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Why am I so tired? Common causes of women's fatigue

Bryn Mawr Hospital August 24, 2015 Wellness Articles

Many women have come to accept that feeling tired, weak, or drained of any energy is the price to pay for a busy social life, personal life and career. But fatigue doesn’t have to be a daily fight.

"Many people, especially women, don't think of fatigue as something that they should seek medical attention for. They see it as something that is just a symptom of a busy life, but if you have a healthy lifestyle and are generally healthy, you shouldn't be plagued by fatigue. There is often an underlying issue when women tell me they're constantly tired," says Damaris Wessel, DO, family medicine physician at Main Line HealthCare Family Medicine in Bryn Mawr.

Below, Dr. Wessel explores some of the most common reasons women face fatigue in their daily lives.

Lack of enough sleep / poor quality sleep

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but most adults don't get this amount. Try sticking to a sleep schedule, even on weekends, by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up around the same time every morning.

The environment in which you sleep is also important and can affect your sleep--it's best to sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room without any pets, children or other distractions like phones or laptops.

Thyroid

Your thyroid, the gland that’s responsible for regulating your body temperature and controlling your heart rate and your metabolism, could be the source of your sleepiness. An overactive thyroid can cause you to feel burnt out, while an underactive one can have you feeling sluggish. And while thyroid problems can affect men, too, they most commonly affect middle-aged women.

Fortunately, thyroid problems are easily detected through a blood test, and can be controlled via thyroid hormone replacement. Talk to your doctor if you notice other symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid, like heart palpitations, nervousness, weight loss, or joint pain.

Iron deficiency (anemia)

Hormonal and lifestyle differences like pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause mean that women need more iron than men in their diet, but few women actually get as much as they need. The result—anemia’s—most common symptoms include fatigue and weakness.

If you suspect you have anemia, talk to your physician. A simple blood test can help detect it. In the meantime, keep your iron levels healthy with foods like beans, fish, dried fruits, lean red meats, spinach and other green, leafy vegetables.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition marked by snoring and interrupted breathing, which can make quality, restful sleep at night almost impossible. If you have sleep apnea, you may make it through the night without tossing and turning, but chances are you’ll still be drowsy during the daytime.

Depression / stress

Feeling fatigued is a common problem for those struggling with depression, but it’s not uncommon to feel the opposite: insomnia. If you don’t find yourself feeling blue, the source could also be stress at work, home, or in your relationships.

Treating these underlying issues can often help address your fatigue or insomnia. If you’re trying to track down the source of your sleep troubles, ask yourself if any major changes in your career or life could be affecting you.

Diet / dehydration

While your drowsiness could be a result of an underlying health issue, it could also be as simple as changing your diet. Are you getting enough to eat during the day? Drinking enough water? If not, nutritional deficiencies like these could be the problem.

Aim for three healthy, well-balanced meals per day and two small snacks—one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. These should help keep your energy up between meals. In addition, stick to water as your primary beverage. Other drinks like soda, alcohol, and energy drinks won’t keep you hydrated throughout the day.

Sedentary lifestyle

If you’re feeling fatigued, the last thing you probably want to do is exercise, but that could be enough to help you fight the feeling. Research finds that sedentary people who start to exercise experience increased blood flow to the muscles and a more efficient cardiovascular system, both of which can result in better energy and more restorative sleep.

To ease into exercise, start small. Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week, but begin with a brisk, 30-minute walk around the neighborhood after dinner every night. Chances are, you’ll begin to notice benefits quickly.

Although, in many cases, fatigue is a result of one of these causes, it can also be a symptom of a more serious health condition, like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. The first step in determining the source is visiting your physician.

"Don’t accept a life of fatigue," says Dr. Wessel. "If you are getting a good night’s sleep every night, eating well, and exercising, but still find yourself feeling sluggish, make an appointment with your physician to determine the underlying cause."