Clocking in eight hours sleep per night and *still* waking up feeling absolutely groggy as hell? SAME. What’s going on? Should we be worried?
Before you start Googling your symptoms and self-diagnosing yourself with chronic fatigue syndrome or every kind of medical condition found on WebMD, you’ll be relieved to know that in most cases fatigue is caused by simple lifestyle factors that can be easily fixed. We spoke to naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea, Lisa Guy, and dietician, nutritionist and founder of The Fitness Dietitian blog, Lianne Ward, to find out the common causes of fatigue and what we can do to get our energy back.
#1 / Not getting enough sleep
Consider this: you just might not be getting enough sleep. While everyone’s genetic make-up is different, we should be getting at least seven to 10 hours of high-quality sleep per night. But the thing is, most of us don’t get anything near that, even if we think we do.
“Eight hours sleep at night is considered optimal for good health and vitality. Sleep is essential for proper functioning of all systems in the body. It is during sleep that our body rests and revitalises. This is when cells produce and release proteins essential for growth and tissue repair,” explains Guy. “If you are not getting enough sleep it could be impacting your health more than you think. Not only do we lack energy when we don’t get enough sleep, but it can cause poor concentration and memory, mood swings, decreased production of growth hormones, and weaken immune function, leaving us more vulnerable to illness,” she says.
The answer? Make your shut-eye time a priority! If you are experiencing fatigue on the daily, we recommend putting your sleep above everything else for one week, and seeing if it’s the cause of your fatigue.
In addition to getting enough sleep, a good sleep routine also helps to prevent tiredness and boost energy levels - so try and practice a good sleep pattern. “Turn off all screens and technology one to two hours before bed then have a warm shower, get into some comfy clothes, brush your teeth, then write down in a journal anything that is worrying you or concerning you so you can deal with it tomorrow rather than dwelling on it while you try to sleep.”
If you have difficulty getting to sleep, Guy recommends trying a calming sleep-time tea made from soothing herbs like valerian, passionflower, lemon balm and chamomile before you hit the sack. “These herbs are commonly prescribed by herbalists and naturopaths to treat people with insomnia,” she says.
If you're experiencing other sleep problems, it could be worth making a trip to the doctor and seeking medical advice on sleep disorders and why you may be experiencing a lack of sleep. "See your doctor if you are falling asleep at work/during the day/at the wheel, are constantly exhausted despite enough sleep, frequently snore, pause while breathing and often wake yourself up at night, suffer morning headaches or always feel tired when waking up. These could all be signs of sleep apnea, which can be dangerous if not treated," says Ward.
#2 / Low iron levels
Feeling tired is one of the most common symptom of iron deficiency (a common nutrient deficiency in women). Iron is a super important mineral that is essential for the production of glucose - the main fuel for both the brain and the rest of the body. Poor iron levels can cause side effects such as daytime sleepiness and poor concentration, and can even lead to muscle pain, joint pain and health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. If this sounds like you, head to a health care professional and get some blood tests done.
“Iron is also vital for the production of red blood cells, to transport oxygen around the body, and is needed for healthy immune function,” says Guy. “Include plenty of iron-rich foods in the diet including red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. Iron supplementation is recommended for those who have an iron deficiency.”
#3 / Not eating enough calories
Food plays a HUGE role in the causes of fatigue and sleepiness. If you’re dieting, fasting or not consuming enough calories, your body isn’t receiving the amount of energy it needs and this causes fatigue. When you eat too few calories, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve energy, causing you to feel exhausted.
To keep your energy levels up, avoid drastic cuts in your calorie intake (even if your goal is weight loss). If you’re confused as to how many calories you should be consuming each day, an online calorie counter will give you a rough idea.
#4 / Eating a poor-quality diet
“A poor-quality diet that is full of sugar and processed foods can create unstable blood sugars, which means that we have big ‘energy highs’ then low ‘energy crashes’,” says Ward.
Ward recommends tucking into wholefoods - those that are grown in the ground without an expiry date! “Although sugar and processed foods give us a quick energy hit, in the long run it’s not helpful as the body continues to crave these foods. Aim to nourish your body with unprocessed and wholefoods at each meal and eat less from a packet or box. Aim to nourish your body with lots of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, wholegrains, lentils, beans and dairy.”
It also pays to avoid consuming too many ‘white’ refined carbohydrates, as this can also cause fatigue. According to Guy, “Choosing complex carbohydrates over ‘white’ refined carbohydrate foods will help keep blood sugar levels and energy levels stable”. Refined or processed carbs commonly contain lots of sugar, causing sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for wholegrain breads and pasta, whole oats and muesli, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and root vegetables such as beetroot, pumpkin and sweet potato.
#5 / Not getting enough vitamin B
It’s time to boost those B vitamins, people! Vitamin B plays a crucial role in energy production – it helps the body use carbohydrates, proteins and fats as fuel. Not getting enough vitamin B and other important nutrients can lead to fatigue and lack of energy. “B vitamins are important for supporting a healthy nervous system and adrenal function and thus are especially important for stressed and anxious people,” says Guy. The best vitamin B-rich foods include wholegrain cereals and bread, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, poultry, salmon, eggs, milk and green leafy vegetables. You may also like to take a good quality activated B complex supplement daily to get a nice balance of all your B vitamins and a boost in energy levels,” she says.
#6 / Dehydration
Drink. More. Water! Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can affect energy levels, mood and brain function. In order to maintain healthy energy levels and prevent the cause of fatigue, aim to chug down around two litres of water per day. “To ensure you are properly hydrated, aim for pale straw-coloured urine. Too dark and you’re likely dehydrated and too light or clear, you’ve probably over-done the hydration,” says Ward.
Struggling to drink that much water every day? Guy says herbal teas, veggie juices, and natural mineral water are other great ways to stay hydrated to support healthy energy levels.
#7 / Low magnesium levels
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in health and vitality, but many people don’t have enough of it in their bodies. “Magnesium is needed for many cellular functions in the body, particularly for the production of energy. It is also an important mineral for supporting nervous system and adrenal health,” says Guy.
A lack of magnesium has a negative impact on our sleeping routine, causing insufficient shut-eye, which can then cause even further stress and can contribute to health problems like anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. “Magnesium is considered the ‘anti-stress’ nutrient as it helps calm the nervous system and is therefore beneficial for people who are anxious, or have trouble sleeping,” says Guy.
So how can you up your magnesium levels? Well, you can find this nutrient in natural, unprocessed foods. “People who consume large amounts of processed refined foods will risk becoming deficient in this important mineral. The best dietary sources include tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Avoid overcooking to minimise loss of magnesium,” says Guy.
#8 / Constant stress
Feeling stressed can have a massive impact on your energy levels. While it’s normal to have some stress, excessive stress can influence how tired you feel. While you might not be able to avoid stressful situations, there are some strategies that can help prevent you from burning out and improve your quality of life, like yoga and meditation. “Sip on some herbal tea, pop some soothing tunes on and do a short yoga flow – this is quite relaxing and energising at the same time,” says Ward.
You could also try introducing adaptogenic herbs into your diet - adaptogens are one of the biggest health food trends right now, and for good reason! “Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola are best known for their ability to improve energy levels and endurance. These adaptogenic herbs help support adrenal function and increase the body's resistance to stress. These vitality boosting botanicals are commonly used by herbalists and naturopaths to treat people with chronic fatigue,” says Guy.
#9 / Not enough physical activity
A good way to up your energy levels is to make regular exercise a part of your day. “Exercise is known to improve our health, help us manage stress and give us an overall energy boost. It can also help us to sleep better, which will also beat fatigue in the long run!” says Ward.
“Exercise regularly, but if you’re stressed, focus on low intensity exercises that get your body moving and out in the fresh air. Sometimes high intensity exercise can make stress or fatigue worse,” says Ward.
#10 / Too much caffeine
While energy drinks and caffeine are effective short-term solutions, in the long-term they can actually have the opposite effect and make problems worse. “Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones, namely cortisol, which gives you a temporary boost in energy levels. However, this can also contribute to levels of anxiety, irritability, muscle tension, weakened immunity and insomnia,” says Guy. “Caffeine causes a temporary surge in blood sugar levels, followed by an overproduction of insulin, which results in blood sugar levels dropping dramatically.”
“Caffeine can stay in an adult’s system for four to six hours so if you’re a poor sleeper, aim to have your last cup of coffee at 2pm,” adds Ward. “The daily recommended caffeine intake is around 300-400mg (which equals about two to four cups of coffee depending on how it’s made). Also, remember teas (even green tea!), chocolate and some pre-workout supplements contains caffeine, too.”
If you're struggling with stress, sleeping problems or mental health issues in your daily life, check out how music therapy can help.
Are you always tired? What do you think is the main cause of your fatigue? Let us know in the comment section below.
Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.