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09 March 2009

Why you're so tired

On average one in 10 people who visit a general practitioner does so because of fatigue. Why are we so exhausted?

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By far the most common complaint doctors hear is fatigue. The team from YOU Pulse takes a look at why we might be such a tired nation.

Whether patients are young and trendy, with a toddler on the hip and in the prime of life, or old and grey, most tell the same story: “Doctor, I’m tired, exhausted, worn out, finished!”

Fatigue certainly seems to be the disease of our time, a consequence of our hectic lifestyle. On average one in 10 people who visit a general practitioner does so because of fatigue.

The phrase “I feel tired” is subjective, vague and broad, and could be a symptom of so many diseases that sometimes doctors are baffled. However, fatigue should not be taken lightly.

  • Is the feeling one of having no energy?

  • Is it one of physical exhaustion?

  • Is it about being dejected, or perhaps depressed?

  • Is it hard to concentrate, or is it about running out of breath easily?

  • Is sleepiness the problem?

Doctors sometimes have to be psychologist and detective. Is there an obvious reason for your fatigue or are the causes more profound?

What are the most common causes of fatigue?
Although many questions remain unanswered a persistent lack of energy is not a figment of your imagination, and will not disappear if only you can manage to “pull yourself together”. There are many potential underlying causes of fatigue:

2-5%
...suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. Although the causes may differ, all patients with chronic fatigue have been tired for more than six months.

20-30%
...have either a physical cause, such as infections, heart disease, diabetes or thyroid problems; or medication is an issue. Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of depression.

75%
...are a result of unhealthy eating habits, work stress, matrimonial stress, insufficient sleep or other forms of pressure. In many instances you’re simply trying to do too much.

What can you do

  1. Adopt a healthy sleep routine
    - Try going to bed and getting up at the same time.
    - Relax for at least an hour before going to bed. Take a bath, read a relaxing book.
    - Write down your concerns and problems before going to bed, then forget about them. Count your blessings once you have switched off the light.
    - Do relaxation exercises before going to bed. Sit up straight, take deep breaths, clear your mind of thoughts.
    - Certain aromas help you relax. Crush a mint or rosemary leaf, put lavender flowers under your pillow, drink a cup of peppermint tea.
    - Don’t look at the alarm clock when you wake up in the middle of the night.
  2. Eat properly
    Too much fluctuation in insulin levels makes you tired. Rather eat five or six smaller meals a day and choose carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index such as seed loaf rather than white bread and basmati rather than white rice.

    Too many refined carbohydrates and too much sugar also cause fluctuations in insulin levels and leave you feeling hungry and tired an hour later.

    Drink enough water. Milk contains tryptophan which induces deeper sleep.

    High fat intake causes weight gain – 60-80g fat a day is more than enough. Make sure these are good fats, for example those found in sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout, etc.

    Avoid drinking more than five cups of coffee and other caffeine drinks a day. Eat supper early and drink your last cup before 4pm.

  3. Change your lifestyle
    Regular exercise is vital. Scientists suspect there is a strong link between depression, insufficient exercise and fatigue.

    If you do not like jogging or the gym, try healthy and fun alternatives such as yoga, Pilates or t’ai chi.

The edited extract above is from an article that appeared in the launch edition of YOU Pulse magazine in September 2007. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.

 
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