With today’s 24/7 schedules, feeling tired is a given. Sure, it seems obvious that lack of sleep is the most common reason for fatigue. But if you’re consistently logging 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night and still feeling exhausted, everything from an untreated infection to a poor diet could be to blame.
“In many cases, patients just aren’t getting enough sleep—6 hours or less on most days,” says Nessreen Rizvi, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. “But there are a number of other things that may be at play, including nutrient deficiencies, undiagnosed infections, even your smartphone.”
So to help you regain your energy and get the most out of your waking hours, Dr. Rizvi highlights 10 unexpected causes of fatigue — and what you can do about them:
1. You have an undiagnosed thyroid problem. When your thyroid is sluggish, all of your body’s processes slow down. The end result: You feel tired and rundown. Unfortunately, many people who have hypothyroidism (a sluggish thyroid) don’t know it.
Do this: Ask your doctor if you could have a thyroid issue. A simple blood test will help identify whether you have the condition.
2. You have a sleep disorder. If you wake up exhausted or slog through the day in a fog, you could have an undiagnosed sleep disorder. For example, sleep apnea, a condition that interrupts your breathing during sleep, affects up to 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Do this: Talk to your doctor about getting a sleep evaluation.
3. You have a urinary tract infection (UTI). While pain and burning during urination may be the most common symptom of a UTI, some people may feel fatigued, too. In fact, fighting any infection can drain your energy.
Do this: Tell your doctor you’re feeling tired. A urine sample or blood test can help uncover a hidden infection.
4. You’re not getting enough nutrients. Food is fuel for your body. Diets that are high on calories and short on nutrients not only sap your energy, they may set you up for a deficiency.
Do this: Avoid processed foods and sugars as much as possible. Load up on whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead. You may also want to ask your doctor about taking a multi-vitamin for insurance. Still tired? Ask your doctor to check your iron and vitamin D levels. A deficiency in either could be the reason behind your exhaustion.
5. You’re stressed. Stress and worry can be draining. When you’re constantly in “fight or flight” mode, your heart pumps harder, your blood pressure goes up and all of your systems remain on high-alert. That’s a lot of pressure.
Do this: Incorporate relaxation strategies throughout your day. Go for a walk, meditate, read a “feel good” novel, practice yoga. Whatever you do, just take a few moments several times a day to do something that calms you.
6. You’re addicted to devices. Whether you’re glued to an e-reader or posting on Facebook from your phone, electronic devices give off “blue light” that can mess with your body’s Circadian rhythm, your natural biological clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. But beyond the light, devices flood your brain with constant stimulation, too, and that’s exhausting!
Do this: Instead of stashing your phone on the nightstand, power it down before bed and leave it by the front door.
7. You’re dehydrated. When you’re not drinking enough fluids, your organs have to work harder to pump blood and nutrients throughout the body.
Do this: Aim for 6 to 8 glasses of water throughout the day, and load up on water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as melon, grapes, oranges and peaches.
8. You’re not getting enough exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but studies show regular exercise boosts energy levels, even among people who are typically tired.
Do this: Experts recommend exercising 150 minutes each week (think: 30 minutes for at least 5 of the 7 days). But don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be intense. Even a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood or on your lunch break can help you meet your weekly quota.
9. You’re getting too much caffeine. Relying on a cup of joe to get you through the afternoon may work when you’re in your 20s and 30s, but unfortunately, as we age, our ability to digest and eliminate caffeine plummets.
Do this: Stick to 200 to 300 mg of caffeine per day (about 1 to 2 cups of an 8 ounce coffee). And try to get your fix before 10 a.m.
10. You need to nix the nightcap. While most people link alcohol with relaxation, too much wine (or any other alcoholic beverage) can interfere with your sleep cycle. You might fall asleep faster, but you’ll get less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deep, restorative sleep you need to operate at your best.
Do this: You don’t have to ditch your daily glass of red wine. Instead, just make sure you stick to one glass, and drink it with dinner at least an hour or two before bed.
Still exhausted after a few weeks of incorporating Dr. Rizvi’s “do this” strategies? Visit your doctor to rule out an undiagnosed problem. Your exhaustion could even be related to the medications you’re taking. A simple switch (where it’s possible) could be the easy fix.