Ten (Plus) Reasons You are Tired All The Time

Updated June 13, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Chronic fatigue, or feeling tired all the time is a prevalent problem in the American society. It is not something that is easily treated because there are so many factors that contribute to the condition, making it difficult for doctors to decide a treatment path, and frustrating for those who suffer from it. Finding relief from chronic fatigue can mean an improved quality of life, increased work production, and a happier personal and home life.

Insufficient Sleep. Today, the average individual gets less than six hours sleep per night, and by two p.m. is dragging and having to drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages to stay alert. The power drink industry has cornered the market, and with the invention of little energy shots, it seems no one needs to sleep. Right? Wrong. Taking stimulants of any sort to stay alert does not replace proper sleep. According to the Journal of Sleep and Medicine, adults need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night; however, most are simply not getting enough sleep, and the end results are extreme fatigue.

The reality is, that most of us do not get uninterrupted sleep. For example, if you go to bed at 10 p.m. and set your alarm for 6 a.m., you will be not getting 8 hours, even though mathematically it should add up. You might be in your bed, you might even have your eyes closed. That does not mean you are sleeping, it takes over two hours to reach deep sleep (Watson et al., 2015).

Additionally, persons who get up to go to the bathroom take on average at least 3-5 minutes to return to sleep. If waking up thirsty, it can take even longer. Cat rattling the blinds? Baby crying? There are so many things that wake us up at night and prevent us from getting adequate and uninterrupted sleep.

Where Did the Day Go?

It is very alarming when individuals sit down and chart out their day. If you are like the average M-F worker, you are in the office at 8 a.m. and leave somewhere between 5 and 6:30p.m. Depending upon drive time you might get home anywhere from 7-10 p.m., or even later. Once home, there is dinner, kids, looking over something for work, paying the bills, and a host of other responsibilities. In reality, we are getting to bed closer to midnight and getting up at six, which means we are really only getting around 3.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

Not getting to bed on time is one of the obvious reasons individuals find themselves tired and falling asleep during the course of a work day. But what about the people out there that are getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep per night, but still find themselves lagging during the day, yawning during meetings, and unable to concentrate on simple tasks?There are those who find themselves waking in the morning looking forward to going back to bed in 14 hours to motivate themselves to get up (HartvigHonoré, 2013). If this sounds like you, you might have chronic fatigue syndrome.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic fatigue is characterized by:

  • Extreme tiredness that lasts for more than two to three days and is not due to lack of sleep, illness, or a specific physical activity.
  • Extreme exhaustion after physical or mental activity lasting more than 24 hours.
  • Fatigue even after sleeping for several hours
  • Inability to focus on tasks, experiencing a loss of time; for example, realizing it is 2 p.m. and still have not completed a task began several hours before.
  • Forgetfulness, missing meetings, forgetting to pay bills, forgetting to pick up children.
  • Non-specific headache
  • A sore throat that is not due to cold, flu, or strep.
  • Enlarged glands/lymph nodes
  • Body aches/radiating muscle or joint pain - pain medications do not seem to work.
  • Irritability- snapping at others.

Other Than Too Little Sleep, What Else Causes It?

Stress. Extreme fatigue may be a symptom of stress-related depression brought on by a significant life change(Monroe & Simons, 1991). Often changes in life are very emotionally rousing, and this form of arousal can be exhausting. Fighting with a spouse, children, or work conflicts can bring on the type of stress that can result in chronic tiredness.

When we are stressed, our bodies' para-sympathetic systems go into overdrive to help us resolve the issue. However, most of us are not in tune with ourselves, or simply do not pay attention to the cues the mind and body send out telling us to either deal with a problem or simply let it go(Clays et al., 2011). When we find ourselves physically fatigued, it is often due to a lack of oxygen not only in the brain but to the organs and muscles(Mehta & Parasuraman, 2014). The feeling of knee buckling is associated with depleted oxygen or a disruption of oxygen throughout the body. Continued stress and the feeling of being backed into a corner means that this depletion of oxygen is consistently occurring, leading to chronic fatigue.

For those with a strong work-ethic, or who are very ambitious, the ability to self-regulate is essential in avoiding fatigue due to stress build-up (Evans, Boggero, & Segerstrom, 2016). High achieving individuals who take on too many tasks often feel they must do all of them and they must be of superior quality. In adults(Clays et al., 2011), as well as adolescents(Diamond, Fagundes, & Cribbet, 2012)when stressors build up and faced with a tasks that seem to simply add to the burden, making a decision, any decision, can lessen the stress; even if it is a bad decision.

For example, a high school student has several projects due in the same week. He or she has tried to focus on getting the last of the projects completed but is overwhelmed. After staying up late several nights until the point of exhaustion he or she abandons the final project, then falls into the most relaxing sleep experienced in a long while.

The decision itself was not a good one as there are consequences; however, the mind and the body had simply taken on too much and needed a release. Adults might do the very same thing regarding work projects or bills. When stress has led to the point of fatigue, abandoning the perceived object of stress can seem to bring on a welcome release. Of course, that relief is short-lived as the individual then needs to face the consequences of abandoning a responsibility or commitment.

Self-regulation means choosing what you can do and pacing yourself at it. It is the lack of self-regulation in many individuals that lead them to an exhausted state (Evans et al., 2016). Let us look at the adolescent and the project again. If he or she took a breath and persevered to see the project through to completion, the feeling of accomplishment would have been enough to bring about refreshing sleep, and also the consequences would be much more rewarding.

Sometimes when we are on stress overload we do need to choose our battles and our tasks wisely. If there is something that can be placed on the backburner or given to a colleague if a work-related item or another family if home-related, then we have taken a positive step toward alleviating the source of stress, and also the primary source of our tiredness. The caveat is when a person is fatigued to the point of exhaustion, he or she does not think as clearly (Frese, 2009). Therefore, decisions will not come easily, or be the most well-thought out. A person who is in the middle of fight or flight syndrome feels backed into a corner.

This internal battle is as exhausting as having a brutal argument with a spouse or child. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Many of the reasons people find themselves in these no-win situations have to do with personality traits (Vollrath, 2001). Our personalities are not something that can be easily changed. However, we can learn to recognize the ways in which what may be even a positive personality trait, such as strong work ethic, can cause us to take on too much. When this happens, we find ourselves in the corner, and it is often difficult to fight our way out.

The Subconscious.When we have so much on our minds at the end of a work day, it is difficult to shut it off when we turn out the lamp at night. Even when we close our eyes, or minds are still at work attempting to sort through the complexities of our relationships, work-related or home-related tasks, finances, or anything else that has been a factor during the course of the day. For this reason, many of us find ourselves waking in the morning after a long night of rest, and instead of feeling refreshed we feel mentally exhausted. Our subconscious mind has worked overtime dealing with issues that we pushed to the side most of the day due to stress related to task overload(Alvarado, 2014). This can lead to the same mental fatigue experienced with conscious problem-solving.

Cancer and Treatment. Chronic fatigue is often related to illness, such as cancer (Reif, de Vries, Petermann, & Görres, 2010). Cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy and radiation find that their sleep cycles are often disturbed, leaving them feeling mentally drained each day. In addition, due to the toxicity of the treatments, individuals find themselves sick, prone to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which lead to physical exhaustion.

Illness, Depression, Chronic Pain, and Injury. Other illnesses that contribute to chronic fatigue are either mentally or physically related. Depression, which can either be a symptom of chronic fatigue, or the cause; injury; chronic pain; fibromyalgia; and lupus(HartvigHonoré, 2013). This list is not all-inclusive as there are myriad reasons individuals find themselves tired all the time. Other factors such as obesity, physical and mental inactivity also are common among those suffering from chronic fatigue(Frese, 2009). One thing that many do not realize is that energy begets energy. Unless the causes of fatigue are due to a physical illness or injury, exercise can alleviate stress and help to build energy levels, and most anyone can engage in positive mental stimulation. Each form of energy can help individuals combat stress and depression, both of which can lead to chronic fatigue.

Lack of Motivation.A common factor in suffers of chronic fatigue is a lack of motivation. Seeking the advice and guidance of a mental health counselor who can provide information and insight regarding the reasons for and how to combat chronic tiredness will benefit individuals in both the immediate and long-term sense.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There are many underlying causes of chronic tiredness or fatigue. Getting the right sort of help involves uncovering what these causes are. That is the reason doctors will take an extensive history that includes daily personal and work activities. To begin helping yourself, make a list of your daily routines and provide an adjective that best describes your feelings toward that activity. Use mindfulness in setting up your plans for each day, and try to accomplish each task; however, if you have come to the close of a day and cannot finish everything, choose what can wait, and let it.

For many, using self-regulating techniques can help, others may need the help of a doctor or mental health professional, such as a licensed mental health therapist. Choosing the right therapist is an important decision, as one of the number one reasons individuals stop therapy is due to a lack of personal connection with the therapist. For this reason and many reasons, many people find that online therapy works better for them. With many online therapy platforms, the therapist is available for email, chat, video and/or phone sessions. Some sites charge a monthly fee for unlimited contact with a therapist, and most are less than an office visit.

Chronic fatigue interferes with the quality of life, the ability to enjoy a sunny day, playing with children, or meeting up with friends. Before you allow another day to go by feeling tired and unable to do the things you would like to do, reach out and make contact with a qualified mental health therapist. Making a positive decision is the first step in breaking the fatigue cycle.

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