We all have days when we’re feeling a bit sluggish: after a late night out, when you put in overtime at the office, or when you simply can’t turn your brain off to go to sleep. But if you consistently find yourself asking “why am I so tired all the time?” there might be other factors causing your feelings of chronic fatigue.
It’s important to figure out what those factors are, since feeling tired all the time has more consequences than just cranky moods and heavy eyes. According to the CDC, 1 in 25 adult drivers report falling asleep at the wheel each month, for example. In 2017 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that driving while drowsy caused 795 fatalities in addition to an even greater number of crashes and injuries.
So the next time you find yourself thinking “I’m exhausted” for days on end, you might want to take a step back and consider what might be causing you to feel tired all of the time. The following list is a good place to start.
Why Are You So Tired? 8 Common Fatigue Causes and What to Do About Them
1. Poor sleep
A leading cause of fatigue is simply poor sleeping patterns. But the importance of logging more sleep extends beyond just having more pep in your step throughout the day; additional benefits of getting adequate sleep can include improved memory, reduced stress, better focus, and a stronger immune system.
It’s recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but the quality of sleep is important, too. Try eliminating alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants at night, keeping the temperature cool, and turning off all screens, as blue light can negatively affect your sleep cycle. For more ideas on how to improve your shut-eye time, here are seven great natural sleep remedies to try.
According to Dr. Sandy Lê, ND of Sayana Medical, in California, eating a diet high in processed food, fat, carbs, and sugar can cause mood swings, affect your energy levels, and cause blood sugar imbalances.
“Consuming foods full of preservatives, coloring, and chemicals really forces our [elimination] pathways to work harder, leaving us feeling sluggish,” she explains. She recommends eating more fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods.
3. Not enough exercise
“Studies show that regular exercise can have a distinctly positive impact on energy levels,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content. “The keys are to find forms of exercise that you enjoy doing and to follow a workout program that matches your fitness level. If you enjoy working out, you’re more likely to do it consistently, which is perhaps the most important factor for achieving any fitness goal, including increasing your energy level.”
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week along with at least two strength-training workouts. However, needs vary, so listen to your body and consult a medical professional and/or certified trainer for help if necessary.
If you’re working out regularly and still feeling sluggish, you might want to check in with yourself to see if you’re working out too intensely too often. Thieme says overtraining can also contribute to (and sometimes even cause) chronic fatigue.
“Every workout should leave you feeling challenged, but also energized and motivated,” he says. “You should never feel completely spent. If you do, it’s a sign that you pushed yourself too hard. Do that consistently, and you increase your risk of overtraining.”
5. Excessive stress
“The more stressed you are, the harder your adrenal glands work to pump out stress hormones, which puts your body in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode,” Dr. Lê explains. “So if you’re constantly stressed out, over time you will start to crash into exhaustion.”
If possible, remove yourself from situations that cause intense stress. If you can’t do that (or even if you can), Dr. Lê suggests meditation, staying active, and deep-breathing exercises. Check out eight of our favorite stress management techniques for tips on how you can bring more zen into your life.
6. Vitamin deficiency
Low levels of vitamins, especially iron and vitamin D, can contribute to feeling exhausted. These vitamins play a role in regulating your immune and nervous system functions, Dr. Lê explains, and without sufficient amounts of them, you may find yourself more fatigued.
To make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of the right vitamins and minerals, eat a balanced, whole-food diet filled with a variety of fruits and veggies, clean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. If you’re still concerned about your intake of essential nutrients, consult with your doctor about getting a blood test, as some deficiencies may best be remedied with supplements.
People with depression can experience increased fatigue and less satisfaction in activities they normally enjoy. “Depression can cause fatigue, but people with chronic fatigue can also become depressed,” says Dr. Lê. “Sometimes this cycle can be hard to break.”
Some tips to combat this, she says, are to make sure you’re sleeping adequately, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, eat nutrient-dense foods, socialize more, increase daily physical activity, and “if it gets bad, go see your doctor,” who can assess if medication might be right for you.
8. Medical conditions
Do I have mono? Is my brain broken? Is being tired a sign of cancer?! For some people, WebMD can be a tempting source to self-diagnose their ailments, but before you go down the rabbit hole, make an appointment with your doctor.
There are a handful of common medical conditions that can cause fatigue, including anemia, hypothyroidism, and diabetes. Your doctor will be able to determine if one (or more) of them is causing your chronic tiredness.
If you’re trying to figure out ways to add more energy to your life so you can stop feeling tired all the time, focus on eating a healthy diet filled with nutritious foods, becoming more active, avoiding excessive sugar and alcohol intake, and getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. If necessary, also take steps (e.g., meditation and deep-breathing exercises) to reduce your daily stress level.