Feeling frazzled? Reasons why even good sleep might not relieve your fatigue
Getting plenty of sleep but still exhausted? Liz Connor outlines some possible causes of niggling fatigue
WE ALL know that burning the midnight oil, while juggling a busy schedule, is bound to leave us feeling sluggish, cranky and craving coffee the morning after – but if you're getting enough sleep and still suffering from constant low energy, it's worth considering whether there might be an underlying cause, possibly a health issue.
Around one in five people in the UK say they experience fatigue severe enough to impact their day-to-day routine and making it difficult to function. Here are some possible causes:
1. Iron-deficiency anaemia
Iron-deficiency anaemia is a condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in red blood cells. "People with anaemia can have a general lack of energy or tiredness, but also feel weak, faint or dizzy," says Dr Davina Deniszczyc, GP and medical director at Nuffield Health. Women are more at risk of developing it, as around a third are thought to be low in iron due to heavy periods. A simple blood test can be done by your GP to detect anaemia, and iron supplements are typically prescribed, along with a diet of iron-rich foods.
2. Coeliac disease
Lethargy can be a warning sign that something is wrong with your gut. Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder where consuming even the smallest amount of gluten triggers damaging reactions in the small intestines. Pain and digestive problems are also common symptoms. "If you have coeliac disease, your immune system reacts to wheat, barley or rye by attacking the lining of your intestine," explains Dr Deniszczyc. If your GP thinks you may be coeliac, a blood test is usually the first step. There's no cure but it can be managed.
"Dehydration is no small matter; it can cause fatigue, lower back pain, bags under the eyes and anxiety, to name just a few symptoms," says Emma Thornton, a nutritionist speaking on behalf of A.Vogel. "In fact, a group of scientists from the University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory found even mild dehydration, as a result of our ordinary daily activities, can alter a person's mood, energy levels and memory function. Aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day."
4. Chronic fatigue syndrome
This rare but debilitating condition, also known as CFS or ME causes debilitating fatigue that comes on quickly and can severely impair your ability to function. "Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause severe tiredness that's not relieved by rest or sleep," says Dr Deniszczyc. Since the symptoms are similar to many other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose, but your GP might carry out tests to rule out other conditions. CFS patients are usually offered graded exercise therapy as a treatment.
A knock to your mental health can take a severe toll on your quality of sleep and energy levels, and depression can deplete your brain of serotonin, which helps regulate your internal body clock. "Everyone can feel sad, tired or experience problems sleeping at times in our lives," says Dr Deniszczyc. "Normally, these incidents of low mood will ease after a few days or weeks, but if your feelings begin to interfere with daily activities, it might be time to talk to your doctor as you could be experiencing depression."
6. Poor diet
If your diet's very poor, or you're simply not eating enough, lack of nutrition could be making you tired - and too much sugar can have the same impact. "Making some simply dietary changes could make a big difference to energy levels," says Thornton. "Watch out for erratic eating patterns too - eating heavy meals late at night may impact your sleep quality, which can result in food cravings and weight gain longer term."
7. Underactive thyroid
"The thyroid gland produces hormones, which primarily regulate the body's metabolism and digestive system, so if the thyroid gland is underactive, these hormones are not being produced as effectively," explains Thornton. "This is why weight gain, as well as lethargy, are extremely common." Key warning signs are tiredness, brain fog, thinning hair and feeling cold constantly. Treatment involves taking hormone replacement tablets to raise your thyroxine levels.