Feeling tired all the time is normal, right? It’s just part and parcel of modern day life. Being tired simply means you have lived a full life, that you do a lot, that you’re a busy driven woman.
We almost wear it like a badge of honour- because being tired means we work hard, give it our all and always put the needs of others before our own.
Which is all fine, as long as there is plenty of ‘juice in the tank’ so to speak. But when tiredness becomes your new normal, when a good night sleep simply doesn’t take care of it and your energy simply won’t last all day, and you find yourself pushing through, then something else is going on.
“Many roads lead to Rome”
So the first question I am often asked is: How come I am so tired all the time?” Usually followed by something like “I don’t know what is wrong because my doctor has done all the tests and they’re all normal”. Sound familiar?
Naturally we want answers. We want to understand how we got to this place, what caused this fatigue and therefore, what we can do about it. This is how we are taught to think about our health: identify the problem, fix it, and illness goes away. But when it comes to figuring out fatigue, it’s a different story.
The truth is that fatigue is more like a ‘layer cake’. It’s not just one thing that causes it. Or very very rarely! Wouldn’t that be nice!? Because then we could just fix that one thing, and voila, life would be all fizz and shine again!
Instead it is more a case of ‘many roads lead to Rome’. In my experience it is several layers of stuff, that when they stack up on top of one another, and then maybe life throws in a curve ball or two, that’s when the house of cards comes tumbling down, and your fatigue really takes hold.
What that means is that you have to understand the layers of things that contribute to your fatigue, so that you can start to support yourself, your health and your recovery journey, based on what is driving it all in the first place.
The fatigue layer cake
So what are these layers? What are some of the factors, patterns and trends we see over and over again that get people into that awful place of feeling tired all the time, exhausted, depleted and just having no time to get up and go?
Here are the top 5 ‘layers’ that I see in my work as a functional medicine doctor every single day:
1) Excess stress
Stress isn’t a bad thing. In fact quite the opposite – it can drive us forward in a really powerful and exciting way. BUT… when the stress levels rise above what we can truly cope with, we use up our reserves. Think of it like a fuel gauge- you know you need to fill up when it goes into the red. But in life we are very good at ignoring those ‘red alerts’. We tend to carry on regardless, running on empty for ages, before our body finally says ‘enough now’.
Your body experiences this ‘pushing through’ as a form of chronic stress.
We all know too much stress can make us feel tired all the time, irritable, moody and lose our edge. But when stress goes on over a long period of time and we normalise that stress, it means that we simply ‘don’t connect the dots’. We don’t fully recognise that the stress is making us feel tired, exhausted and depleted. We are loath to ‘slow down’, do less, and instead we want to reach out for the supplements, caffeine and all the other stuff we do.
Supporting and resuscitating your chronic stress response is a huge part of energy recovery work. It is also the part that takes the most mindset work and shifting our identity and beliefs. This is what makes it such an exciting part of the fatigue recovery journey!!
2) Chronic sleep deprivation
How much sleep do you get? No, I mean that really good quality deep restful sleep?
Most people in the UK and US survive on less than 7 hours of sleep a night. And research shows that even 30 mins less of optimal sleep is associated with fatigue, poor performance, depression and obesity. Go figure!!
So how much sleep is ‘enough’?
In my experience as a fatigue recovery coach, there are two ways to think of how much sleep you need:
- What keeps you functioning day to day?
- What will allow you to rebuild your energy reserves?
So the answer is that what is the ‘right amount’ varies from person to person, and it also depends on where they are in their health and the impact the sleep gets on their energy levels the following day.
As a general guide, if you regularly experience fatigue, feel tired all the time, or don’t have the kind of energy you need to get through your day with ease and joy, then you need to sleep more! For my clients who are in active energy recovery work I recommend a minimum of 8 hours, often more.
3) Suboptimal hydration
This one is such an easy fix, that I hardly dare to include it here BUT… in my experience so many people who are in fatigue are simply not optimally hydrated. And this directly affects their energy levels. So for this reason I will discuss it here.
Optimal hydration is essential for gut health and detox systems to work properly. And both of these physiological body systems contribute massively to how much energy we have.
The reason behind this is that our bodies are ⅔ water. So if you weigh 90kg, then 60kg of you is water. Now imagine that 60kg of water – is it nice clean sparkly water that gets replaced and replenished regularly, or is it more like stagnant scummy pond water that moves very slowly, does not get replenished frequently and it all looks a bit uninviting and off putting?
This is perhaps a dramatic picture to paint, but you get the idea: if you don’t regularly refresh and replenish your fluids, then it’s stagnant scummy pond water time. And you can imagine what that does to your energy levels.
So if this is you, go to the bottom of this page and sign up for your very own copy of the 7 Day SuperHydration Challenge, and get your body water shiny and sparkling.
4) Gut health
Gut health is something we take for granted until it goes wrong. OR do we? This is another area of our health and wellbeing that we tend to normalise and minimise.
Is this you? Or maybe someone you know?
A bit of bloating: “Oh maybe I shouldn’t eat bread”
Only going to the loo every other day: “That’s normal isn’t it? “
A bit of heartburn: “Oh I just ate too quickly”
IBS gets worse when you’re about to start your period: “No problem, I’ll just take something to settle it”
Feeling full and bloated after eating even a small amount of food: “It’ll pass”
The truth is that none of those symptoms are normal. They indicate that there is a gut health issue. It may be that your digestive system is not breaking your food down properly, or that you have a leaky gut, or that your food is stagnant in a slow digestive system and off-gassing like mad. It also means your body simply can’t access those key nutrients it needs in plentiful supply, every day, 24/7.
In my clinic, when I treat conditions like SIBO, IBS, leaky gut, constipation AND we support the digestive system to work optimally, it can make a huge difference to those energy levels.
5) Hormone imbalances
Our body is in a constant state of flux – there are lots and lots of ‘moving parts’ that are carefully coordinated and orchestrated, so the whole works in harmony.
That job of coordinating falls to your hormones and neurotransmitters. So any issues with hormone imbalances (or neurotransmitters), can dramatically affect your health and your energy levels
A prime example is your thyroid.
Feeling tired all the time, moody, low, bloated, can’t stand the cold? Then it could be that you have an underactive thyroid.
But even if you have it checked out and the routine blood test results are ‘normal’ it could be that your body simply isn’t converting the inactive T4 (this is what is measured on your blood test) to the active T3. So if there is a problem at that level, your body still thinks it has ‘not enough thyroid hormone’ and you still suffer with the symptoms of having an underactive thyroid. Even if the test says it is ‘all ok’.
Don’t simply put up with feeling tired all the time
I hope you now have a whole new way to think about your fatigue and I hope you can recognise some of the layers of your ‘fatigue layer cake’. I have only talked about five layers here, and in reality there are a lot more when we treat fatigue using functional medicine principles.
When it comes to fatigue recovery work, and reclaiming your health and your energy levels, it is important to cast the net wide and take a look at your whole health and figure out where your energy creation systems are not working optimally.
It is important that we are prepared to open our mind to the recovery work, and that this is something that is far more than just a single strategy, one approach, one supplement, or one prescription of the latest wonder drug.
So the most important question right now is this:
How much longer are you willing to continue feeling this way?
Are you ready to start getting your energy levels turned around?
Are you tired of feeling this way?
And are you done, done and done with this fatigue messing up your life?