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Lack of Sleep Isn’t the Only Explanation for Fatigue

Blog written by Kylie Marler

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Many of us have felt the cloud of fatigue hanging over our heads that has led us to wonder whether or not we are getting enough sleep. But instead of trying to dissect the root of our fatigue, we shrug our shoulders, grab some coffee, and get on with our day. You might assume that lack of sleep is the main cause of your fatigue, but what if there’s more to it?

Healthline, an organization dedicated to making health and wellness information accessible, has this article on their website that addresses fatigue. The article states, “fatigue may be caused by simple factors like a lack of sleep or coming down with a cold or the flu. However, it can also be caused by underlying health conditions.” The article also says, “in most cases, fatigue can be remedied by lifestyle or dietary modifications, correcting a nutrient deficiency, or treating an underlying medical condition. Still, to improve fatigue, you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.”


Sleep Isn’t Always the Problem

While getting an adequate amount of high-quality sleep is important, this webpage from Mayo Clinic says that ‘sleep issues’ might not be causing your fatigue. “Taking an honest inventory of things that might be responsible for your fatigue is often the first step toward relief,” the webpage says, then goes on to list other common causes of fatigue: lack of physical activity, excess physical activity, alcohol or drug use, unhealthy eating habits, and certain medications.

This page on the Cleveland Clinic’s website also says that lack of sleep is just one possible reason for fatigue. The page says, “many conditions, disorders, medications and lifestyle factors can cause fatigue… You may be able to relieve your symptoms by changing your diet, medications, exercise or sleep habits.” The page continues, listing four main categories for possible causes of fatigue, including lifestyle habits, medical conditions, sleep disorders, and medications and treatments.


Fatigue & Lifestyle Habits

Better Health Channel, a website maintained by The Department of Health of the State Government of Victoria, Australia, describes a wide range of lifestyle-related factors that could explain fatigue. In addition to lack of sleep, they list too much sleep, alcohol and drugs, sleep disturbances (such as noisy neighbors, a snoring partner, or an uncomfortable bed), lack of regular exercise and sedentary behavior, poor diet, and individual factors (like personal illness or injury and family illnesses or injuries).


Fatigue & Workplace-Related Issues

Better Health Channel continues, also addressing how workplace-related issues might explain fatigue. They list shift work, poor workplace practices (such as long or irregular hours, hard physical labor, excessive noise, or boredom), workplace stress (like job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, or conflicts), burnout, and unemployment. They break it down even further, saying that unemployment stressors can consist of “financial pressures, feelings or failure or guilt, and the emotional exhaustion of prolonged job hunting”.


It Could Be Psychological

Better Health Channel also lists a few ways fatigue could be explained by psychological factors. They state, “Studies suggest that psychological factors are present in at least 50 percent of fatigue cases.” They go on, listing depression, anxiety and stress, and grief as common psychological factors.

Healthline’s article touches on this too, listing stress as a common reason for fatigue. They write, “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.” They go on, giving a few ideas for how to better manage stress: taking a relaxing bath, meditating, or going for a walk.


It Might Be Related to Diet/Health

Healthline’s article also discusses several possible explanations for fatigue that relate to diet and health. They include nutrient deficiencies, dietary imbalances, consuming too much caffeine, inadequate hydration, and body weight.

The article says, “Nutrient deficiencies may lead you to feel exhausted on a daily basis, even if you’re getting more than 7 hours of sleep.” Then the article lists several nutrients in which deficiencies have been linked to fatigue: iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C, and magnesium.

The article also says, “Because these deficiencies are quite common, it’s important to have your levels tested if you’re experiencing unexplained fatigue. Typically, fatigue related to a deficiency in one or more nutrients improves once your nutrient levels normalize.”

In regards to dietary imbalances, the article talks about undereating as well as diets that are high in ultra-processed foods (for example, diets that are high in refined sugars and highly processed grains). The article states, “A diet high in ultra-processed foods may hamper your energy levels, so transitioning to a nutrient-dense diet loaded with whole, nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes may reduce fatigue.”

Healthline’s article includes consuming too much caffeine, dehydration, and body weight as well. The article cites this study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition, saying that excessive caffeine, “is linked to increased nighttime worrying, sleeplessness, increased nighttime awakenings, decreased total sleep time, and daytime sleepiness.” And for inadequate dehydration, the article states, “Even mild dehydration may reduce energy levels and alertness.”

Lastly, Healthline’s article writes, “Maintaining a healthy body weight may support good sleep and energy levels, while getting high quality sleep may help prevent weight gain and reduce fatigue.”


Conclusion

So when you feel that cloud of fatigue hanging over your head, remember that it might not be just a lack of sleep that’s making you fatigued. Take a look at some other factors that could explain why you’re feeling fatigued.

If you have problems with fatigue, please consult your health care provider.


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References


12 Reasons You’re Always Tired (and What to Do About It). (2021, December 9). Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-you-are-tired#1.-Not-getting-enough-high-quality-sleep


Caffeine consumption, insomnia, and sleep duration: Results from a nationally representative sample – PMC. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC). Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6230475/


Fatigue. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21206-fatigue


Fatigue – Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Better Health Channel – Better Health Channel. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fatigue


Fatigue Causes – Mayo Clinic. (2020, December 2). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/fatigue/basics/causes/sym-20050894


O’Connell, K. (2012, September 10). Fatigue: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More. Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/health/fatigue

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