The Rumor: It's normal to feel tired all the time -- everyone does

You’re busy, stressed and sleep-deprived… so you’re tired. Again. Every day. It’s getting to the point that it’s, well, exhausting. You take to Google and try to self-diagnose, only to end up feeling even more exhausted -- not to mention freaked out by all the diseases you might possibly (probably?) have, because almost every condition you come across lists “feeling tired” as a symptom. “Am I paranoid?” you wonder. “Or is my constant tiredness just a result of living in this nonstop, go-go-go world -- and, dare I say, normal?”

The Verdict: It’s not "normal" to feel tired all the time... but it is common

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at any given time, one in five people feels unusually tired, and one in 10 has prolonged fatigue. Women tend to feel tired more often than men. Feeling zapped of energy on a daily basis is so common that it even has its own acronym: TATT (Tired All The Time).

Dr. Molly Cooke, president of the American College of Physicians and a general internist at the University of California, San Francisco, says feeling tired all the time is common, not normal. But don’t count on a quick fix. “Most people should not expect a diagnosis that can be fixed with a pill,” says Cooke. “Often the perception going into the doctor’s office is that there’s a simple medical problem -- anemia; a thyroid issue -- and that it can be diagnosed with a blood test and fixed with appropriate treatment. But in many situations, the fatigue reflects a variety of behavioral and psychosocial issues.”

Energy Stealers

The number-one energy-stealer is stress, says Cooke. Let’s face it: As a society we are overworked and under-fit; we sleep poorly and worry a lot. Throw in a major life event, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job, and it’s no wonder many of us are in perpetual zombie-mode. 

Then there’s depression. Says Cooke, “People who experience depression in a particularly somatic way will often complain of feeling tired and wiped out, rather than describing it in an emotional way --  ‘I feel sad’; ‘I feel low,’” says Cooke. Alcohol also plays a role. “If they are drinking heavily in the evening, they don’t get restful sleep and wake up feeling tired,” she adds.

Snoring could also play a role. If you snore habitually, you may experience un-restful or fragmented sleep, which can affect your daytime productivity. And, if you sleep with a partner, you could be influencing his or her sleep as well. In fact, snores can reach a near window-shattering 92 decibels (the same as a jackhammer) and are one of the loudest noises people are capable of making. So don't be surprised if your companion kicks you to the couch for the sake of some shuteye. 

The type of fatigue you’re experiencing is important to note. As Cooke points out, poor stamina is very different from pervasive fatigue. If you used to race up the stairs to your apartment without missing a beat, but now you’re huffing and puffing by stair number five, that’s not the same as waking up feeling unrested and being completely wiped out by the end of the day. Certain medical problems, such as anemia or chronic fatigue syndrome (an incapacitating and disabling level of fatigue) could be the root issue. To find out about other common medical causes of extreme fatigue, click here -- but talk to your doctor before diagnosing yourself.

Fatigue Fighters

The good news is that for most of us, just a few simple changes in our daily habits can make a big difference in energy level. Try some of these to give yourself a boost:

1. Step up the exercise. People who exercise regularly feel better and get better-quality sleep. But you don’t have to squeeze into spandex and do “Hip Hop Abs” for an hour to see results. Shoot for a good 30 minutes of activity four or five days a week. Even something small, such as walking, can make a difference.

2. Fuel with the right food. Try to tone down the sugar -- which can make you sluggish and add on extra weight -- and ramp up the fruits, vegetables, lean protein and fiber. Small meals and snacks throughout the day, rather than three feasts, can also keep your energy level up. And get plenty of water -- enough to make you pee (it should be clear or pale yellow) every two to four hours.

3. Avoid the caffeine call. While a moderate amount of caffeine -- 200 to 300 mg per day -- can give you a quick lift, large quantities of the stuff, especially after 2 p.m. (some say noon), can leave you feeling less than perky the next day.

4. Clean it up in the bedroom. Something as simple as good sleep hygiene can go a long way toward helping you feel rested.

5. Catch some morning sunlight. Just 15 minutes in the a.m. can do wonders for your energy level.

6. Have your doctor check your vitamin D level. Exhaustion is a known symptom of vitamin D deficiency.

Before asking for a bunch of lab tests, have a comprehensive conversation with your doctor, exploring issues of stress and mood. And be open to talking about alcohol and drug use (and any other personal topics you would normally prefer to avoid). The more information your doctor has, the sooner you’ll get to the bottom of your own personal energy crisis.


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