It’s something we hear all the time; why am I always so tired? In fact, 1 in 5 patients complain of fatigue when they visit their GP. The reason our bodies display fatigue, says Dr Michael Musker, Senior Research Fellow for Mental Health and Wellbeing at SAHMRI, is because we need rest for repair and restoration. But, for some people fatigue is a daily burden, even when you think you are getting enough sleep. So, what are some of the things you should look out for if you are regularly feeling tired?
What we eat, and when, can affect the way our body feels, and how well we are able to rest. We all know the feeling of sleepiness that comes after eating a big meal. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins, known as macronutrients, are only part of the energy intake we should be looking for. We also need micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – to help our body absorb the macronutrients. Without these micronutrients your body can struggle to digest and absorb the energy you are putting in – leaving you feeling sleepy. To combat this, eat a variety of foods to meet the national recommendations for food intake, including low-GI carbohydrates, two servings of fruit, and five servings of vegetables a day.
For some people, eating within two hours of bedtime may negatively affect their sleep, leading to heartburn and indigestion, as well as prompting feelings of wakefulness. If this is the case, try to avoid eating large meals at least two hours before going to bed.
Around 1 in 5 Australians will experience anxiety, and 1 in 10 will suffer from depression. Dr Musker says, when you are under stress many of the biological systems in your body can be affected. “Stress produces adrenaline, and although you may not sense it being pumped around your body, over time you can become exhausted from being in a constant state of alertness. Stress can also reduce your ability to sleep, so you may feel extra tired as a result.”
If you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression there are some things you can do to help relieve this. Writing down your thoughts and worries before you go to bed can help to free your mind of the endless cycle of ‘what if’s’. Exercise is another way to reduce stress, and it can help to improve your quality of sleep. If you’re looking for a way to relax before bed, using some natural remedies such as essential oils, including lavender, bergamot and orange flower can help.
According to the World Health Organisation, almost a quarter of the world’s population will have anaemia at some time. It is more common in young children and women than it is in men. A form of low iron in the blood, anaemia can cause fatigue as iron is a major component of our red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying the oxygen to every cell in our body.
“If you have an iron deficiency, or anaemia, you may feel weak, look pale, suffer headaches, dizziness, or experience cold hands and feet,” Dr Musker says. “Also, your tongue may feel inflamed, or sore, and you may get brittle nails.”
There are a few different types of anaemia, so it is important to find out the cause of your iron deficiency. Your GP can arrange testing, and then prescribe specific supplements to treat the deficiency. It’s not always as simple as taking iron tablets, eating more red meat or spinach.
There are a couple of hormones which, if not maintained at the correct levels, can leave you feeling flat. Thyroxine is produced by the thyroid gland in your throat area. It can make you feel energised, and a lack of it can leave you feeling sluggish – indicating hypothyroidism. Prevalence of thyroid disease in the Australian population is around 10% and the rate is higher in older women. It is a disease which may go undiagnosed, although it is easily checked through a blood test which measures the levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in your blood. If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism you will likely be prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone to correct the imbalance.
Insulin imbalance, usually associated with the disease diabetes, is another hormone which can be a cause of tiredness. This can be because blood sugar levels are too high, or too low. In both cases, the tiredness is caused by an imbalance between your level of blood glucose and the levels of circulating insulin – potentially a sign of ‘insulin resistance’ which alters the effectiveness of the insulin hormone. If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the cause of this tiredness can be treated with medication or changes to your diet and lifestyle.
There are, of course, many other causes of fatigue which may be affecting your overall wellbeing. If you have ongoing feelings of tiredness, or are concerned about your health and wellbeing, please speak with your GP.
Remember, forewarned is forearmed, so find out as much information as early as you can. There are no stupid questions, and it is beneficial to everyone to when you are comfortable and confident in going forward with your treatment.