Mind & Spirit

Why you're constantly tired—and how to fix it

Why you're constantly tired—and how to fix it

Photography: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Mind & Spirit

Why you're constantly tired—and how to fix it

Being low on energy can be a side-effect of several health and lifestyle problems. Here's why you're tired, and how to get an energy boost.

Is your fatigue your constant companion? The solution might be as simple as tweaking what you eat, how much you move or how you handle your daily commute. Here's a look at what could be causing your energy crashes, along with strategies to help you recharge.

⏰ 6:45 a.m. You reach for the snooze button—again

Here's why:
"If you just can't seem to get enough rest, no matter how much you sleep, you could have an undiagnosed sleep disorder," says James MacFarlane, director of education at MedSleep in Toronto. Researchers from Université Laval in Quebec City found that 40 percent of adult Canadians have a serious sleep disorder. The most common include insomnia, restless legs syndrome (unpleasant sensations in the limbs and an urge to move them that can jolt you awake) and sleep apnea. Hormonal fluctuations—due to pregnancy, menstruation or menopause—can also wreak havoc on sleep.

How to reboot:

▶ Talk to your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder. Some of the latest treatments for insomnia include mindfulness meditation; a study from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, found that just six meditation sessions can help relieve insomnia and daytime fatigue. Similarly, cognitive behavioural sleep therapy rewires your brain to help you sleep.

▶ If hormones are to blame, meditation and breathing exercises can assist you, too.
Keeping your bedroom a little cooler and wearing breathable pajamas are also great ideas.

▶ If restless legs syndrome is disturbing your sleep, try cutting back on caffeine,
soaking in a warm bath and massaging your legs before bed. Applying heat or cold packs may also reduce the sensations in your legs when you're asleep.

▶ Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier so you have time for an energizing stretch,
recommends Jasmine Wong, a Victoria-based naturopathic doctor. "Instead of asking your body to go from zero to 60, a few minutes of stretching is a great way to wake up your lymphatic system and to give you more energy to start the day."


⏰  11 a.m. You start searching for the nearest coffee shop

Here's why:
You didn't have time for breakfast, and now you're craving something sweet—and caffeinated. Getting in line for a fancy latte puts you on the fast track to a blood-sugar crash later on, says Laura MacLean, a registered dietitian in Edmonton. "A large specialty coffee can contain the equivalent of 17 sugar cubes."

How to reboot:
▶ Have a cup of tea with milk and a little honey if you're craving something sweet. "When you add your own sweetener, you use a lot less," says MacLean.

▶ Make sure you eat. "Eating every three to five hours has a huge impact on energy," says MacLean. We feel better, she notes, when we eat regularly. "And it's important to get into a good rhythm for the day by having breakfast when you wake up." Not a breakfast person? Grab a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit or reach for an on-the-go smoothie for a healthy start.

▶ Schedule time to move. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that regular low-intensity exercise decreases fatigue by 65 percent and increases energy by 20 percent. A lunch-break walk, even if it's just 10 to 20 minutes, will do the trick. Or go for a lap around the office on a walking meeting instead of booking a boardroom.

▶ Take a 10-minute break to clear your workspace. Princeton University researchers discovered that a cluttered desk is mentally exhausting and makes it more difficult to focus.


⏰ 3 p.m. You just want to curl up under your desk

Here's why:
Felled by mid-afternoon fatigue? The burger and fries you ate for lunch might be to blame. "A big lunch takes a lot of energy to digest and store," says MacLean.

How to reboot:
▶ Make lunch an actual break. Paying attention to each mouthful as opposed to sending emails between bites will  help prevent overeating —and the sleepiness that follows—says MacLean.

▶ Aim for a lunch that's half fruit and vegetables, one-quarter protein and one-quarter quality carbs (such as whole grains). MacLean's go-to? Whole grain crackers and carrots with hummus. "Complex carbs and protein are a good combo because they give you lasting energy," she says.

▶ Don't forget to drink. "Our adult bodies are about 60 percent water," says MacLean. "If we don't replace water lost, we become dehydrated, which causes symptoms of headache, fatigue and decreased mental alertness."

▶ Give your brain a "microbreak" and enjoy the view of a nearby park or city green roof. A new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that taking just 40 seconds to focus on a view of nature can give a tired brain an energy boost and increase concentration.

▶ Resist the urge to look for an energy jolt in a cup of java— consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime can make you lose some badly needed sleep.


⏰ 5:30 p.m. You can barely keep your eyes open on the drive home

Here's why:
"You're tired, you've been thinking about work all day and, now, you're still thinking about it," says Wong. She recommends shifting mental gears to reserve energy for home.

How to reboot:
▶ Before you get into the car, take a few minutes to look around, says Wong. "Go through all your senses and think about what you see, smell and hear—that change of perspective will give you a break and wake you up."

▶ If you're already at the wheel and struggling to stay awake, reach for a healthful snack,  says Wong. "Keep a bag of trail mix in your car because a little protein and healthy fat will give you the energy burst you need to get you home."

▶ Crank your top tunes (and maybe even sing along). It may keep you awake, and researchers at the University of Missouri found that listening to upbeat music improves your mood.


⏰ 8 p.m. You can't make it through your family's favourite TV show

Here's why:
A long day makes it all too easy to sink into the couch—especially when it has been dark since 5 p.m.

How to reboot:
▶ Spend some time near a window during daylight hours. In a 2014 study, researchers at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University found that office workers who are exposed to more daylight are more active and alert throughout the day and have better-quality sleep at night.

▶ Try light therapy. A trial published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed three weeks of treatment can boost your mood in dark months and help you sleep better.

Tired all the time?
We've all battled bouts of fatigue caused by busy schedules or sick kids, says Dr. Catherine Kelly, an endocrinologist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto. But if you're dragging yourself around all the time, see your doctor to rule out these underlying medical conditions.

Menstruating women with heavier periods are more likely to have low iron, says Dr. Kelly. Anemia can also be caused by injury, poor diet or intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease. A lack of iron means fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body's tissues, making you feel tired and weak. Eat iron-rich foods (beef, kidney beans, tofu and leafy dark-green vegetables) along with foods high in vitamin C, which boosts iron absorption.

If you have a family history of diabetes, ask your doctor about getting tested. In addition to fatigue, you may notice increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger and unexplained weight loss.

Most common in women with a family history of the condition, hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones. If symptoms— including fatigue, weight gain and feeling cold—last four to six weeks, see your doctor. "It's an easy condition to treat," says Dr. Kelly. "Most cases involve the daily use of a synthetic thyroid hormone, and it's just about finding the right dose for you."

This content is vetted by medical experts



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Mind & Spirit

Why you're constantly tired—and how to fix it