This is a tricky subject and one I have been exploring for years. I have struggled with constant tiredness, and have gone from episodes of insomnia to periods of frequently waking up at night, and most commonly I just feel like all I want to do is sleep! When I do get going I find I have so much energy that I literally bounce off the walls, but it takes a lot to get there. I actually have a whole routine and a bunch of strategies I use to keep myself from allowing my lethargy from taking control or dictating my day.
Firstly, if constant tiredness is a real problem for you then go see your GP. There could be an underlying illness that needs to be checked by a health professional. Many underlying diseases or problems could be causing additional stress on the body, and it may not be a case of an underactive thyroid. Although an underactive thyroid is a cause of fatigue, there are a number of diseases that can also cause fatigue. Don’t take a chance, don’t self medicate by taking additional supplements (which brands and marketing companies WILL play on and will convince you that you need their product), and do see a GP who will be able to assess and decide what is best for you.
So this blog is not for the medical side of things, and if you don’t have a medical reason for your tiredness then what is causing it?
Here are a few things I have looked into, and have noticed that they contribute to my tiredness:
1. Technology, Smart Phones, iPads and TV’s
Remember last week I wrote about the reward centre in our brain releasing dopamine? Dopamine is released into our bodies when we fix our cravings with a reward. Technology companies have caught on very quickly that our bodies respond to technology in the same way we respond to other addictions. That is why Farmville became the number one Facebook game, mainly because it is an achievement fulfilling game. You set your own reward and indirectly the app has programmed you or convinced you that you need to achieve milestones in the game itself before you will feel satisfied (in other words, before you feel you have achieved your reward and got your dopamine hit). The same strategy is applied by Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Emails – just about everything online now has a sense of gaming or achievement about it. Just look at your iPhone and tell me you’re not tempted to check those letter red notification dots with the numbers in them. Notice how you feel when you see a notification. Are you getting a bit excited about checking it? Can you leave it til later? No? If yes, has it become something to look forward to? A bit of self analysis on this and you may soon work out that technology has you hooked. It is playing havoc with your brain, and playing havoc on your sleep. Why? because your body is stimulated by phones, ipads, and TV’s because you literally cannot switch off from it and your body wants that dopamine hit. If you cannot switch off the tech after 9 or 10pm, or if you find yourself reading your phone or kindle or even your laptop in bed and then first thing in the morning, then you need to go on a digital diet. Replace those technology time slots with something else that burns off a bit of energy such as exercise, or something relaxing like stretching or a bath to help wind you down and remove you from the flashing lights, games, and multitudes of information that our devices literally flood us with.
2. Dehydration, Coffee, and other foods and drinks
Dehydration is a key part of fatigue. You only need to be slightly dehydrated to cause a reduction in the delivery of oxygen around your body, and interrupt other body functions such as the uptake of nutrients and minerals. Try and cut down on foods and drinks which dehydrate you such as coffee and high sugar foods. Do you experience sudden sensations of hunger? headaches? dry mouth or dry skin (particularly around the nails?), and fatigue? Then chances are you are dehydrated.
Are you a big coffee drinker? Coffee (caffeine specifically) literally blocks the cellular pathways in your brain that tell you that you are tired. Caffeine is structurally similar to adenosine. Adenosine naturally builds up throughout the day and binds to adenosine receptors in our bodies which cause us to become tired and eventually help us fall asleep. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors and keeps us awake, which is why we turn to coffee so we can keep going. However, the more coffee you drink the more tolerant you become to the caffeine and you end up needing more. Your body will build up the tolerance by increasing the number of adenosine receptors (in other words you have physiologically changed your body). When you go without coffee, as a result of a build up of tolerance, you’ll feel more tired and you’ll start to depend on coffee to start your day. If you’re a big coffee drinker you would have no doubt felt cranky (to say the least) after going without it for a while. This is a result of your body trying to restore itself back to how it was before caffeine came along and started to change everything. Also, caffeine is a diuretic meaning it helps increase the amount you pee. So coffee causes dehydration and if you have built up a tolerance to it, you are now likely to be even more tired without it (don’t worry, a week off the coffee and you’ll start to feel normal again) . Also, are you having a glass of wine or a beer before bed? Alcohol also contributes to dehydration because it is also a diuretic, and if that evening glass has become a regular occurrence then this could be contributing towards your tiredness. Just for the record, I am not saying diuretics are bad, and they are used as part of many medications. But dehydration and diuretics come hand in hand so replace the loss of fluids (or just drink a little less coffee and booze).
These are my two main non medical causes for that feeling of constant tiredness. Technology and dehydration are the main culprits in my opinion. Diet is another, especially if your diet is low in nutrients and high in junk food. Ask yourself if you have eaten anything green today? what about yesterday? I Start my day with a green smoothie which is high in nutrients and tastes great (well I think so anyway). Before that, I actually drink a pint glass of half a juiced lemon mixed with filtered water to hydrate my body after going 7-8 hours sleep without water. Lemon water is also alkalising which I’ll explain the importance of in next weeks blog. Stress is another main cause of constant tiredness. To summarise, tiredness is not usually down to one single reason.
To overcome any problem you often need to overwhelm the challenge, so I highly recommend looking into all the things which are contributing towards your tiredness and self assess yourself and what action you need to take in order to get some energy back into your day!