If you’re constantly exhausted, look out for these telltale signs that something serious is amiss.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Claire Lavelle
Permanently exhausted, constantly pressing the snooze button every morning, and battling with the post-lunch slump every afternoon? While it’s normal to feel a bit tired every now and then, if you’re constantly fighting the urge to drop into a deep and dreamless slumber, then something with your health may be amiss.
We ask the experts about battling exhaustion and what constant tiredness really says about your health.
What is prolonged fatigue?
Frequently feeling tired for long periods takes its toll, and can affect both your health and quality of life. ‘It’s a horrible feeling of bone-deep exhaustion, but for most of us, a good night’s sleep is all it takes for normal function to be restored,’ says Dr Lizzie Tuckey, medical director of Bupa UK.
‘We all feel shattered from time to time – from juggling a busy job with family life. Prolonged fatigue is something the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates affects one in 10 people,’ she adds. ‘Don’t just accept it – seek help sooner rather than later.’
Here are six key reasons why you might be tired all the time and when to seek help:
Vitamin deficiency and fatigue
If you’re tired all the time, you should ask your GP to run a full blood count, or FBC, which checks for levels of red and white blood cells in the body.
‘Be aware though, that a full blood count done by your GP might not check for vitamin B12 and ferritin, a protein in the blood that stores iron, and low levels of both can make you feel very tired,’ says Lorna Driver-Davies, a nutritional therapist at Wild Nutrition.
If you’re tired all the time ask your GP to run a full blood count to check red and white blood cells.
‘Specifically ask for these to be checked, and for a copy of your test results, which you can then discuss with your doctor.’
Under-active thyroid and exhaustion
An under-active thyroid can make you feel exhausted. Thyroid function should be assessed as part of a full blood count, but if it’s not, ask your GP to test for this specifically. Iodine deficiency particularly affects pregnant women who are supplying their growing baby’s needs as well as their own, and teenage girls, who may not consume enough dairy products.
Milk in particular is an important source, as it has a direct impact on thyroid health and is increasingly recognised by the World Health Organisation as a growing concern. If you fall into this group, seek advice.
Magnesium deficiency and fatigue
Magnesium is an essential mineral that maintains healthy nerve and muscle function, as well as regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure. But it’s also essential for energy production – without magnesium, the body can’t make adenosine tri-phosphate, or ATP, which is crucial for energy production.
‘Key symptoms are feeling tired, muscle cramps, aches and twitches, restless legs, problems sleeping and negative circular thoughts,’ says Driver-Davies. ‘It’s hard to test for magnesium deficiency but the symptoms are red flags in themselves.’
Increasing magnesium-rich foods, such as avocado, dried fruit and nuts and seeds can help.
‘Increasing magnesium-rich foods, such as avocado, dried fruit and nuts and seeds can help, as can a supplement,’ advises Driver-Davies. ‘Choose the best quality you can afford. Some people see an improvement in as little as three days.’
Post-viral fatigue and constant tirednes
If you’re still feeling tired after getting over a nasty illness, it could be that the virus is lingering and affecting the function of your mitochondria, which are tiny compounds in the body’s cells that convert the energy in food into energy we can use.
‘Other telltale symptoms include bloating and gassiness,’ says Driver-Davies. ‘From a nutritional perspective, this can be treated with herbs to frogmarch the virus out once and for all, followed by probiotics to restore the function of the gut. Herbs are powerful cleansing and healing agents, though, so don’t do this without the help of a trained professional.’
Are you getting enough downtime?
Glued to your TV, smartphone and laptop every evening? If that triad of tech sounds familiar, you run the risk of exacerbating the very problem you’re trying to solve during your ‘downtime’. Turn off the tech at least an hour before bedtime for a quieter mind and more energised body.
‘Not only do electronic screens emit blue light, which stimulates the brain and is a surefire bedtime disrupter, but it also affects the pituitary gland, which in turn affects your hormonal balance,’ says Driver-Davies.
Prolonged fatigue and your mental health
We tend to think of fatigue as primarily a physical problem, but in fact, feeling tired all the time is one of the key symptoms of depression, so take stock of your mental health.
‘Both low mood and depression take the shine off life and decrease feelings of pleasure. Typical behaviours include cancelling the social engagements and get-togethers that boost our mood and energy levels, ostensibly because we feel tired but if you dig a little deeper it’s often because of persistent low mood, which can also make us feel socially anxious,’ says consultant psychologist Emma Citron.
Both low mood and depression take the shine off life and decrease feelings of pleasure.
‘We become increasingly isolated and our depression deepens further – and so it becomes a vicious circle,’ she adds. ‘If you suspect this is what’s going on with you, seek help. We only have one life, and we owe it to ourselves to make sure we live it well. Think about how you’d advise a friend in a similar situation and follow your own advice. Be compassionate and look after yourself.’
Additional help and support
If you think you might be suffering from prolonged fatigue your first port of call should be your GP. For additional support, try one of the following resources:
- Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
- The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
- Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.