Are You Chronically Fatigued or Just Tired?

Good health includes rest. A dietitian shares tips for combatting tiredness — and when to see a doctor.

October 06, 2022

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Photo by: Tara Moore/Getty Images

Tara Moore/Getty Images

It feels like the term “fatigue” is everywhere thanks to the recent pandemic and burnout among the general population. For many people, it has been hard to distinguish between genuine fatigue and simply feeling really tired, which can definitely make it hard to know what changes to make and when to see a doctor. Being more informed about the causes and symptoms of fatigue, as well as the small changes you can make to your everyday life that will help you to feel more energized is a good place to start.

Keep in mind, if you have any concerns around feeling extremely tired and potentially fatigued, it’s important to reach out to your medical provider.

What Is Fatigue?

Fatigue is more than being just tired. Fatigue is defined as being overly tired, having no energy and needing to sleep so much that it can interfere with your normal daily routine. It’s also accompanied by a lack of motivation to do pretty much anything. Generally, fatigue is traced to habits or routines, but it also can be associated with depression or some underlying conditions such as anemia, diabetes, sleep apnea and hypothyroidism.

Common symptoms of fatigue can include chronic tiredness, sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, moodiness, impaired decision making and judgment, low motivation and trouble concentrating.

What Habits Can Lead to Fatigue?

Habits that can lead to fatigue may seem benign, but could ultimately be the main reason you aren’t getting the rest that you need.

Alcohol Overconsumption: When you drink alcohol you may feel immediately relaxed, but it can interfere with your sleep quality. Falling asleep under the influence can cause your body not to go into REM sleep, which is the sleep we need for restoration. This can leave you feeling exhausted and depleted the next day. Daily drinks can add up to daily fatigue and a cycle that you may not be able get out of easily. If you’re feeling overly tired or fatigued, you may want to limit your alcohol consumption to one drink per day (or not at all) until symptoms subside.

Poor sleep quality: This could be due to excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine, phone use too close to bedtime, stress, and, generally, just not getting enough sleep at night.

Excessive exercise: Exercise, in general, can deplete the glycogen stores in your muscles, which is their main energy source. Excessive exercise (meaning an exercise routine with no rest days) doesn’t give your body enough time to replenish itself leaving you requiring more rest, feeling weak and sometimes even depressed.

What To Do If You Think You’re Fatigued

First and foremost, if you are so fatigued that you are unable to carry out normal activities it is important that you see your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions. Once you’ve established a baseline, you can work on other habits to improve your energy and combat fatigue. If you think you're simply suffering from tiredness, making these habitual changes may help you feel more energized.

Focus on your sleep hygiene: While it’s important to socialize with friends and family, doing it over cocktails every night is not the best idea, especially if you aren’t getting enough REM sleep, which can ultimately lead to chronic fatigue. Make a commitment to limit your evenings out at the bar, keep caffeine intake to a moderate level, and work on a nighttime routine that can help you get the much-needed sleep you require. Studies show that going to bed at the same time every night, and shutting off electronics 90 minutes before bed can help with better sleep quality.

Exercise smarter, not harder: While it might seem more is better when it comes to exercise, over-exercising can leave you exhausted and can lead to hormonal imbalances. These hormonal imbalances can also lead to weight gain, which is usually not a goal of exercising. Instead, consider alternate types of exercise and really pay attention to how your body feels during and after a workout. If you’re feeling tired, take the day off or opt for something low impact. Walking is considered exercise and is a great way to get movement in without exacerbating symptoms of fatigue.

Reduce stress: Life can be stressful, and while it can be difficult to manage stress while tired, getting high quality sleep and appropriate exercise can help combat symptoms of stress, making it easier to manage.

Bottom line: Listen to your body.

If you’re tired to the point that it’s affecting your daily life, it’s definitely something to explore with your physician. Rest is an important element of overall health and it’s important to take a break and listen to your body when it needs some time off. You can implement some of the tips above to help with management of fatigue and feeling overly tired.

Vanessa Rissetto received her MS in Marketing at NYU and completed her Dietetic Internship at Mount Sinai Hospital where she worked as a Senior Dietitian for five years. She is the co-founder of Culina Health and is certified in Adult Weight Management (Levels I & II) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the founder of Culina Health. Her work in private practice also includes treatment of GI disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, PCOS, and family nutrition. She loves helping clients take an active role in their health journey, motivating them and ensuring that they always achieve success. Vanessa was named by one of the top 5 black nutritionists that will change the way you think about food by Essence magazine. Vanessa lives in Hoboken NJ with her husband, two kids and their new goldendoodle Freddie. An exercise enthusiast, she is always up for a class as long as it's after she rides her Peloton.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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