12 reasons you're so tired all the time

Does tiredness follow you round like a shadow? Here are a dozen possible reasons why.
Published 18 September, 2018

Reaching for that mid-afternoon coffee because you feel tired all the time?

Good quality sleep is so important, and has a noticeable impact on our weight loss and wellness journey. Getting enough sleep makes it easier to eat well, move regularly and maintain a positive mindset.

There are many reasons you may not be getting sufficient sleep, or enough good quality sleep. Keep reading for 12 reasons you may feel like dozing at your desk.

1. Poor diet 

One of the biggest nutritional culprits for causing fatigue is high sugar intake, and it’s not just sugary drinks and cakes that top the list. Sugar can be hidden even in seemingly healthy foods like sauces and cereal, energising you temporarily, and then making you feel tired shortly afterwards. To avoid blood sugar spikes from hidden sugars, eat more fruits and vegetables as your carb sources, along with lean protein, healthy fats, and fewer processed foods.

Diets high in unhealthy fats, such as from fried foods, can also make you tired because they take a while to digest. "Blood from the brain and muscles is shuttled to digestive tract to digest the fatty foods," explains sports nutritionist and author Marie Spano, MS, RD.

2. Menopause

Sleep may be disrupted as a result of menopause (the time in a woman’s life when she has not menstruated for 12 months). During menopause, women’s bodies change in many ways, mostly due to falling oestrogen levels. Every woman experiences menopause uniquely, for example range of symptoms, severity and how long it lasts is specific to each individual. Menopause can last anywhere from two to seven years, and usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.1

As a result of lower oestrogen levels, menopause can cause sleep disruption and changes in sleep patterns, as well as changes in body composition and bone density.1 Many women also experience sleep disruption pre- and post-menopause.2

If you’re experiencing sleep disruption as a result of menopause, it might be useful to book an appointment with your GP. Recommendations from the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine also include: avoiding caffeinated drinks close to bedtime, exercising earlier in the day, going to bed only when tired and practising a regular sleep routine.3

The WeightWatchers® app may also be able to help, for example you can track your sleep patterns and listen to sleep stories and wind-down meditations.

3. Lifestyle choices

Do you scroll through your phone before bed? Mounting research, including a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, points to blue light exposure two hours prior to sleep causing a decrease in overall sleep quality and making it harder to wake up. If possible, try to stop using your phone, say, an hour before bed, or use the blue light filter on your phone (Settings, Display & Brightness, Night Shift on iPhones).

Alcohol can also negatively impact quality of sleep, even though it may make you sleepy, says Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, medical director for the Centre of Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute.

4. Caffeine 

As much as you may love your afternoon coffee or fizzy drink pick-me-up, caffeine later in the day can interrupt sleep, which can cause daytime fatigue. What’s more, certain medications, like the birth control pill, can prolong the effects of caffeine, says Spano, making a single cup of coffee last in your system for up to a full day and possibly longer.

5. Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea has been linked to daytime fatigue,” says Gene Sambataro, DDS, of the Julian Centre for Comprehensive Dentistry. One apnoeic event means airflow stops for a minimum of 10 seconds. “Sleep apnoea results in very poor and fragmented sleep and an inability to achieve deep sleep. Plus, the adrenal glands are releasing adrenaline during sleep due to the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by choking and obstruction from the tongue and soft palate,” he adds.

6. Chronic stress

When your body is flooded with stress hormones, it can result in a physical response, leading to symptoms like fatigue. Prolonged stress can also increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, autoimmune flare-ups, and more.

Self-care is imperative to keep stress levels under control. “Give meditation a try, five minutes a day, three times a week, building up to 20 minutes a day. You may find yourself far more resilient and able to bounce back from stressful events more quickly,” Golubic says.

If meditation isn’t your thing, Golubic suggests talking to friends and being physically active. “It doesn’t have to be running a triathlon; it can be walking, running, biking, or strength exercises. You want to make a habit of it.”

7. Depression

Depression may affect sleep (you might get too little or too much) and can also cause anxiety, which can make you feel drained. Find out more about the symptoms of depression, plus treatment options, here.

8. Thyroid disorders

Thyroid disorders are fairly common in the UK; according to the British Thyroid Foundation around 1 in 20 people are affected by thyroid disorders. Whether you have hyperthyroidism (where you produce too much thyroid hormone) or hypothyroidism (where you produce too little), it could cause fatigue throughout the day, according to Dr. Golubic.

9. Low vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is actually a hormone - and one that can help regulate mood, energy levels, and more. Research in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences shows that fatigue is common in vitamin D deficient patients and that bringing those levels back to normal improved related fatigue. Get outside more to help your body produce vitamin D, or take a supplement (always check with your GP first).

10. Anaemia

Anaemia occurs when too few red blood cells are produced. “Red blood cells transfer oxygen, so if you don’t have enough oxygen being transported to tissues, you may feel tired,” explains Golubic. Fatigue is the number one symptom of anaemia, so it’s a common first place to look deeper, especially in women of childbearing age who are menstruating.

There are various types of anaemia, from iron deficiency anaemia and B12 deficiency to more rare conditions. Iron can be found in dark leafy vegetables, legumes, and even dried fruit, but “even if you’re eating a diet high in these plant foods, your nutrient absorption could be off, plus anyone with a chronic disease could be anaemic, too,” warns Dr. Golubic. 

11. Heart disease

Those with heart disease, coronary artery disease, or arrhythmias may feel tired or suffer from weakness due to reduced optimal blood flow to the body’s tissues. In addition to getting the care you need through your GP, changing your diet and activity routine is a good place to start making improvements and reducing your risk.

12. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

CFS is defined as six or more months of extreme fatigue, and can also include loss of memory, mood changes, joint pain, and more. CFS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning all other medical conditions must be ruled out before a doctor can arrive at this diagnosis, and there are no exclusive tests for it,” says Deena Adimoolam, MD, endocrinologist and spokesperson for the Endocrine Society’s Hormone Health Network. CFS symptoms can appear similar to those associated with more common problems like depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

The reasons for being constantly tired are extensive, and some of them could have serious health implications. Try talking to your GP to find a solution that works for you.