Health Topics

Why Am I So Tired?

Tips & Tricks for Alleviating Fatigue
By Gregory Wallin, MD

What is Fatigue?
While we all experience occasional sleepy days, fatigue is often defined as an increased need for sleep, difficulty initiating activity, reduced capacity to maintain activity or feeling tired from simple tasks.

In addition to being physical, fatigue can be mental. Often, mental fatigue is a result of brain over-activity, such as prolonged concentration, or an emotional side effect. Because fatigue has the ability to negatively impact our everyday lives and overall health, it is important to prioritize your sleep.

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene
It is easy to become consumed by our fast-paced lives, making it all the more important to incorporate healthy sleep habits into your daily routine. Sleep hygiene refers to behavioral and environmental practices that promote better quality and consistency of sleep. Many underlying causes of fatigue can be resolved with the right sleep practices. To help you obtain quality z’s each night, consider the following tips:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night to establish a sense of regularity and to help you fall asleep more quickly.
  • Create and maintain a bedtime ritual. In addition to going to bed at the same time each night, this may include reading a book, taking a bath or listening to music before bed. With time, your brain will associate these activities with bedtime.
  • Dim the lights in your house and bedroom at night. Light affects sleep and your body will recognize darkness as a signal to rest.
  • Try to get about 20 minutes of sun exposure in the morning or midday. The light informs your circadian rhythm that you should be up and alert and will help your body to establish regularity.
  • Set your room temperature to about 60 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit, as we tend to sleep better in cooler environments.  
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol reduces the quality and quantity of your sleep, leaving you to wake up more frequently and to experience a more restless sleep.
  • Avoid Caffeine after 1:00 p.m. Caffeine stays in your body hours after consumption and interferes with your ability to fall asleep.
  • Avoid eating two to three hours before bed to help avoid glucose or insulin “spikes” and to lower your body’s overall activity.

Everyday Tips to Combat Fatigue:
In addition to incorporating healthy sleep habits, making small adjustments to your daily routine can help your body establish the right rhythm.

  • Try to limit screen time. Looking at screens for prolonged periods of time dries out and strains your eyes, making you feel more tired.
  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water each day to avoid dehydration induced feelings of fatigue. If you are exercising or engaging in strenuous activity, drink about 10 to 12 glasses of water each day.
  • If you feel you need a nap during the day, only sleep for 20 to 30 minutes. Longer naps may interfere with sleep during your rapid eye movement (REM) cycle, which can lead to feeling sluggish.
  • Do not use sleep aids to induce sleep. Sleep aids, such as melatonin, are most helpful when trying to shift sleep schedules, such as combatting jetlag or working night shifts. Prolonged use of sleep aids can create a dependency and therefore should not be used for more than two weeks.
  • Aim for 7.5 hours of sleep each night.
    • Try this exercise to determine the ideal amount of sleep for you: Set your alarm to get 7.5 hours of sleep. If you wake up before your alarm feeling well-rested and refreshed, this is your ideal sleep time. If you wake up to your alarm feeling groggy or sluggish, you likely awoke during your REM cycle and need more sleep to feel refreshed. Set your alarm for 15 minutes later each night until you achieve optimal sleep.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, high in protein and vegetables.
    • Eating a well-balanced diet, complete with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat proteins rich in B vitamins, is essential in maintaining quality sleep. Foods rich in B vitamins help to control melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep cycles.
  • Exercise regularly, including both cardio and weight training workouts.
    • Regular exercise benefits your overall health, and properly timed exercise has a positive impact on the quality of your sleep. Because exercise speeds up your metabolism and makes you feel more energized and alert, working out right before bed can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Instead, try working out no later than three hours before bedtime to allow your body time to decompress and cool off before bed.

Addressing Mental Fatigue
Many factors play a role in mental fatigue, and addressing the underlying causes can diminish their influence on your sleep. Anxiety, stress and depression can contribute to mental fatigue, and taking the time to assess, minimize and cope with stressors can make a big difference.

If you are struggling with mental fatigue, talk to your physician to evaluate possible solutions.

When to Seek Medical Attention
Please consult your physician or seek medical attention if feelings of fatigue start to affect or interfere with: 

  • Mood
  • Enjoyment of life
  • Relationships with others
  • Daily activity

If you think feelings of fatigue are a result of your medication, please consult your physician.

Your sleep matters, and feeling well-rested and refreshed can do wonders for your health. Taking care of your body, both physically and mentally, and practicing healthy habits can help you achieve the quality sleep you need to stay happy and energized. To learn more about what you can do to improve sleep, or to make an appointment with one of our Family Medicine physicians, please visit

Topics and Subtopics: General Health

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