Fatigue: Everything You Need to Know

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Fatigue is a feeling of mental or physical weariness or tiredness. It is a much more intense feeling than just being tired or sleepy; it is a relatively persistent feeling of physical and mental weakness. Some people describe fatigue as feeling worn out or exhausted, causing them to move slower than normal and use more energy to complete daily activities.

We have all experienced fatigue at one time or another, but long-term fatigue (such as days or weeks at a time) may indicate a more serious health concern that needs to be addressed. If your fatigue is preventing you from doing the things you need or want to do, consider consulting your healthcare provider.

Signs of Fatigue

If fatigue lasts six months or longer and you have not been diagnosed with a disease or medical condition, you may have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). People with CFS do not feel better after a good night's sleep. They may not be able to do the things they would typically do. In severe cases, you may not be able to get out of bed.

Symptoms may fluctuate or change over time.

Besides severe fatigue, other symptoms associated with CFS include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, and remembering
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Pain

Physical or mental activity often increases CFS symptoms.

Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue happens to everyone on occasion. It may be a lack of energy or weakness due to things that occur in your daily life, such as:

  • More strenuous physical activity than normal
  • Emotional or mental stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Boredom

Fatigue may also occur due to other conditions affecting your body or mind, such as:

Healthcare providers and researchers are not sure what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. A combination of multiple fatigue-causing factors may contribute to it.

How to Cope with Fatigue

Because so many things can cause fatigue, treating it can be a challenge. Your healthcare provider must determine what is most likely causing your fatigue to provide the best treatment.

There are several things you can try that may help ease the fatigue, including:

  • Make lifestyle adjustments: Certain lifestyle factors can help improve fatigue symptoms, including avoiding caffeine and alcohol, not smoking, and eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
  • Do things slowly and avoid using too much energy on any one task.
  • Reduce medications that cause drowsiness: They may be able to lower your dosages of medication that may be contributing to your fatigue or switch your medication to something less drowsy.
  • Take stimulant medications: If you have CFS, your healthcare provider may recommend stimulant medication, or neurostimulators, to help improve your energy levels. Neurostimulators are usually used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Prioritize your activities and tasks: You don't have to do it all in one day. Decide which activities are the most important to accomplish for the day, and do those first. Spreading out your activities throughout the day can also give you time to rest in between.
  • Massage therapy: This can help relieve any tension you're carrying in your body, reducing physical fatigue.

Practice Better Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is a series of good sleep habits that help you relax and sleep better at night. To sleep better and hopefully relieve fatigue, healthcare providers recommend you:

  • Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes, which may make you feel groggy or make it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet room
  • Do not use electronic devices right before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and large meals right before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly, but not late in the evening

Be Physically Active

Moderate physical activity can improve your energy levels and appetite. In addition, it can improve your outlook and mood and help you sleep better at night. Find an exercise you can do and do it consistently. Consider activities such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi, which can help you relax and renew your mind as well as your body.

Ask your healthcare provider for suggestions of activities you can safely do to be more active throughout the day. A physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist to learn safe and effective ways to increase your activity levels.

Always ask your doctor before beginning any new exercise plan, especially if you have medical conditions.

Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

CFS can be difficult to treat. Since CFS can fluctuate, you may feel exhausted for several days or even weeks at a time and then wake up feeling much better one day. When this happens, don’t do too much to make up for the other days, or you may “push and crash.”

"Push and crash" refers to pushing yourself too hard on the days you feel better and making yourself worse again as a result. Enjoy the day, but don't push to finish everything that has been piling up. Take it slow and pace yourself.

Talk to your doctor about the best ways to deal with your CFS. They may recommend typical fatigue treatments, such as good sleep hygiene, regular moderate activity, or changes in your diet or medications.

When to Talk to a Healthcare Provider

Fatigue can occur if you push yourself too hard physically or if you are sick. You may just need a few days to rest and recuperate. But if you are fatigued for several weeks or cannot do the things you need or want to do, call your healthcare provider. 

They will ask you questions about your lifestyle, such as your sleep habits, diet, and activity level. Then, they may examine you and order blood tests to rule out infections or chronic conditions that may be causing your fatigue. In some situations, they may prescribe medicine to help you sleep. A counselor or a therapist can help you manage emotional or mental conditions, such as depression or anxiety, which may contribute to fatigue or occur as a result of fatigue.

A Quick Review

Fatigue can happen to any of us, but it is not usually a long-term problem. If it becomes long-term, it may indicate a more serious problem that can affect your health and quality of life.

Fatigue can usually be treated by making lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, exercising, and eating a balanced diet. However, sometimes medications may be needed to help improve your sleep quality and/or keep you awake during the day.

Reach out to a healthcare provider if you feel fatigued for weeks or months at a time or if you are experiencing other symptoms of fatigue that are affecting your daily life.

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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. Feeling fatigued?.

  2. American Cancer Society. Managing fatigue or weakness.

  3. National Institute on Aging. Fatigue in older adults.

  4. MedlinePlus. Chronic fatigue syndrome | CFS.

  5. MedlinePlus. Fatigue.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for better sleep.

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