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Why am I always so tired? Top 12 causes of fatigue

Getting plenty of sleep but still exhausted? Before you blame your busy lifestyle, learn more about what might be at the root of your unexplained fatigue.
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Do you jump out of bed in the morning invigorated, ready to start the new day, or crawl out from under the covers already looking forward to going back to bed?

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone. It’s easy to blame the lives we lead. With work commitments, childcare and household chores to cope with, it’s no wonder that tiredness is a common complaint.

Fatigue may not always be down to burning the candle at both ends or overfilling our days. The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that, at any given time, one in five people feel unusually tired and one in 10 have prolonged fatigue. Women tend to feel tired more than men.

It is often caused by an obvious or relatively minor problem which is easy to fix, but very occasionally it may be the sign of something more serious.

"Tiredness is a common complaint and one that people frequently seek advice from their doctor about," says GP Liz Thomas. "It’s important to differentiate between tiredness due to lack of sleep and tiredness in the context of good and adequate sleep."

Here are our top 12 causes of fatigue:

1. Lack of sleep

This sounds simple but one of the most common causes of fatigue is getting too little sleep. The NHS says around a third of us have bouts of insomnia. If you’re fond of burning the midnight oil, lack of sleep may be causing fatigue.

Your age has a lot to do with sleep requirements. Babies need about 16 hours a day and teenagers about nine. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night, but some may need as little as five hours or as much as 10 hours of sleep a day. The older you get, the less sleep you need.

2. Eating too little

It’s another obvious cause of fatigue. Not eating enough or having the wrong foods can be a problem. If you start your day with doughnuts, your blood sugar will peak and crash, leaving you sluggish. So always eat a healthy breakfast. Try to include protein and complex carbohydrates, like eggs and wholemeal toast, to keep your energy levels stable.

3. Anaemia

Anaemia is one of the top causes of feeling constantly run-down.  It happens when the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen to your tissues and organs. It’s easily diagnosed with a blood test. 

The NHS says it affects post-menopausal women and around one in 20 men but it may be even more common in women who are still having periods, especially if the periods are heavy.

Treatment depends on the cause. The commonest cause of anaemia, iron deficiency, can be corrected by eating iron-rich food such as lean meat, shellfish and iron-fortified cereals, or taking iron supplements.

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