Tired or something more? Separating illness from exhaustion

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Feeling tired is just part of the normal weekly routine, right? We wake up on Mondays wishing we could feel a bit fresher, wondering why we passed on naptime as kids. The normal humdrum motions of adult life can often leave us feeling like our energy levels are on the low side. But how can you tell when feeling tired is actually a sign of something more?

What’s the difference between fatigue and tiredness?

It is completely normal to experience tiredness on a daily basis. That’s why we need to sleep each night, to give our bodies time to replenish our energy levels. But fatigue goes beyond normal, everyday tiredness.  Fatigue is when you feel so tired that it is often overwhelming and isn’t relieved by sleep and rest. It is physically exhausting and can lead to some symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty concentrating and short term memory problems.

Time for a life audit

Feeling overly tired can be caused by a variety of factors that can easily be changed. The first step is to try to work out what could be potentially causing you to feel exhausted, and to go about addressing that area. Simple lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can have a major impact on our energy levels.

Exercise

It may sound counterintuitive, but getting active can actually be a cure for fatigue, not a cause. Rather than tiring us out, regular exercising helps to keep our cardiovascular and respiratory systems in shape which increases the efficiency of every other bodily function – from tolerating long days at the office to waking up in the morning. Obviously, you can exercise too much, which could also be a cause of your exhaustion. If you are not allowing your body enough time during the week to rest from intense exercise, you can be left feeling drained. If you are a bit of a gymaholic, maybe layoff the workout sessions for a week to see if your energy levels improve. For those of us not in the habit of exercising on a regular basis, start by working out a few times a week to get your body moving.

Diet

An honest look at your diet might also be in order. As the saying goes, we are what we eat. Diet has a huge impact on how awake we feel, and can be an easy one to remedy. While sugary snacks and mid-afternoon coffees can give us a temporary energy boost, they can ultimately leave us feeling more drained and tired as they’ll lead to energy crashes. It’s all about balance – eating a balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, healthy sources of protein, fats and vitamins. Watch your portions as well, as eating too much can leave your body feeling sluggish, as energy has to be used to digest the food as opposed to being used in daily tasks.

Drinks

Drinking too much alcohol and caffeinated drinks on a regular basis can also significantly interfere with the quality of your sleep. And a bad night’s sleep is obviously not going to leave you feeling fresh as a daisy in the morning. Try to keep to the recommended units of alcohol per week (14 units a week) and preferably spread your drinking out over the week as opposed to drinking excessive amounts in one sitting. On the caffeine front, it is good practice to stop drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea after 2pm, as this prevents your caffeine intake disrupting your sleep.

Sleep

Then there is the really obvious factor that could be making you tired: the quality of your sleep. The average adult should be getting around 6-8 hours of good-quality sleep each night. Maintaining a regular sleep pattern is key to getting in the hours each night. By getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, you’re training your body clock to know when to go to bed and to form a consistent circadian rhythm. This doesn’t mean you have to get up at the crack of dawn. But you should be getting up at the same time daily, including at the weekends. Turn off all screens (including your phone), at least an hour before bed to help your body prepare itself for sleep, and avoid afternoon (or mid-morning) naps as this can disrupt your sleep pattern, particularly if it’s for more than 20 minutes at a time. This will help your body know when to start preparing itself for sleep and begin to wind down in enough time.

Something more?

If you’ve taken a step back, addressed any areas of your life that could be making you feel more tired than normal, and you are exhausted, it could be a sign of something more. This would be the time to talk to your doctor about your symptoms to see if you could be experiencing chronic fatigue.

What is chronic fatigue?

Chronic fatigue is when you feel weary and exhausted in a way that is a lot more severe and debilitating that the general Monday morning tiredness that everyone experiences. It can make even the simplest of tasks difficult to complete, whether it’s going to work or maintaining a conversation. Sleep or rest does not alleviate the feelings of tiredness, and you feel as if you are just about to get sick –– your body can feel heavy, achy or in pain, as well as give you the dreaded foggy brain that disrupts your ability to function normally. When you have been feeling extreme fatigue for more than six months, it is regarded as chronic.

Though be careful not to go hypochondriac with this. It can be easy to confuse chronic fatigue, which is a symptom of various illnesses and can be caused by a number of external factors, with chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis). Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease with its own particular set of symptoms including from chronic fatigue, such as cognitive difficulties like verbal dyslexia and short-term memory difficulties.

You’re getting sick

Another possible explanation for feeling extremely tired is that you’re on the verge of being under the weather. Feeling exhausted can precede a cold or a bout of the flu, as your body will be working hard to fight off the infection you don’t know you have yet. This is particularly true for flu, as flu symptoms can often include the rapid onset of fatigue without any warning. Look out for chills, a rise in your temperature, a drop in appetite and generally feeling zapped of all energy, enthusiasm and umph. All of these could be early signs that what you thought was just exhaustion is actually a nasty case of the flu.

Anaemia

If you aren’t getting sufficient iron from your diet, you could be suffering from anaemia. One of the common symptoms of anaemia is persistent tiredness, as well as a pale complexion and hair loss. Both men and women can suffer from anaemia and it can affect you at any age. If you think that you might be suffering from an iron deficiency, try incorporating iron-rich foods such as dark leafy greens and cereals to give your body a boost.

Underactive thyroid

Any potential cause of feeling overly tired is an underactive thyroid. Also known as hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid can leave you feeling exhausted, all because you are not producing enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid regulates your metabolic rate, which includes digesting food and turning it into the energy that your body needs to function on a daily basis. Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include weight gain, aching muscles, weakness, dry and scaly skin and constipation.

If some of these symptoms sound familiar, it might be time to seek professional guidance from your doctor who can help to diagnose what could be causing your exhaustion. Can’t get an appointment at your local GP? We can help you get the healthcare that you need, even with the busiest schedules. Our mobile doctor appointments mean that you can have a doctor to your door, hotel or office in as little as two hours.

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