

Unfortunately, these types of drinks are also likely to lead to rebound fatigue when the effects of the caffeine and sugar wear off.

A review of 41 studies found that while energy drinks increased alertness and improved mood for several hours after consumption, they often led to excessive sleepiness the next day.

Although caffeine content varies widely between brands, an energy shot can contain up to 350mg, and some energy drinks contain up to 500 mg per can. By comparison, coffee typically contains between 77mg and 150mg of caffeine per cup.

However, even in smaller doses, consuming caffeinated beverages in the afternoon can interfere with sleep and cause low energy levels the next day.

To break the cycle, try cutting back and gradually quitting these energy drinks altogether. Also, limit your intake of coffee and other caffeinated beverages very early in the morning.

10. High stress levels

Chronic stress can have a profound effect on your energy levels and quality of life.

While some stress is normal, excessive levels have been linked to fatigue in several studies.

Also, your stress response can influence how tired you feel.

A study in college students found that dealing with stress caused the highest level of fatigue.

While you probably can’t avoid stressful situations, developing coping strategies can help you avoid feeling completely burned out.

For example, considerable reviews of studies suggest that yoga and meditation can help relieve stress.

Engaging in these similar mind-body practices can ultimately help you feel more energetic and better able to deal with stress.

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