One of the most common reasons people come to me for help is fatigue or extremely low energy. They have trouble getting up and going in the morning. They don't feel rested when they wake up. They want to nap all afternoon. And then, at bedtime, they can't sleep. The just lay there, exhausted, but so very awake.
I know exactly what that's like. I've been there too. It's frustrating.
There are a lot of different versions of this complaint too. Everything from "I feel tired all the time" to serious chronic fatigue ("I can't even get out of bed"). Chronic fatigue used to be a diagnosis that you got when nothing else was wrong with you but you felt tired all the time. It even carries a lot of stigma (some people still think it's a "junk" diagnosis). But the truth is there is research showing that people who have diagnosed chronic fatigue actually have an issue with the way their bodies create energy.
Not only is fatigue annoying and uncomfortable, it also makes people unproductive and can be dangerous. Many fatal car accidents involve driver fatigue. But a lot of people assume that feeling tired or having low energy levels is just part of getting older. However, fatigue is not a normal part of aging. Just because something is common, doesn't mean that it's normal.
Fatigue affects every aspect of your life whether you like it or not (to learn more about the real cost of fatigue in your life, check out my book, The 30 Day Energy Reset). Your family, your job, your friends, your relationships, and the activities you do for fun are all affected by fatigue. The good news is that it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to feeling exhausted. There are some things that you can do to fix your fatigue, even if you don't have the support of your healthcare provider.
8 Reasons You're Exhuasted All the Time
1. You aren't getting enough sleep or you have poor quality sleep
While the idea that not sleeping enough is obvious to most people, it's actually surprising how many people don't think that this includes them. The same goes for sleep quality. Staying up late watching Netflix, drinking caffeine well into the afternoon/evening, or tossing and turning all night long because your mattress is uncomfortable, your partner snores too loud, or your dog stole all the covers are all things I've heard from people (usually preceded by the statement "I sleep fine even though...").
The solution to these things are all relatively simple. Stop.
Netflix will be there tomorrow, switch to decaf coffee or something else without much caffeine after 12pm, get a new mattress, kick the dog (or your snoring partner) out of the bed! I realize that snoring partners requires a slightly more delicate solution, but get them some help or sleep separately a few nights a week so you can get good sleep at least some of the time.
Insomnia and sleep apnea affect millions of people and solutions other than sleeping pills or the ever dreaded sleep study are not common. Functional practitioners will deal with the issues underlying these sleep issues rather than putting a bandaid on it or ignoring it.
Regardless of sleep quality, most people don't actually get enough sleep in the first place. The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night.(1) If you suffer from fatigue or low energy levels and you aren't sleeping at least 7 hours each night...start sleeping more. I can't tell you how many people I talk to who tell me that they are exhausted but then go on to say that they sleep 5-6 hours a night. That's not enough sleep and it's no wonder you're tired!!
There are some more natural remedies for sleep issues that can help as well. Herbs such as valerian and chamomile help to make you sleepy (I'm not a fan of melatonin because supplementation can cause your body to decrease the amount you produce on your own). For sleep apnea CPAP machines can be helpful for some people. I prefer to use them as a way for you to get the rest you need while working on other areas of your life and improving the root cause of your sleep apnea. But it's also important to remember that herbs and machines need to be viewed as a short term solution while you work on determining and reversing the cause of the problem.
2. You have leaky gut or gut dysfunction
Most people don't realize that your gut function can influence your energy levels. Think about it, if you get your energy from the food you eat and your gut is responsible for breaking down the food you eat, if your gut isn't functioning properly then you aren't going to break down food properly and you won't get the nutrients and energy you need to function.
It's also important to remember that just because you don't have any obvious digestive symptoms, that doesn't mean that you don't have leaky gut. If you are suffering from any chronic or autoimmune illness, or if you are feeling exhausted all of the time, then you likely have leaky gut and potentially a gut infection such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Gut dysfunction is also linked to weight loss resistance. So if you are tired and trying to lose weight, fixing your gut imbalances might resolve a lot of issues for you!
3. You aren't eating enough fat
Balancing the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fat) to match your lifestyle and activity level is important. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to "count macros," being aware of how much of each you are eating and how they affect you is important. Fat has become something that many people are afraid of because it was falsely accused of causing heart disease for many, many years. This means that most people (especially Americans) aren't eating enough fat. When you burn sugar for energy (instead of fat), you are more likely to experience big swings in your blood sugar which can cause that hangry feeling, difficulty losing weight, and fatigue.
The solution to this issue is to eat more fat. But not partially hydrogenated fat like you might find in margarine or processed foods. Good fats from whole food or nutrient-dense sources like avocados, eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught salmon. These sources of fat provide steady and slow-burning energy. Your brain is made up of mostly fat, so making sure that you are providing for your brain is important in beating fatigue and exhaustion.
4. You are eating too many inflammatory foods
The food you eat either contributes to you feeling good and having the energy to go about your day or making you feel tired and slowing you down. It should come as no surprise that foods that are processed and refined or full of sugar can negatively impact your health. One of the first ways this shows up is decreased energy levels and exhaustion. If you've ever eaten too much sugar and fallen into the infamous "sugar coma," then you know what this feels like.
Underlying food intolerances to foods like gluten, grains, and dairy can also cause fatigue. It is also possible to be sensitive to other foods that are considered healthy (such as eggs, nightshade vegetables, nuts, etc.). Eating foods that make you feel good and avoiding foods that make you feel tired or sick can go a long way towards giving you your energy back and feeling good again.
5. You have micronutrient deficiencies
Your body is complex. Micronutrients are a critical to keeping the biochemistry that's happening inside you running smoothly. If you aren't giving your body the pieces it needs to do its job (micronutrients are part of that) the you will likely feel exhausted. Some common nutrient deficiencies are iron, vitamin D, and B vitamins. If you are struggling with low energy, getting some lab work done to check for some of these common nutrient deficiencies can help you target your treatment.
6. You have hormonal imbalances
Most of the functions in your body is driven by hormones. If they are not being properly produced or balanced then you will likely experience symptoms. When one system isn't working properly, it can throw off all of the other systems. A properly functioning endocrine systems is especially important for maintaining good energy levels.
Two of the most common hormonal pathway imbalances that I see in people with low energy levels are HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) dysfunction (also known as adrenal fatigue) and hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism has many different underlying triggers such as food sensitivities, gut infections, other hormonal imbalances, or vitamin deficiencies. A functional medicine practitioner can help you look into your hormone balance so you can understand your individual situation.
7. You are exposed to too many toxins
The word toxin gets thrown around a lot these days, but before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Our environment these days is full of substances that are harmful to our health - pollution, agricultural chemicals, food additives, cleaning products, and personal care products to name a few.
Our bodies do a perfectly good job of detoxifying on its own, however the problem arises when we overload our bodies (intentionally or unintentionally) and it can't keep up. This is why it's important to control our toxin exposure when we can because it's impossible to eliminate all the toxins from your life. This means making sure you are using safer cleaning products, safer skincare products, and prioritizing organic foods when you can.
Fatigue is a complex issue
Unfortunately these things do not exist in a vacuum. Toxins can cause hormonal imbalances, which can cause poor sleep, which makes you tired. Eating inflammatory foods can affect your gut health, which can cause micronutrient deficiencies, which can affect your energy levels. This is also not a comprehensive list of what could be causing your low energy.
There are many different possibilities to consider, especially with more complicated conditions like chronic fatigue. Untangling what's going on is complex and you may greatly benefit from working with someone who understands the complexity of these issues rather than taking a one size fits all approach. What fatigue looks like for you as well as what might be causing it can be very different than what it means for someone else.
If you are looking to get starting on getting to the root cause of your fatigue, check out The 30 Day Energy Reset to dive deeper into some of the common causes as well as get a plan to get started getting your energy back.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). How much sleep do I need? Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html