We all get tired from time to time. However, low energy levels can turn into a quality-of-life issue, interfering with how you work, how you socialize and your enjoyment in general. While fatigue tends to increase with age, it also ties into lifestyle issues - and may be the sign of a medical condition. Learn why you may be low on energy, and how you can combat fatigue.
Causes of Fatigue and Low Energy Levels
Fatigue tends to be described as a combination of tiredness along with exhaustion, weakness and reduced energy. Symptoms tend to be both physical and mental, can affect the whole body, and can alter the course of your day. Unlike drowsiness, fatigue and low energy can't always be slept off and, with time, they may start to affect one's motivation. Fatigue may also be accompanied by apathy and disinterest and, similar to depression, can influence how one holds down a job and takes care of themselves.
Symptoms may be gradual or can arrive suddenly. Medical providers divide fatigue into a primary source - or directly related to a medical condition or disability - or secondary - generally stemming from lifestyle factors. Fatigue is characterized by:
- Constantly feeling tired, as if you always need to rest, no matter how much you sleep.
- Having little to no motivation.
- Foggy or cloudy thinking, also known as "brain fog."
- Decreased energy levels for activities and things you used to enjoy.
- Not being able to take care of yourself or others.
- Changes in mood.
However, fatigue and low energy levels have no single cause. Instead, they may be related to:
- An ongoing infection
- An untreated injury
- Medication side effects
- A low-nutrient diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Disrupted sleep
- Changes in environment
- Clutter and physical disorganization
- Over-extending yourself, including at work or as a caretaker
- Insufficient hydration
- Medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, COPD, liver failure, chronic fatigue, anemia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or hypoglycemia
How to Combat Fatigue
If low energy levels or fatigue appear to interfere with your life, address them in the following ways:
Talk to Your Doctor
Fatigue is a symptom of multiple, potentially life-threatening illnesses. Especially if the tiredness persists and has interrupted your life, you're advised to bring it up with your doctor. In addition, should your low energy appear to be associated with a medication you recently started, discuss this side effect and potential alternative medications.
From athletes to office workers, dehydration starts to affect your physical performance and concentration. Especially if your urine has a distinct yellow color, you may not be getting sufficient hydration, and need to consume more water in relation to your activity level.
While exercise may seem counterproductive when you're experiencing fatigue, consistent activity helps improve energy levels. Even moderate activity like walking or cycling can have an overall positive effect on the body, engaging the muscles, lungs and heart and helping boost endorphins in the process.
Sleep amounts and quality directly contribute to fatigue. Without getting in a minimum of seven restful, uninterrupted hours each night, you experience decreased concentration and alertness, feel drowsy and have a higher risk for accidents.
Especially if you tend to wake up during the night or feel as if you're lying awake in bed for hours, you might try to:
- Stop drinking caffeine after noon.
- Stretch - but don't engage in vigorous physical activity - before you go to bed.
- Try deep breathing.
- Stop all electronics, including your phone, at least two hours before you attempt to fall asleep.
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule to regulate your circadian rhythm.
- Consume foods, like chamomile tea, known for a relaxing or sedative effect.
- Know your body's schedule, including when during the day you have the most energy.
Weight and Diet
Losing weight helps you experience more energy. At the same time, your diet and eating habits also play a role in your energy levels. With that in mind, try to:
- Avoid large portions and, instead, consume smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
- Reduce alcohol consumption, which can impact sleep quality.
- Limit processed foods, as well as those high in simple carbohydrates and sugars.
- Limit sugary foods to after noon, as these can cause your blood glucose levels to increase.
- Get in more fiber-rich foods, including berries and oatmeal.
- Consume more omega-3 fatty acids - along with supplements, you can get these through chia and flax seeds.
- Consume more leavy green vegetables.
- Look for foods high in calcium and magnesium.
- Decrease your caffeine intake: replace coffee with green tea, or limit yourself to one cup of coffee per day.
- Address vitamin deficiencies, especially related to iron, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin D.
Manage Stress Better
Stress isn't just a mental or emotional issue: Chronic stress keeps the parasympathetic response going and can start to affect digestion, mood, sleep quality and how your body fights off infection. Practices for managing stress encompass: