Feeling tired after a long week is typical, but if you are constantly exhausted it might be time to examine other possible causes.
If given the opportunity, Robin McClelland could sleep for 15 hours each night.
“If I didn’t set my alarm clock on a Saturday, I’d sleep ‘til 2 (p.m.),” she said. “And I’m always tired.”
McClelland, like many young professionals in San Francisco, works a 40-plus hour week, goes to the gym regularly and attends numerous happy hours and events in the city.
“I’m not willing to give any of that up,” she said. “But I’d like to be less in-need of sleep all the time.”
Some call it the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, but burning the candle at both ends for too long can cause you to neglect your body’s needs. And, in some cases, you may need more than just sleep to revive your health.
If this sounds like you, here are some reasons you may be lethargic:
Registered Dietitian Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, CSSD, and creator of “Eating Free,” said he sees this problem everyday with his own clients.
Professionals in the 25-35 set who practice a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle often sacrifice sleep in order to squeeze physical fitness and happy hours into their jam-packed schedules.
When a client in otherwise good health, (no smoking, healthy weight), comes to Villacorta with these symptoms his first response is to inquire about their diet.
“This population sustains themselves with caffeine and no time to eat,” he said. “One of the common dominators that I often see in this group of people is skipping and delaying meals, and not eating a balanced diet.”
Villacorta provided these nutritional tips:
- Avoid high-fat foods and don’t skip meals—this is key to preventing fatigue.
- Combine proteins and carbohydrates at every meal to regulate your energy level and mental alertness.
- Don’t snack throughout the day. This will drain your energy because you won’t eat a well-balanced lunch or dinner.
- Avoid mindless snacking, but be sure to eat every 3-4 hours in order to prevent overeating at meal times. Just make sure snacks are in moderation.
“Most people that claim fatigue are normally skipping breakfast, then eating lettuce and chicken breast for lunch, and bingeing on muffins or cookies at 4 p.m.,” he said. “It is a complete energy roller coaster.”
Exercise burnout can also be an energy-zapper, especially if you’re not eating a proper diet. Exercise in moderation, get sufficient sleep and watch your alcohol intake when going out for happy hour.
Lack of Sleep
If you’re tired all the time, sleeping more may seem like an obvious solution. But if you’re already getting a sufficient amount of sleep every night, there might be an underlying problem with how you sleep.
David Claman, MD, director at the UCSF Sleep Disorder Center said clocking 7.5- 8 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis should be enough to feel rested and refreshed the next day.
“If this isn’t enough, then sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy may need to be evaluated,” he said in an email interview.
Other medical conditions such as anemia, depression, or heart of lung disease should also be considered. There are many other sleep disorders that affect both children and adults, but sleep apnea and insomnia are the two most common sleep disorders, he explained.
“Sleep apnea patients are usually loud snorers who are observed to have brief pauses in breathing while they are sleeping. Insomnia patients often have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep at different times of the night,” Claman said. “For sleep apnea, the initial treatments would be weight loss, avoiding alcohol near bedtime and sleeping on the side (not on the back),” he said.
Patients with moderate to severe apnea usually try the CPAP mask– a breathing apparatus to facilitate more air flow.
“For insomnia, the best initial treatment is behavioral treatment– aiming to keep a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and being relaxed (not stressed) near bedtime.
“If behaviroal treatment is not enough, then medications could be considered,” Claman said.
If you think you have a sleep disorder the first step is to talk to your primary care doctor. If sleep issues are possible, then scheduling a sleep consultaton at a clinic such as the UCSF Sleep Disorder Center would be the next step.
San Francisco-based yoga and meditation teacher Darren Main compared a human body that practices yoga to a fuel efficient vehicle: “Like a fuel efficient car that can drive farther and faster on less gasoline, yoga helps make your mental, emotional and physical bodies more efficient with the energy they require. As a result, we can be far more productive with energy to spare so that we have more stamina to focus on friends and family.”
Main, who also conducts teacher-training sessions at Yoga Tree in San Francisco, said yoga and meditation have a powerful effect on the mind and body, and when practiced often can greatly reduce stress.
The teachings of yoga encompass more than just the physical being.
“The human being is made of five distinct but interconnected layers called koshas,” he said. “These koshas make-up the physical body, energy and emotional body, mental body and so on. Although we tend to view these koshas as separate things, they are tightly interwoven. Thus stress– whether psychological, emotional or physical– will affect all aspects of our being.”
So how does yoga relieve stress besides being a relaxing practice?
“Yoga works with our physiology to do two things,” Main said. “First, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is often called ‘rest and digest,’ while at the same time relaxing the sympathetic nervous system which is often called ‘fight or flight.’”
By reducing the number of things that overstimulate and agitate the nervous system, we are able to better manage stress levels and are more likely to make healthy choices.
From a nutritional standpoint, Villacorta pointed out that stress can lead to weight problems by increasing your body’s levels of cortisol.
“Having high cortisol levels lowers your immune system, causes heart disease, lowers your dopamine and serotonin levels, creates emotional eating, and now we know that cortisol or high stress builds fat around your waistline. This is the kind of fat that is the worst fat for your health,” he added.
Thyroid problems often occur in women in their early twenties, but it’s possible for issues to arise in the late twenties and early thirties. There are underactive and overactive thyroids. An underactive thyroid, which is the most common type and also known as hypothyroid, can cause lethargy, weight gain, and dry skin, among numerous other symptoms.
Thyroid problems can be detected through a simple blood test. If it’s determined an underactive thyroid is the problem, your doctor can prescribe medication and make dietary recommendations, such as monitoring your iodine intake.
Lack of Vitamin D
Being stuck inside an office all day prevents your body from absorbing vitamin D provided by the sun. If you wear sunscreen, you’re even more shielded from vitamin D since sun block inhibits absorption.
A deficiency of Vitamin D can cause lethargy, muscle weakness and depression.
Don’t toss your tube of sunscreen just yet. You can take a suppliments and consume vitamin D fortified foods to meet your daily dose.
According to the vitamin D Council, if you are someone who completely avoids the sun you will need to take approximately 4,000 units of vitamin D per day.
Try getting vitamin D from a mix of supplements and real food.
Inadequate absorption of nutrients due to celiac disease can cause anemia, not to mention an insufficient amount of calories—both of which can lead to fatigue.
It is well known that depression can cause lethargy and lack of enthusiasm for daily activities that once seemed enjoyable. If you think you may be depressed, see a mental health professional to discuss treatment options.