You feel tired. The humming of the AC, the tedious Google Sheet and work itself seem to weigh down your eyes. Your body is begging for a good sleep, and eventually you comply. There’s a catch though; the weariness just won’t go away even after resting, leaving you wondering what went wrong. So, what causes the tiredness?
More often than not, there is a reason behind feeling tired. If you feel you’re suffering from fatigue, which is an overwhelming tiredness that isn’t relieved by rest and sleep, you may have an underlying medical condition. Based on the degree of your tiredness, the medical condition you may have will vary. There are apparatuses that can measure and gauge your fatigue, but an easier way to describe fatigue is on a scale of 1 to 10. Where 1 means you don’t feel tired at all and 10 means the worst tiredness you can imagine.
A medical condition can be either mentally or physically related, and depending on the severity of your self-assessment, you can either seek professional help or pinpoint the problem on your own and work from there.
If you self-score a 7 or above, which gravitates towards a long-lasting (6 months or longer), profound and disabling fatigue, you may suffer from what is termed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Other common symptoms of CFS include unrefreshing sleep, joint/muscle pain, post-exertion malaise, anxiety, depression, hypersensitivity to light/sound, gastrointestinal symptoms, and a dysfunctional immune system. 
Although there is disagreement among scientists and doctors about the causes of CFS, research has shown that the body’s stress system, known as the HPA axis, is always involved. 
In healthy people the brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol in a circadian pattern throughout the day, under the influence of the “body clock”, and these hormones increase during periods of physical or mental stress. In CFS, however, this response is blunted, resulting in fatigue and intolerance to stress.
Research also shows that most CFS patients report experiencing a period of chronic physical or psychological stress in the year prior to developing CFS.  The best you can do before seeking professional help in this case is to find out the agent of such long-lasting stress and get rid of it at once.
If you score less than a 6, chances are your problem is not as debilitating, or your medical condition is still in its acute state. There is also a possibility that your tiredness falls under the causes below.
A lack of sleep:
A study conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC)  found that 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. Disturbed sleep is more than an inconvenience that leaves you feeling tired the next day: it can affect your emotional and physical health. It negatively affects your memory, concentration and mood, and it boosts your risk for depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Insomnia is a term for any condition that causes difficulty falling or staying asleep. It can be caused by several factors, including menopause, medical conditions, psychological stress, poor sleeping environments, and excessive mental stimulation.
If you’re experiencing insomnia, treatments like natural supplements, medications, and the management of underlying medical conditions may help. Be wary, though, some studies suggest having deficiencies or elevated levels of certain vitamins may impact sleep. This leads us to the next cause.
Nutrient deficiencies may lead you to feel exhausted on a daily basis, even if you’re getting more than 7 hours of sleep.
Deficiencies in the following nutrients have been linked to fatigue (5, 6):
- riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- niacin (vitamin B3)
- pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- folate (vitamin B9)
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
- vitamin C
Deficiencies in many of these nutrients are quite common. Anemia affects 25% of the world’s population. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type, responsible for 50% of all anemia. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of this condition, but it typically improves once iron stores are restored (7). Furthermore, studies suggest that up to 20% of people in the United States and United Kingdom aged 60 and over are deficient in vitamin B12. This deficiency is especially common in older adults because the body’s ability to absorb B12 declines with age (8). B12 is critical for oxygen delivery and energy production, so low levels can cause extreme fatigue. Additionally, a vitamin D deficiency may cause fatigue. Over half of the world’s population has inadequate vitamin D levels (9).
Typically, fatigue related to a deficiency in one or more nutrients improves once your nutrient levels normalize. Because these deficiencies are quite common, it’s important to have your levels tested if you’re experiencing unexplained fatigue. However, a good rule of thumb is to maintain a balanced and healthy diet that you can easily stick to.
Your diet significantly affects the way you feel. To maintain energy and get the nutrients your body needs to perform critical processes, it’s important to consume a balanced diet high in nutrient-dense foods.
Undereating — or eating ultra-processed foods low in essential nutrients — may lead to calorie and nutrient deficiencies, which can cause exhaustion.
When you don’t obtain enough calories and nutrients like protein, your body starts breaking down fat and muscle to meet energy demands. This leads to a loss of body fat and muscle mass, which may trigger fatigue (10).
Older adults are especially at risk of malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies due to factors like age-related changes in appetite and reductions in physical activity (10).
Additionally, diets high in ultra-processed foods impair energy levels. For example, a diet high in added sugar may harm sleep and lead to chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels, which can result in fatigue (10).
In a 28-day study in 82 people, a diet high in refined sugars and highly processed grains resulted in 38% and 26% higher scores for depressive symptoms and fatigue, respectively, than a low glycemic load diet high in whole grains and legumes but low in added sugar (11).
What’s more, a review including over 53,000 postmenopausal women associated diets high in added sugars and refined grains with a greater risk of insomnia — and diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with a lower risk of insomnia (12).
Following a diet low in ultra-processed food and added sugar but rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, and protein sources like fish and eggs may help reduce fatigue and support healthy sleep while providing your body with optimal nutrition.
When we are physically exhausted, it is the result of something we did. You may work a physically demanding job or have completed a rigorous exercise regimen. Physical exhaustion is usually a choice we have made.
With rest, the proper food, and time to relax, we can easily recover from physical exhaustion. In some cases, it may take a few days, such as when you have exercised to the point of having sore muscles. However, with a day or two of taking care of yourself, the physical aspects of your exhaustion are gone, and you once again feel refreshed.
When your exhaustion comes from stress, it is different. There have been more desk jobs than ever before, and chances are most readers of this article are involved in intellectual work and not in any physically demanding endeavor. When it comes to mental exhaustion caused by worrying or the difficulty in coping with a situation in your life, most of us tend to trivialize the situation and don’t give our body the rest and care it deserves . You may have lived with stress for so long that you no longer see the negative consequences. You believe that this is “normal.” You may not know what is wrong with you and have accepted the constant feeling of being tired as part of your life.
Chronic stress may lead to stress-related exhaustion disorder (ED), a medical condition characterized by psychological and physical symptoms of exhaustion (13). Furthermore, chronic stress may cause structural and functional changes in your brain and lead to chronic inflammation, which may contribute to symptoms like fatigue (13, 14). While you may be unable to avoid stressful situations, especially those related to work or family obligations, managing your stress may help prevent complete exhaustion. For example, you can set aside time to decompress by taking a bath, meditating, or going for a walk (15). A therapist may also help you develop strategies to reduce stress. Many health insurance plans cover mental health counseling, and virtual therapy is also an option.
The bottom line:
In order to deal with fatigue thoroughly, we need to consider the importance of both the body and the mind. Neglecting either, say, putting your mind so far ahead of your body and attaching the mind from its very physical foundation will perpetuate your state of exhaustion.
A holistic approach in treating tiredness is a sustainable way to maintain your physical and mental health in the long run, mitigating the risk of chronic fatigue. In dealing with tiredness, no matter the severity, finding the causes and eradicating them is of utmost importance.
You can investigate your sleep pattern, diet and current life situation to look for the root cause of exhaustion. However, it is possible that there may be an underlying medical condition that requires professional help.
That said, you can aid your tiredness today with a workout regimen, a healthy diet and a good knowledge of your current mood.
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 Fatigue (no date) National Safety Council. Available at: https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/fatigue (Accessed: 23 May 2023).
 Tardy, A.-L. et al. (2020) ‘Vitamins and minerals for energy, fatigue and cognition: A narrative review of the biochemical and clinical evidence’, Nutrients, 12(1), p. 228. doi:10.3390/nu12010228.
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