A lot of us are constantly asking ourselves: why am I always tired? Before the pandemic, the number of people who said they often felt tired was around 43%. During the pandemic, that number shot up to 60%. Fatigue can have a lot of causes, but I find my patients have a few sneaky drains on their energy that some simple steps can fix.
10 overlooked reasons you’re always tired
1. Not getting enough exercise
Not moving your body can make you want to move even less. Making time for exercise can get your blood pumping, improve your endurance, and boost your energy. It can even help make you feel happier and have a better outlook and lower your response to stress–which also leaves you more energetic. If you’re feeling discouraged about where your fitness levels are at, remember that everyone starts somewhere. There’s no need to set really high goals. The point is to move and be active.
2. Eating processed and refined carbs
These might give you a quick shot of energy thanks to the blood sugar rush, but when your body sends out insulin, your blood sugar level plummets. That alone can leave you tired and drained. This is even more of a problem if you’re dealing with insulin resistance, PCOS, pre-diabetes or diabetes.
You can avoid the blood sugar rush and crash by choosing complex carbohydrates over refined carbs. Complex carbs have fiber, which limits how high your blood sugar jumps. Sweet potatoes and whole-wheat breads are great examples of complex carbohydrates. If you do choose a refined carbohydrate like a croissant, pair it with some protein.
3. Not getting enough quality sleep
Your body needs sleep to fully recover and recharge. Lack of quality sleep affects your mood, stress level, appetite, workout recovery, and leads to physical and mental fatigue. To start sleeping better, try these tips and speak with your physician.
- Keep your morning and evening routines on a schedule. Honor your natural circadian rhythm by going to bed and getting up close to the same time every single day.
- Skip the nightcap. Alcohol makes you feel drowsy, but it also leads to lighter sleep instead of the deep sleep your body needs.
- Eat larger meals early. Big dinners or nighttime snacks work against sleep. Your largest meal should be at lunchtime.
- Go for decaf after lunch. Caffeine gives you an energy boost–but not the type you really want. Having caffeinated drinks later in the afternoon and evening can keep you up because it elevates your cortisol.
- Take a warm bath or shower in the evening. Cool showers are best in the morning and help give you more energy, but a warm or hot shower raises your body temperature. Afterward, your body temp drops and helps you feel ready for sleep.
- Write down your must-dos and your worries. Whatever you’re feeling or is on your mind today, jot it down before bed. The act of writing can help you feel less burdened.
- Turn on your blue light filters. The light from electronics can prevent you from making melatonin and keep you awake. Many electronic devices have blue light filters, which allow you to use your device and still make melatonin.
4. Food sensitivities
One side effect of eating foods that you’re sensitive to includes fatigue. When you eat something you’re sensitive to, it creates inflammation and an immune response–which means your body has to work overtime. If you think that you might have sensitivities, it’s worth checking with your doctor. Common culprits include gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. Functional medicine testing can often get to the bottom of this.
5. Eating too little
Whether it’s because of dieting, trying to be a certain size, or disordered eating, lots of women fall into the trap of not eating enough. Not getting enough fuel (i.e., food) can make you feel tired. Feeling hungry isn’t a cue to ignore. Your body is sending you a message that you need fuel, and when that happens, you need to eat.
Even if you’re getting enough calories, you might still be eating too few nutrient-dense foods. Eating a poor-quality diet without enough nutrients also causes fatigue and hormone imbalances, and vitamins just can’t make up the difference.
6. Not getting enough protein
Protein isn’t just for building muscles. All of the cells in your body need protein to carry out the processes that help keep you healthy. Studies show that eating protein also boosts your metabolism, and scientists believe this may help prevent tiredness.
7. Drinking too little water
Your body is made up of about 60% water, and we need to be hydrated for many of our body’s processes to work optimally. Studies show that being even a little dehydrated can make it harder to stay focused and leave you feeling drained. Keep your glass or bottle topped off throughout the day, so you always have water nearby to sip.
8. Relying on energy drinks (including coffee)
Like refined carbs, energy drinks and coffee or espresso can send your energy up and then make it crash back down. Not only that, but caffeine can take about 8 hours to clear your system. Within 15 minutes of drinking it, caffeine leaves the stomach and the small intestine and goes into your bloodstream. About one hour later, levels of caffeine are at their highest in your bloodstream. Five hours after that, half of the caffeine you ingested is still in your body. This makes it harder to get a good night of sleep, adding to your energy drain.
Feeling constantly stressed can definitely deflate your energy, both mentally and emotionally. It also raises your cortisol, which makes it harder to feel well and maintain hormone balance. Most of us live in a state of overwhelm and anxiety. It’s important to have (and follow!) a plan for managing stress.
10. Being in a negative environment
Other people’s dispositions have the power to influence your own. It’s possible to “catch” the moods of those around you. Being aware of that can help lower your susceptibility of getting dragged down into a negative mindset, and so can finding things that make you feel positive.
If fixing these habits don’t make you feel better, look for other causes behind your fatigue
All parts of your health are connected: sleep, stress, nutrition, fitness, mindset, and more. If you’re doing all the things above and your energy levels don’t improve, it’s worth mentioning to your doctor to see if you have an underlying issue that’s behind it. Some medical conditions that cause fatigue include thyroid imbalances, estrogen dominance, anemia, vitamin D deficiency, and others. Your physician should be willing to listen to and investigate your symptoms and prioritize your health and wellness journey.
If you’re interested in working with Dr. Sumner as a physician, wellness strategist, or through her Happy, Healthy Hormones program, visit her practice for information on services and her affordable, transparent pricing model.
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