Always feeling tired? You’re not the only one. According to research produced by the CBC, nearly 58% of Canadians report feeling tired on a regular basis. With more than half of the population struggling to feel rested, it is no wonder that many Canadians find themselves facing morning battles with the snooze button.
You probably know firsthand that a persistent feeling of fatigue can significantly compromise your quality of life. So what is behind the lethargy that you and many others feel? Here’s an explanation of tiredness and four possible causes:
What is tiredness?
Clinically, tiredness is defined as a persistent feeling of mental or physical exhaustion that is independent of physical activity status. It is important to understand that tiredness is often a non-specific symptom of a serious underlying health issue.
If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you should see a primary care provider for a complete medical evaluation:
- Recurrent bouts of exhaustion and fatigue with minimal activity
- Difficulty in starting your day with a bright mood and high spirits despite restful sleep
- Inability to perform day-to-day activities at work or home due to fatigue
So what are the common causes of tiredness?
1. Nutritional factors
Diet can significantly influence our energy levels. Healthy foods maintain normal metabolic functions of the body and generate energy by breaking down foods into biological fuels, such as carbohydrates and fats.
The most frequently reported nutritional factors with links to tiredness are:
- Poor calorie intake: Inadequate calorie intake, whether intentional (e.g., dieting, bulimia) or unintentional (e.g., malnutrition, protein-calorie restriction), can result in
- Poor dietary choices: High consumption of sugar-rich foods (e.g., sodas, doughnuts and cakes) can temporarily increase energy levels due to high glucose levels in the blood. However, this effect is short-lived due to a reactionary insulin release, resulting in a rebound “sugar crash” effect.
- Poor spacing between the meals: It is best to maintain steady glucose levels in the body by going no longer than 4-6 hours between meals.
If you think you are experiencing fatigue due to nutritional factors, speak to a registered dietitian to learn more about metabolism, caloric needs and meal spacing.
2. Sleep disorders
The following are some common sleep disorders that may be accompanied by chronic fatigue:
- Sleep talking
- Narcolepsy (a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming daytime drowsiness)
- Restless leg syndrome
If you are experiencing chronic fatigue due to sleep issues, speak to your primary care provider for advice regarding healthy sleep habits and a possible sleep study to identify the cause of your issues.
3. Sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation has a profound effect on energy levels, productivity and the functional capacity of individuals. Common causes of sleep deprivation include:
- Poor sleeping habits
- Drug use (use of stimulants such as caffeine or illicit drugs)
- Chronic pain
- Occupational or lifestyle choices (e.g., shift work)
If sleep deprivation is affecting your health or overall productivity, consider speaking to a professional sleep specialist for advice.
4. Viral or bacterial illnesses:
Viral or bacterial illnesses are more common in individuals with compromised immune systems resulting from nutritional factors or disease. Microorganisms are all around us, and although our skin and other innate defenses offer some degree of protection, these foreign invaders are capable of evading host defenses and causing infection. Symptoms of tiredness or fatigue are mainly due to:
- Release of toxins and bacterial products in the blood
- Utilization of energy resources to fight these pathogens
- Systemic effects of inflammation (i.e., fever, pain)
If you feel that your fatigue is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, you may need to see your physician to identify the pathogen and appropriate treatment options.