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Why am I so tired?


Why am I so tired?


Do you often find yourself yawning through the day, dragging your feet, and wondering why you feel perpetually exhausted?


If so, you're not alone. Many of us grapple with the relentless question: "Why am I so tired?" Let's explore the fascinating world of sleep to uncover the secrets behind your fatigue.


Meeting our work objectives, taking care of our families, and maintaining our relationships, compounded by the expectations we place upon ourselves, can leave us burning the candle at both ends and feeling exhausted. 


While some things are beyond our control, like age, gender, and genetics, there are several things we can do to tip the energy scales back in our favour. These include diet, exercise, sleep, and how we choose to respond to stress because, let’s face it, it is unavoidable. To combat the negative effects of our busy lives and decrease fatigue, it is necessary to prioritise self-care, cultivate healthy habits, and establish a well-rounded routine.


How Do We Make Energy?


Mitochondria power our cells and bodies by turning oxygen and food into energy, an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule. Several complex processes occur to produce energy in the body, including the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain. These processes require various nutrients, such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), to help power them. This is why nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling fatigued.


What Could Be Impacting My Sleep?


Exerting yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially beyond your limits for a prolonged period can cause hormonal changes in the body. Due to their busy and unpredictable schedules, this condition is common among single parents, night shift workers, on-call workers, fly-in, fly-out (FIFO)/ drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) commuters, medical professionals, and emergency service personnel. These individuals are more prone to stress, overwork, and fatigue.


The Science of Stress


When we experience stress or pressure, the amygdala, the emotional processing area of the brain, interprets the sights and sounds around us. It then instructs our body's messenger system to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones from our adrenal glands. This triggers physical changes like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and sweating, which prepare our body to cope with the stress. This response is known as the 'fight or flight' response or the 'stress response' and is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When the source of stress is resolved quickly, the production of adrenaline stops and cortisol levels return to their normal, steady state.


Inadequate Diet


Insufficient intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, coupled with a diet high in sodium, saturated fat, trans-fat and added sugar from processed foods, can result in feelings of tiredness, exhaustion, and lack of essential nutrients. One such nutrient is iron, vital for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body via the bloodstream. Insufficient amounts of iron in the body lead to inadequate production of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to vital organs and tissues, resulting in fatigue and tiredness.


Stimulants

Many people rely on caffeine and sugar to get through the day. They often reach for a quick energy boost in the form of coffee, energy drinks, or chocolate. However, these stimulants can make you feel alert and awake at the expense of overworking your adrenal glands, forcing them to secrete more cortisol. This hormonal disruption can leave you feeling ‘wired but tired’ come night-time, impacting your sleep ability.


Alcohol


Frequent or heavy alcohol consumption can lead to difficulty concentrating, drowsiness, light-headedness, and fatigue by inhibiting the liver’s ability to release sugar for energy, which results in low blood sugar levels. People with diabetes are particularly at risk from the consequences of heavy drinking, leading to poor blood sugar control and complications like nerve and eye damage. Excessive alcohol consumption also causes hangovers; reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important for consolidating what we learn and processing memories; and depletes B vitamins required for energy metabolism due to its negative impact on absorption, storage, and urinary elimination of these nutrients, all of which worsen fatigue.


Read more on alcohol and its influence on your sleep here.


Digital Fatigue


Excessive or simultaneous use of multiple digital screens can be tiring. Many of us struggle to manage 'digital fatigue' as we spend more time in front of screens. With the increasing trend of working from home offices, the lines between work life and home life have blurred significantly. The effects of spending too much time in front of screens go beyond eyestrain. Feeling worn out, experiencing muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and a general sense of overwhelm are all symptoms of 'digital fatigue'. Research also shows that excessive exposure to blue light from electronic devices at night can lead to melatonin suppression and subsequent sleep disturbances, adding to daytime fatigue.


Weight


Obesity increases the risk of fatigue and tiredness through chronic low-grade inflammation and increased HPA axis activity. Additionally, fat cells, particularly from abdominal fat, produce immune compounds called cytokines that promote fatigue and sleepiness, among other effects.


Sedentary Living


Leading a sedentary lifestyle can create a harmful cycle of reduced activity, leading to a loss of motivation, energy and, ultimately, the ability to move more. Lack of physical activity has been linked to increased feelings of tiredness and exhaustion. Insulin resistance, which is a condition that impairs the body's response to the hormone insulin, and the metabolic effects of abdominal fat, are believed to contribute to these feelings.




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