It never fails — you go to bed to get some much-desired rest, wake up thinking you got plenty, and then suddenly you're tired again.
Or maybe you just feel tired all the time, and for seemingly no reason — and sometimes that sleepiness comes with a lack of energy or brain fog.
Sleep is important. And fatigue definitely affects many people, but it's not the same for each person. Some are tired only for a brief amount of time — mid-afternoon lag, anyone? Others feel a constant energy lag.
If you want to stop feeling fatigued and start feeling rested and alert throughout your entire day, follow this guide to answer the age-old question: Why am I always tired?
Not only will we provide some answers about the most common causes of fatigue, but we will also give you some tips for turning that fatigue into boundless energy.
What's Causing Your Fatigue?
A vast array of things cause tiredness, including physical and mental health, food choices, lifestyle choices, and simply just not getting enough sleep at night. The following are the most common reasons you are always sleepy — plus tips for each situation.
Not Getting 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep
With a federal initiative called Healthy People 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put together a 15-person panel of sleep medicine and research experts to determine the optimal amount of sleep hours for an adult between the ages of 18 and 60.
We're not kidding! To be the healthiest version of yourself, you should get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
No matter your age, lifestyle, or situation, you should get seven or more hours of restful sleep per night, according to the panel's findings. Missing that nightly seven may contribute to a host of health concerns, including obesity, heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, increased pain, diabetes, and a higher risk of accidents.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that more sleep is necessarily better, though: sleeping upwards of nine hours every night can cause daytime sleepiness and other health issues, as well. While additional slumber helps children, including teenagers, as well as adults who want to catch up on restorative sleep, it can have adverse health effects if you consistently get more than nine hours of sleep.
- Turn off your electronics when you go to bed so you aren't tempted to stare at small screens all night. Try an app that turns your phone apps off at a certain time each night.
- Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room; temperature extremes can disrupt your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.
- Limit daytime napping to less than 20 minutes in the early afternoon. Napping longer can make it harder to sleep at night.
- For more ideas, check out Can’t Sleep? Discover Causes & Natural Solutions.
Stress can come at us from every angle and at any time, whether it's just weariness from daily drama, being overworked, or worrying about money. Studies show that having a high stress level can lead to sleep issues, such as insomnia.[2, 3]
Did you know that poor sleep also triggers your body's fight-or-flight response?
Excessive stress activates the central nervous system's defense system — the fight-or-flight response. When triggered, this brings a rush of adrenaline, which can build up in the body and cause stress.
Poor sleep habits can trigger the same release of stress hormones as the fight-or-flight response — which can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. Make every effort to manage and reduce your stress.
- Get a diffuser and try aromatherapy when you're going to sleep. Lavender is excellent for promoting relaxation.
- Engage in meditation at least 10 minutes daily, and work your way up to 30 or even 60 minutes per day. One of the most well-researched and effective alternative therapies, meditation helps relax your mind and body, bringing about an almost instant lowering of your stress.
- Work on time management. If you're feeling stressed from overwork, perhaps scheduling your day better or more efficiently will ease the burden — or at least show you what you can delegate.
Depression or Anxiety
According to studies, 75 percent of depression patients have insomnia or hypersomnia, an inability to stay awake. It's a vicious cycle — you're either not sleeping or you're sleeping too much because you're depressed or anxious; however, these sleep issues can also cause anxiety and depression.
- First and foremost, if you feel like depression or anxiety are impacting your life, seek professional care.
- Try deep breathing exercises, especially if you're feeling anxious. At any time of day, take 10 deep, slow breaths. It will help stabilize your system.
- Talk to someone, even when you feel like "turtling." Find a trusted friend or therapist you can vent with to help unload some of those emotions.
The food we eat plays a much larger role in our health than most people think. You might think that donut can't make that big of a difference, but the truth is, carb-heavy, fried, processed foods wreak havoc on our health, including our sleep patterns.
Eating a high-carb, high-fat diet is linked to poor sleep quality.
Your diet not only affects your daytime energy level but also your ability to sleep at night. Eating a lot of calories is linked with poor sleep quality, so try reducing portions.
Eating a nutritious diet is linked with higher quality sleep. That means a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of healthy fats. Eating nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds will give you the most energy to get through the day.
In addition to adding more healthy plant-based foods to your diet, ditch the fried foods and sweets. High carbs and fat in your meal or snack can increase your blood sugar and leave you exhausted.
- Try kiwifruit in the evening. This delicious fruit has high levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with calm and relaxation.
- Eat a larger lunch or snacks throughout the day so that you don't overindulge at dinner — it could keep you up all night with indigestion.
- Drink some tart cherry juice before bed; studies show that this beverage reduces insomnia.
Water makes up anywhere from 55 to 75 percent of our body weight. Hydration is essential to our lives. So it's no surprise that even mild dehydration can cause significant increases in fatigue, anger, and confusion. Most people do not get enough water each day.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces every day. Stay hydrated!
- Invest in a reusable bottle that you can carry with you. That way, you'll never be concerned about running out of water, and you'll be helping the earth too.
- Avoid overhydration (drinking too much water without ingesting enough electrolytes) — it has the same physical and mental effects as dehydration. Make sure to get some sodium, potassium, calcium, and other electrolytes in your daily diet.
Alcohol & Caffeinated Drinks
What you're drinking is just as important as the food you put in your body. Caffeine may be a great in-the-moment stimulant, but drinking too much of it can make you antsy and keep you awake.[9, 10]
The same goes for alcohol. Many people think a glass or two in the evening will lull them to sleep, but it's actually more likely to keep you awake.
- Cut out caffeine and try coffee alternatives, from chai tea to the trendy Chaga mushroom drink. Herbal teas often contain healthy antioxidants and provide a delicious pick-me-up.
- If you like to enjoy an alcoholic drink, do it only on the weekend when you don't have to be as alert throughout the day and can alter your sleep routine.
- If you don't feel you can cut alcohol or caffeine out entirely, wean yourself off slowly.
Having a Sedentary Lifestyle
You may think that exercising might make you more tired — after all, you're expending energy, so why would it give you more?
Surprisingly, a collection of studies dating as far back as 1945 show that staying active actually gives you more energy throughout the day. With women, in particular, not getting enough movement can make you feel plum exhausted. So get out there, stretch, walk, jog, do yoga, dance, and start moving!
- Every 20 minutes, take a five-minute break and go for a walk. Move and stretch regularly, especially if you have a day job that requires a lot of sitting in front of a computer.
- Get a portable bicycle pedal system so you can get in some physical activity while you're sitting or at work.
- If you can, sign up for classes at a local gym. It doesn't matter if you start slow, just get started. Whether you try yoga, take a fun Zumba dance aerobics class, or pump iron in the gym, any exercise should help your fatigue and improve your sleep quality at night.
The thyroid gland plays an important role in the body. It regulates hormones that influence body weight, mood, and more. Most importantly, it is the master of your metabolism.
If your thyroid slows down, you will feel fatigued. One of the major symptoms of hypothyroidism — an underactive thyroid — is sleepiness and constant fatigue.
- If you're feeling unusually tired all the time, head to your healthcare provider and get your thyroid checked.
- Eat iodine-rich foods or take iodine supplements; the thyroid requires it to function properly.
- Get enough selenium, which is another mineral your thyroid requires.
Picture this: you're fast asleep, enjoying a happy dream, when suddenly your partner shakes you awake, asking you to stop snoring. Or you wake up in the morning, and they've moved to the couch because your snoring is out of control. About 12 million Americans experience this every night, thanks to obstructive sleep apnea.
Most often caused by a partially blocked airway, sleep apnea will cause you to stop breathing multiple times a night. You jolt back awake when your airway clears with a loud snort or choking noise. People with sleep apnea are frequently exhausted because they never reach a deep level of sleep.
- Get evaluated by a professional; you may require a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, something that helps sleep apnea patients sleep better — and quieter, so your partner can sleep better, as well.
- Shed pounds if you are overweight. Weight issues often cause sleep apnea, and it may resolve if you shed some pounds.
- Wear a mouthguard when you sleep to keep your airway open.
Other Medical Conditions
The body is a complicated thing, and even the slightest imbalance can mess with other aspects of your system. Anemia, for example, can cause fatigue. So can a cold or flu, or recovering from a surgery or infection. Inner ear complaints can make you sleepy because your eyes and ears are working overtime to keep you balanced.
Another common condition that causes tiredness is chronic fatigue syndrome, where a person feels constantly fatigued, along with a host of other symptoms like muscle pain, headache, and memory loss.
If you are not sure of the cause of your fatigue and none of these natural tricks makes a difference, maybe a trip to your healthcare provider is in order.
- Get a full blood test to see if anything, like iron, is out of whack in your body.
- Have regular physicals with your healthcare provider to maintain optimal health. If you feel you may have a health condition, talk to your healthcare provider and take action.
- Track your fatigue. If you keep a running list of when you're getting tired and what you were doing at the time, you may find a pattern of fatigue that you can break out of.
Best Supplements to Increase Energy
If those tips just aren't doing it for you and, for whatever reason, you can't perk up, a number of plant-based supplements may help boost your energy. Try these, or see our article 10 Supplements to Boost Energy.
- Vitamin B12
- Korean ginseng
Points to Remember
Fatigue affects everyone at some point. If you find yourself asking, "Why am I always tired and have no energy?" you can fix it by making changes to your lifestyle. Try and get seven or more hours of sleep a night, eat better to raise your metabolism, and exercise.
If you suspect something bigger is at play, get a check-up. Where your diet falls short, fill the gaps with supplements; several are excellent for fighting fatigue, like iodine, magnesium, and vitamin B12.
Find healthy ways to relax. Take a nice walk in nature with a friend. Engage in high-activity fun, as well as relaxing downtime, like hot aromatherapy baths and massages. You are worth it!
Remember, we are human beings, not human doings. Take care of yourself. There are so many different ways to reduce stress, eat healthier, and ultimately get more energy.
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- Ellingson LD, et al. Active and sedentary behaviors influence feelings of energy and fatigue in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(1):192–200.
- Louwerens M, et al. Fatigue and fatigue-related symptoms in patients treated for different causes of hypothyroidism. Eur J Endocrinol. 2012 Dec;167(6):809–815.
- Iodine Deficiency. American Thyroid Association. Accessed 11 Feb 2019.
- Always Tired? You May Have Sleep Apnea. Office of the Commissioner. US Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Updated 14 Dec 2017. Accessed 27 Nov 2018.
- Larun L, et al. Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;12:CD003200.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.