Getting to grips with tiredness

Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of lack of energy, according to Dr Joe Fitzgibbon.

Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of lack of energy, according to Dr Joe Fitzgibbon.

Tiredness is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor with one in 10 people suffering from it. Women are more likely to be affected than men, say experts, with up to 75 per cent believed to suffer from it at some time.

Sometimes, it’s easy to pinpoint the likely causes of this fatigue. It can result from burning the candle at both ends, working long hours, being under constant stress. Or it may follow a bad dose of flu or a debilitating illness. Couple these with a demanding career, a family and other responsibilities and it is easy to see how tiredness accumulates.

Just because your work is not physical does not mean that you should not get tired. Using your brain to think, plan or create can be just as wearying as physical activity.

For most fortunately tiredness is a temporary problem and usually disappears following some rest and relaxation or lifestyle changes.

For others however, it can become a major problem severely affecting their quality of life and day-to-day functioning.

Here are some tips to help you cope:-

1. Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of lack of energy, explains Dr Joe Fitzgibbon, a local doctor with a special interest in fatigue and allergies. Our lifestyles have become so busy we try to survive on much less than we should. Experts say reducing your normal quota of sleep by an hour and a half for just one night can lower day-time alertness by 33 per cent. Remember, you cannot continue to work without rest or remain well and wakeful without sleep.

“We are trying to do more work than before on less sleep,” says Dr Fitzgibbon. “ It has been estimated that we are now squeezing 13 months work into 12 months and we are doing this on 20 per cent less sleep compared to 100 years ago.”

The importance of sleep cannot be underestimated, he stresses. It is as important to health as food and water. Sleep allows us to get rid of tiredness and recharge our batteries. Most adults need up to eight hours sleep a night.

The first golden rule is to rest more. Allow yourself longer periods of time for sleep at night. In addition, try to have at least one or two rest periods during the day - even if only for five to 10 minutes - preferably in the late morning and late afternoon. This may help boost your energy levels.

“It may be worth your while to adopt a different use of the alarm clock. Depend on it to get you into bed, not out of it.”

2. Depression is the most common disorder identified in people suffering from fatigue, says the doctor. This is followed closely by anxiety, panic and phobic disorders. One in 10 people suffers from depression at some stage. However, many of them never get the help they need. He says at least one case is missed for every one diagnosed.

This condition is characterised by feelings of sadness, anxiety, lack of interest in food or daily events, over or under-sleeping and seeing no point in living.

Stress is a major cause of tiredness and lack of energy. It can be work-related, involving excessive workloads, role ambiguity or poor relationships between management and staff, says Dr Fitzgibbon.

“Stress can be family related too and be caused by marital disharmony, rebellion in the ranks or extended family concerns about elderly relatives.”

3. Diet plays a fundamental part in our health. Many symptoms are caused by what we eat. Examine your diet and look at ways of improving it. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and bread, wholegrain cereals, wholewheat pastas, lean meat, fish, cheese, eggs and salads.

Ensure you eat at least three nourishing meals a day - begin with a healthy breakfast. Make sure to eat regularly.

4. Physical illnesses, such as anaemia or an underactive thyroid gland can sap your energy. Iron deficiency anaemia is said to be one of the most common nutrient deficiencies and is routinely associated with lack of energy. An underactive thyroid gland can cause lethargy and sufferers complain of feeling run down.

5. If you are pregnant or just had a baby you may feel worn out. Experts say almost all women who give birth suffer from tiredness in the days and weeks afterwards. Having a baby is a major life event and it takes a while for the body and mind to adjust to it.

6. Worry can wreak havoc with your energy levels. It does not matter if these are real or perceived anxieties about yourself or others, they will have the same effect on your system. Constant worrying will drain your energy resources so see if you can cut it back or out. Get to the root of it and try to resolve the problem. Doing something constructive will help you feel in control of your life.

7. Being over or underweight can cause tiredness as well. If you are overweight, your body has to work harder than normal to do everyday activities. If you are very underweight, you have less muscle strength and may tire more quickly.

8. Sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleep apnoea (abnormal breathing while asleep ) can also prevent you getting a good night’s shut eye.

9. Sometimes, there is not any particular reason for feeling weary, more a combination of factors. It can have physical triggers, such as a recent illness, pregnancy or breastfeeding, too. It can also be triggered by a stressful situation, such as a bereavement, moving house, or family. Other stressors, such as overwork, overeating, drinking alcohol, smoking, snacking on junk food and negative thinking can also stretch your system to the limit.

How to overcome tiredness

* Write down a list of things that might have led to your tiredness, such as family or work pressures. Are there ways that you could avoid overburdening yourself in the future?

* Aim for a better sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. If you find it hard to get to sleep, get into the habit of winding down with a bath, relaxing music and hot drink. Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark and comfortable and that it is neither too hot nor too cold.

* Eat a balanced diet and proper meals even if you do not feel like cooking. Choose fresh, wholesome and organic foods and ensure you have variety. Rotate foods and experiment with new ones. This means more nutrients for the body and may help prevent food allergies or intolerances developing.

* Drink water. It is an essential nutrient and is best taken between meals or half an hour before meals and one hour after.

* Cut out caffeine and alcohol, especially in the evenings.

* Learn to relax. Practice letting go of worries and problems.

* If you are overweight try to reduce your weight by becoming more physically active and eating less. Avoid crash diets. If you are below your ideal weight, gradually increase your portion sizes and your overall calorie intake

* Try to cut down on tea, coffee, sugary drinks and salt.

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