Fatigue is one of two main ways the body warns you about a problem. The other warning is pain. Most of us pay attention to pain, and stop whatever is causing it. We don’t pay as much attention to fatigue. One reason might be that fatigue sneaks up on us.
What Is Fatigue?
Fatigue is tiredness that does not go away when you rest. It can be physical or psychological. With physical fatigue, your muscles cannot do things as easily as they normally do. You might notice this when you climb stairs or carry bags of groceries.
With psychological fatigue, it may be difficult to concentrate for as long as you did before. In severe cases, you might not feel like getting out of bed in the morning and doing your regular daily activities. Fatigue is twice as common in women as in men but is not strongly associated with age or occupation.
There are certain things that exacerbate fatigue, including a range of lifestyle, occupational and psychological factors.
Common lifestyle choices that can cause fatigue include:
- Lack of sleep – adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
- Too much sleep – sleeping more than 11 hours per day can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Alcohol and drugs – alcohol is a depressant drug that slows the nervous system and disturbs normal sleep patterns. Other drugs, such as cigarettes, stimulate the nervous system and make insomnia more likely.
- Sleep disturbances – disturbed sleep may occur for a number of reasons, for example, young children who wake in the night, a snoring partner, or an uncomfortable bed.
- Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour – physical activity is known to improve fitness, health and wellbeing, reduce stress, and boost energy levels. It also helps you sleep. Regular exercise is also an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, however any exercise regime should be supervised by a qualified health practitioner for those with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Too much exercise – Those who work hard and regularly exercise hard may be trying to do too much. Your body also needs time to recover.
- Poor diet – low calorie diets, or extreme diets that reduce intake of a particular macronutrient such as carbohydrates may mean that the body does not have enough fuel. Quick fix ‘pick me ups’, such as chocolate bars or caffeinated drinks, only offer a temporary energy boost that quickly wears off and worsens fatigue in the longer term.
Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:
- Shift work – the human body is designed to sleep during the night. This pattern is set by a small part of the brain known as the circadian clock. A shift worker confuses their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
- Workplace stress – can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, constant change, or threats to job security.
Studies suggest that at least 50 per cent of fatigue cases are caused by psychological factors. These may include:
- Depression – this illness is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic tiredness.
- Anxiety and stress – a person who is chronically anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
- Grief – losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.
Always see a medical practitioner or GP to make sure that your fatigue isn’t caused by an underlying medical problem. Your chiropractor can often help by making sure that your muscles, joints and bones are all working together as they should; minor misalignments can cause your body to lock up trying to protect itself. Improving your diet, sleeping patterns and exercise regime will also provide real benefits in the long run.