If I had to pick one feeling that would best describe the periods of my life when I’ve been most depressed, it would not be sadness. It would not be despair. It would not be apathy.
It would be exhaustion. Exhaustion that would not lift. Exhaustion that would dominate every second, every minute, every hour of every day.
Constant exhaustion that would make me feel like all I ever did was fight to stay awake. Force myself to stay awake, force myself to engage, when all I wanted – all I needed – was rest.
Constant exhaustion that would eventually turn into feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt.
To break this cycle of exhaustion and depression, I had to find the answer to this one question: “Why am I so exhausted all the time?”
And then I had to do something about it.
Or actually do many somethings. What I eventually came to realize was that my exhaustion wasn’t caused by just one thing. There wasn’t just one correct answer to the question “why am I so exhausted all the time”. In order to fix my exhaustion, I needed a more holistic approach by addressing all the potential reasons for feeling tired listed below.
So if you are feeling tired all the time, I encourage you to go through this list step-by-step and implement ALL of the “cures” that apply to you rather than trying just one and then giving up when it doesn’t fix the problem.
(Pssst, I like to share my personal experience overcoming depression with the hope that some of my discoveries might resonate with others. Making lifestyle changes has greatly contributed to my own well-being, and as a life coach, I help people make impactful changes in their own lives. But I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. Depression has many potential causes, and if you have questions about the appropriate intervention for you, please consult a qualified professional.)
Why Am I So Exhausted All The Time? 12 Potential Reasons For Always Feeling Tired And How To Address Them
1. You Have A Medical Condition
The first step in operation “Let’s Quit Feeling Tired All The Time” is to rule out or address any illnesses that cause tiredness. There are a whole host of medical conditions that can cause tiredness, such as anemia, thyroid disease, diabetes, and sleep disorders like apnea. So off to the doctor you go.
Just remember that sometimes you may need to persist and seek second opinions in order to get the care you need. I have personally had all of the following happen to me:
- A general practitioner told me there was nothing wrong, but a specialist diagnosed a chronic illness.
- A screening test revealed no problems, but more detailed testing revealed a number of issues.
- A test came back in the normal range, but the result was borderline and “off” enough that I was experiencing symptoms, although another person with the same result might not have.
2. You Are Low On Nutrients
While at the doctor’s, ask to have your nutrient levels tested. Not getting enough B-vitamins, magnesium, or iron from your diet can result in low energy levels and you may need to increase your intake of certain foods or take some supplements to feel better.
My testing revealed that I was low on vitamin B12 and addressing that deficiency made a HUGE difference in how I was feeling.
3. You Are Not Getting Enough Sleep
You might have wanted to punch me in the face when you saw this one. If you are anything like me, you probably feel like you are getting plenty of sleep, but it’s like no amount of sleep is enough. Am I right?
Just hear me out, please. We have all read that most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. And for years I was dutifully getting my seven hours. But here’s the thing. That seven to nine hours is a range. It means that some people need seven, some people need eight, and some people need nine. And some people don’t belong in “most” and might even need 10.
Personally, I need a minimum of eight hours of sleep every. single. night. to feel half-way human and often I need to add an hour-long nap to the mix. Does it feel fair that I need so much? No. Do I wish I could do with less? Yes.
But I’m pretty sure I’m not getting another body anytime soon, so I might as well give the one I have what it needs in order to feel better in it.
The only way to find out how much sleep YOU need is to experiment. Up the amount of sleep you get for a few nights and see if you start feeling better. If I let myself get sleep deprived, it usually takes three or four solid eight-hour-nights to make up the sleep debt and notice the difference.
4. You Are Not Getting Good Quality Sleep
It could also be that you are tucked in bed for plenty of hours, but those hours are not restful. Tossing and turning. Waking up constantly. Staring at the ceiling.
Here are some possible reasons why your sleep quality might be on the sucky side:
- You drink alcohol before bed. Although alcohol initially works as a depressant, there is a surge in adrenaline a few hours later when it metabolizes. This could cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- You are drinking too much caffeine too late in the day.
- You watch TV or use some other electronic device right before going to bed. The bright lights can suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.
- You eat a lot of carbs right before bed. This might give you a “sugar-high”.
I know, I know… I’m basically taking all the fun out of your evenings. Because what this boils down to is this: No reality TV. No scrolling through Pinterest or Facebook on your phone. No beer. No potato chips.
Now that is depressing.
Except if you don’t make it an every-single-night-rule. I try to follow these rules most nights during the week. But I let myself loosen up on the weekends. 🙂
5. You Are Eating The Wrong Foods
What you fill your belly with can give you a healthy energy boost or it can slowly destroy you.
Eating too much sugar and other refined carbs is one sure-fire way to zap your energy. When you eat more carbs than your body can handle, your blood sugar will first spike and then crash suddenly. And this crashing can make you feel tired like nothing else. The cure:
- Cut back or eliminate sugar and white flour from your diet.
- Eat a big chunk of protein with every meal to help keep your blood sugars stable.
To complicate matters, different people do well on different diets. To find out, once and for all, what foods might be causing you problems, you could try an elimination diet like the Whole30. It may seem a bit extreme at first, but doing the Whole30 has radically improved the quality of my life and changed the way I eat forever.
6. You Are Dehydrated
What and how much you drink makes a difference too. Dehydration is one very common cause of tiredness. You can get dehydrated by a) not ingesting enough liquids over the course of the day or b) drinking the wrong kinds of liquids, ie. the ones with lots of caffeine or sugar or both.
The exact amount of water you need per day varies by gender and activity levels, but if your pee is pale yellow you are probably doing ok. 🙂
7. You Are Not Moving Your Body Enough
I’m not going to give you yet another lecture on the health benefits of exercise. But I will tell you this. After I had been exercising regularly (ie. several times a week) for a while, I started noticing a huge difference in how I was feeling on the days I exercised versus the days when I didn’t. So much so that I now exercise every morning. I know they say you need rest days, but I find that I feel better energy-wise and otherwise if I exercise daily.
I don’t recommend going straight from zero to seven days a week, but exercising six to seven days per week might be a good goal to work up to. Click here for my article on starting an exercise routine.
8. You Are A Mother With Little Ones
Motherhood=sleep deprivation. 😀
We all know that newborns require round-the-clock care. But it’s not just that. Pregnancy. Breast feeding. The constant vigilance required to make sure your adventurous toddler stays safe. The hostage negotiator skills you have to employ to get your three-year-old to do a-n-y-thing. All of that taxes your brain and body and sucks up your energy.
- Try to prioritize your own needs more than you are doing now. Include yourself on the list of people whose needs you are responsible for meeting. It’s obviously not realistic to put your own needs ahead of your kids’ needs all the time, but our kids need happy and healthy mothers, so we should at least make sure we don’t totally lose ourselves.
- Wait it out. Yes, it’s a struggle when they are young, but if you are in the thick of it right now, I promise you it gets easier. And it will get easier long before they turn 18. They will start sleeping through the night. They will start taking care of their own needs more. They will even start helping out around the house!
9. You Are Stressed Or Anxious Or Both
Stress and anxiety can totally destroy your energy levels.
First of all, stress and anxiety can interfere with the quality of your sleep. The stress hormone, cortisol, can mess with your sleep cycles. And of course, anxiety can keep you up at night worrying and feeling uncomfortable.
Second, stress and anxiety are not just “in your head”. They tax your body. And anything that taxes your body makes you tired.
Reducing your stress and anxiety levels is not the easiest task, but I did it and I’m reaping the benefits. If you are interested in finding out how I did it, you might want to check out my free eBook The Key To Overcoming Anxiety.
10. You Are An Introvert Or A Highly Sensitive Person Or Both
I can have everything else on this list taken care of and still be tripped up by this one. I can be getting plenty of good quality sleep and exercising and eating right, but if I let myself forget that I’m a highly sensitive introvert, I will still end up feeling exhausted.
Introverts and highly sensitive people (HSPs) need more solitude and quiet time to recharge than extraverts and non-HSPs. If I don’t give myself the quiet time my brain needs, I will suffer the consequences both mentally and physically. I simply run out of steam to keep going and the exhaustion sets in.
This happens because the nervous systems of highly sensitive people are aroused more easily than the nervous systems of non-HSPs. The same situation that might be comfortably arousing to a non-HSP can leave an HSP overaroused. And when you are constantly overaroused, your brain and body need more rest to recover.
If you are an introvert or highly sensitive person, it’s crucial to make sure you get enough alone time. We are all unique individuals, but after lots of experimenting, I have found I need a minimum of two to three hours of quiet time a day plus a couple of longer stretches of time every week.
11. You Are Bored
Introverts and highly sensitive people are particularly at risk for being overaroused. But we all – even introverts and highly sensitive people – can also fall victim to the opposite problem. We can be underaroused, or in plain English, bored. We can be so bored that we start feeling sleepy.
A while back, I was getting so tired during the day that I started thinking there must be something seriously wrong with me. I just could not keep my eyes open even though I had “done everything right” in terms of sleep and diet and so forth. Then I realized this was only happening during the week when I was working. I was perfectly fine and alert on the weekends. The simple truth was that I had been doing the same work for too many years. What was once challenging and interesting had turned into something so boring I was falling asleep at my desk.
In my particular situation, the cure I needed was a career change. But in a broader sense, the cure for boredom is to find something new and interesting to keep your mind alert.
12. You Are Comparing Yourself To The People Who Drink 7 Cups of Coffee And 10 Cans of Coke A Day
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night. I don’t know what share of these people are fueled by lots of caffeine, but I’m guessing a good many. And who knows how many of the people who sleep seven hours actually need more than that.
But my point is this: There are a lot of people around us who don’t sleep enough. There are so many people around us who don’t sleep enough that it can be easy to start feeling like there is something wrong with you if you need nine hours of sleep, although needing nine hours of sleep is actually normal and healthy.
So if you are sick of feeling exhausted all the time:
- Stop paying attention to what people around you might be doing.
- Start listening to your own body.
- Start giving your body what it needs.