Did you know that most people in the United States, on average, sleep less than six hours a night? This number may not be astonishing to you because you may be one of these people who do not get adequate amounts of sleep. In fact, sleep experts suggest that the proper amount is seven to eight hours per night. Having to juggle your job, your family and your personal life could make you feel overwhelmed or exhausted. In addition, working during shift hours can have an effect on your normal sleep patterns. Working the PM and EM shifts can be difficult and disrupt your normal routines. Studies have shown that mental and physical exhaustion may limit your ability to carry out daily activities. A modern lifestyle exposes us to a 24/7 society (i.e., 24-hour cable TV, internet, email, not to mention the long work shifts).
Even with decent bed rest, many of you may still wake up feeling tired or exhausted. Feeling tired could be warning signs of a medical condition or indications of an unhealthy lifestyle. The items listed below provide some explanations as why you might feel tired all the time. The first set are possible indicators of a medical condition, and the second set are possible indicators of an unhealthy lifestyle.
What are the medical conditions that may account for your long-term exhaustion? Here are some examples:
• Anemia: Anemia is a condition where one does not have an adequate amount of red blood cells, or hemoglobin, in the blood. Causes of anemia range from cancer to an iron or vitamin deficiency. Individuals with anemia exhibit chronic fatigue because of red blood cell counts being lower, which reduces their ability to deliver oxygen efficiently. Check with your primary care doctor to rule out having anemia.
• Hypothyroidism: The thyroid gland is in charge of regulating metabolism. Having too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroid) or too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroid) can alter the levels of metabolism and energy. Individuals with hypothyroidism feel extremely tired and lethargic. Check with your primary care doctor to rule out hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
• Depression: Common symptoms of depression include fatigue, insomnia or oversleeping, low motivation and loss of interest in activities. If exhaustion is not due to physical or medical reasons, mood may account for feelings of tiredness. Seek an assessment and possible treatment from a mental health professional who can provide psychotherapy, adjunctive treatment or a more holistic approach.
If medical or mental causes are not the reasons for exhaustion, a change in the following aspects of your lifestyle might help remedy your fatigue:
• Healthy diet: A lot of times when you feel exhausted or drained, especially in the middle of a workday, you find yourself craving high-sugar or high-carb foods. Refined carbohydrates boost your energy by quickly elevating your blood sugar, but you inevitably experience a sense of tiredness when your blood sugar drops rapidly. Also, too much caffeine or sipping a cup of caffeine throughout the day can disturb your sleep–awake cycle, hence placing you in fluctuation of feeling energetic or feeling fatigued. For that reason, moderation in the consumption of refined sugar and caffeine will help to keep your energy level.
• Keeping balance: Is doing it all wearing you out? Overcommitment or constant busyness can lead to feelings of burnout — “a slow-creeping form of exhaustion accumulated over years of perfectionism, stress and overwhelm.” The struggle to find enough time to pursue both work and personal goals can trap you into overly committing yourself to responsibilities and not having enough time to do things for yourself. Chronic exposure to high-stress environments subsequently exhausts your energy. If your long-term tiredness is not caused by a medical condition, you may want to step back and consider cutting back on obligations and tasks, taking small breaks in between tasks, scheduling personal time and activities to reward yourself, and allowing yourself to say no to obligations.
• A good night’s sleep: Sleep plays a vital role in good health and in emotional well-being throughout your life. Sleep helps maintain a good balance of the hormones that make you feel appropriately hungry or full as well as affect how your body reacts to insulin. Long-term sleep deprivation not only can impede your immune system, but also diminishes your energy to function productively throughout the day. Thus, getting enough quality of sleep at the right time is essential to get rid of your long-term feelings of exhaustion.
An important part of maintaining mental health is to pay attention to our mind-and-body connection. If you or someone you know has experienced long-term tiredness or fatigue, this article provides general guidance as a way to remedy constant fatigue and tiredness.
If you feel overly exhausted on a regular basis (not due to a medical condition), please contact Psychological Services Bureau for support and help with establishing a healthy lifestyle. You can call for a consultation or make a confidential appointment at (213) 738-3500. To obtain additional information, you can visit our intranet site at http//intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm.