What is fatigue?
Most of the people might have experienced overtired or overworked from time to time. This is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Although fatigue is sometimes referred as tiredness, they are actually different. Fatigue is described as feeling tired all the time, exhaustion, lack of motivation and energy. It usually last longer, is more profound and cannot be relieved by rest. It can be physical, mental or a combination of both. Certain people might even experience extreme fatigue that last for more than six months, or as we called it chronic fatigue syndrome.
Symptoms of fatigue
Fatigue is a common symptom of many medical conditions that range in severity from mild to serious. Most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. It is also a natural result of some lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or poor diet. Fatigue may cause a range of other physical, mental and even emotional symptoms such as:
- Chronic sleepiness
- Low energy levels
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Extreme fatigue after exercise
- Slow reflex and response
- Muscle soreness
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired decision making and judgments
- Low motivation
- Poor concentration
- Reduced immune system function
Causes of fatigue
There are many potential causes of fatigue, which can be classified under three different categories: lifestyle-related causes, medical causes and emotional causes such as:
- Lack of sleep. Adult should get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day. Without sufficient rest, we will feel tired and irritable the next morning.
- Poor sleep quality. Frequently interrupted sleep due to noisy neighbors, children waking at night or uncomfortable sleeping environment will cause disturbed sleep.
- Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behavior. Physical activity helps to improve fitness, reduce stress and improve sleep.
- Poor diet. Consuming foods that are high in energy but low in nutrient will result in a poor supply of fuel and nutrients to carry out daily activities. Deficiencies in certain nutrients such as B Vitamins and Iron will cause fatigue.
- Poor workplace practice. Poor workplace practice can add to a person’s level of fatigue. These may include long working hours, job that require hard physical labour, irregular working hours such as rotating shift, a stressful work environment or persistent fixed concentration on a repetitive task.
- Insomnia. People with insomnia experience difficulty to fall asleep and therefore are not able to obtain sufficient rest or feel refreshed in the morning.
- Anaemia. The most common form of anaemia is Iron deficiency anaemia, People who areanaemic often experience fatigue. This is because they do not have enough iron in the body to produce healthy new red blood cells. This will reduce the amount of oxygen carried throughout the body, leave them feeling tired, shortness of breath and weak.
- Problems related with thyroid hormones. Fatigue or severe exhaustion can be a key sign of undiagnosed or insufficiently treated thyroid conditions. Hypothyroidism occurs when there’s an under production of thyroid hormones from our thyroid gland. A drop in thyroid hormones leads to low energy levels. Fatigue can also be a symptom of hyperthyroidism as the condition commonly cause insomnia, anxiety and disrupted sleeping patterns and sometimes unintentional weight loss. A blood test measuring hormone levels can be carried out to identify the problem.
- Sleep apnea. One of the complications of sleep apnea is daytime fatigue. The repeated awakening associated with sleep apnea will disturb the quality of sleep, causing severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability.
- Low blood sugar. Glucose is needed to produce energy for our body. When our cells do not get enough glucose,it will leave us feeling fatigue and weak.
- Medication. Certain medications such as antidepressants are linked to side effects such as tiredness.
Emotional exhaustion can arise when someone experiences a period of excessive stress in their life. It can make them feel emotionally drained, overwhelmed, exhausted and fatigued.
- Depression. People who are depressed often have sleep problems. They might either sleep too much or do not sleep at all. These unhealthy sleeping patterns will lead to exhaustion.
- Anxiety and stress. Prolonged stress can cause chronic fatigue and disruptions in sleep, which may result in decreased energy levels. Furthermore, people in constant stress and anxiety tend not to pay too much attention to their diet, which lead to an unhealthy diet causing nutrient imbalance.
- Grief. Dealing with emotions such as grief and stressful situations will leave you feeling emotionally exhausted and tired.
Read more about How To Manage Stressful Situations here.
What can we do to help fight fatigue?
In many cases, fatigue should improve once we are able to identify the underlying causes and make appropriate lifestyle and dietary adjustments. These are a few lifestyle tips that we can do to help fight fatigue:
- Eat healthily and drink enough water. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables in our daily diet. If our body is receiving enough vitamins, minerals and water it needs, we will experience less fatigue.
- Take B Vitamins. B Vitamins are a group of water-soluble nutrients that are essential for the proper functioning of our body. They are involved in the energy production in our system, and ensure that our body is provided with energy from the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein, and also for the maintenance and health of the nervous system in general.
- Exercise will help enormously with tiredness. If our body gets a good work out every day, we will sleep better at night. Even a simple 15-minute walk can give you an energy boost.
- Practice relaxation exercise such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation. These will help to calm our body and mind and help with anxiety and stress relief. Decreasing stress in our life will help relax our body and we will sleep better at night.
- Practice good sleep habits to combat our tiredness. Keeping a regular bedtime is important for our energy levels. Avoid eating, reading or watching TV in bed. Listening to gentle and calming music is also helpful for some people to facilitate their sleep and improve sleeping quality.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol sedative quality makes us tired for hours after consuming no more than only a drink or two. Consuming wine, beer or hard liquor in the daytime will make us feeling drowsy.
Fatigue and tiredness, if constant and prolonged, can be a debilitating and tiring condition. It heavily affects our quality of life as it disrupts our ability to carry out daily activities. If we still experience problems sleeping or feel constantly tired after plenty of sleep, we should make the necessary lifestyle changes.
In some cases, lifestyle changes do not contribute too much to the improvement of fatigue as the fatigue is caused by underlying medical condition. The nature of the fatigue needs to be identified so the right treatment can be prescribed for the medical condition. Talk to your doctor if you experience fatigue alongside these other symptoms:
- Unexplained fatigue that do not improve after lifestyle changes
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in your chest area
- Irregular heartbeat
Underestimating the importance of fatigue and general lethargy may only lead to more complicated problems. Therefore, it is important to be aware before chronic fatigue sets in, so that the issue can be addressed properly.
- Tardy, A. L., Pouteau, E., Marquez, D., Yilmaz, C., &Scholey, A. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients, 12(1), 228. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010228