14 Reasons You're Always Tired

Feeling sluggish? Ditch these energy-draining habits.

Lack of sleep isn't the only thing sapping your energy. Little things you do (and don't do) can exhaust you mentally and physically, making getting through your day a chore.

Here, experts revealed common bad habits that can tire you, plus simple lifestyle tweaks that will put the pep back in your step.

Diet Choices

What you eat greatly impacts you. Missing certain key elements—or eating too many certain foods—can make you feel sluggish. 

Not Drinking Enough Water

Being even slightly dehydrated—as little as 2% of normal fluid loss—takes a toll on energy levels, Amy Goodson, RD, a registered dietitian specializing in health, wellness, and sports nutrition, told Health.

Dehydration causes a reduction in blood volume, explained Goodson, which makes the blood thicker. When your blood thickens, your heart pumps less efficiently. So, the speed at which oxygen and nutrients reach your muscles and organs slows down.

To calculate your normal fluid needs, take your weight in pounds, divide it in half, and drink that number of ounces of fluid a day, recommended Goodson. 

To ensure you meet your needs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:

  • Carrying around a water bottle
  • Serving water during meals
  • Opt for water when eating out
  • Adding lemon, lime, or other flavorings to water to give it taste

Not Eating Iron-Rich Foods

Iron helps move oxygen from your lungs to your tissues. Therefore, a lack of iron makes you tired because less oxygen travels to the muscles and cells. An iron deficiency can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable, weak, and unable to focus. 

A lack of iron can lead to anemia, a condition in which your body lacks red blood cells. To reduce your risk of anemia, boost your intake of iron-rich foods, which include:

  • Lean beef
  • Lima beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter

Additionally, vitamin C improves iron absorption when you eat the nutrients together. So, pair the foods above with foods high in vitamin C.

Remember: An iron deficiency may be due to an underlying health problem. So, if you're experiencing those symptoms, consulting a healthcare provider is essential.

Skipping Breakfast

The food you eat fuels your body. When you sleep, your body continues using what you consumed at dinner the night before to keep your blood pumping and oxygen flowing. So, when you wake up in the morning, you may feel sluggish if you don't refuel by eating breakfast.

A breakfast that includes whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat can help give you energy for the day and help you feel satiated for longer. Some examples of nutrient-packed meals include:

  • Plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Whole-grain toast topped with peanut butter and sliced bananas
  • Egg scramble with vegetables

One study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that people who ate eggs for breakfast had more energy than people who ate cereal.

Eating Too Much Junk Food

Foods loaded with sugar and simple carbohydrates rank high on the glycemic index (GI), an indicator of how rapidly carbohydrates increase blood sugar. Your body digests simple carbohydrates quickly to give you an immediate boost of energy.

"Constant blood sugar spikes followed by sharp drops cause fatigue over the course of the day," explained Goodson. "Keep blood sugar steady by having a lean protein along with a whole grain at every meal."

Some meal ideas to keep you energized sustainably include:

  • Chicken (baked, not fried) and brown rice
  • Salmon and sweet potato
  • Salad with chicken and fruit

You can also try giving yourself a pep talk using the third person. A study published in 2020 in Clinical Psychological Science found that people who were asked to choose between healthy and unhealthy food could talk themselves into healthy food. The participants who used the third person in their pep talks were likelier to pick the healthy food than those who didn't.

Having a Glass of Wine (or Two) Before Bed

A nightcap sounds like a good way to unwind before falling asleep. But that glass of wine before bed can easily backfire.

"Alcohol initially depresses the central nervous system, producing a sedative effect," Amir Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine, P.C., told Health. "But it ultimately sabotages sleep maintenance. Alcohol creates a rebound effect as it's metabolized, which creates an abrupt surge in the adrenaline system."

So, you're more likely to wake up in the middle of the night after drinking. Dr. Towfigh recommended stopping all alcohol three to four hours before bedtime for uninterrupted sleep.

Relying on Caffeine To Get Through the Day

Starting your morning with a cup of coffee is no big deal. But having caffeine too late in the day can seriously disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Caffeine blocks adenosine, the byproduct of active cells that drives you to sleep as it accumulates, explained Dr. Towfigh.

One study published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime affects sleep.

So, to avoid caffeine keeping you up at night, cut yourself off by mid-afternoon. You may not realize that certain foods and drinks have caffeine in them, so watch out for surprising sources of caffeine, which include:

  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Snack bars
  • Some ice cream flavors, like coffee and chocolate
  • Several pain relievers

Mental Habits

Sometimes, patterns of thinking we've cultivated over time can interfere with our sleep or zap our energy throughout the day. Here are some mental habits that can leave you feeling exhausted.

Wanting To Be Perfect

Striving to be perfect—which, let's face it, is impossible—makes you work much harder and longer than necessary, Irene S. Levine, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, told Health.

"You set goals that are so unrealistic that they are difficult or impossible to achieve, and in the end, there is no sense of self-satisfaction," explained Levine.

Levine recommended setting a time limit for yourself on your projects and taking care to obey it. Other suggestions include the following:

  • Adjusting expectations for yourself
  • Talk to someone about your tendencies to get perspective
  • talking positively to yourself instead of negatively
  • Regularly monitoring your progress

In time, you'll realize that the extra time you took wasn't improving your work.

Thinking the Worst

If you assume you're about to get fired when your boss calls you into an unexpected meeting, or you're too afraid to ride your bike because you worry you'll get into an accident, then you're guilty of "catastrophizing." In other words, you expect that the worst-case scenario will always occur.

The anxiety caused by catastrophizing can paralyze you and make you mentally exhausted, said Levine. When you have those thoughts, take a deep breath and ask yourself how likely the worst will happen. 

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America also recommends the following:

  • Taking a break with a relaxing activity, such as yoga, meditation, or listening to music
  • Sharing your concerns with a friend or a family member
  • Counting to 10 slowly
  • Learning what triggers your anxiety

Having Trouble Saying 'No'

People-pleasing often comes at the expense of your energy and happiness. Worse, it can make you resentful and angry over time. So you don't have to say yes, whether it's your kid's coach asking you to bake cookies for their soccer team or your boss seeing if you can work on a Saturday.

Train yourself to say 'no' out loud, Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Cleveland Clinic in Wooster, Ohio, told Health.

"Try it alone in your car," said Albers-Bowling. "Hearing yourself say the word aloud makes it easier to say it when the next opportunity calls for it."

Another easy strategy? Pausing to think or telling someone else you need time to think before committing to something. In a study published in 2014 in PLoS One, researchers showed that taking a beat before making a decision increases the likelihood that you'll be happy with your decision.

Work Habits

Work can be stressful enough on its own. Your job can become even more draining if you've developed unhealthy work-related habits that leave you exhausted. Here are two habits that you may want to work on.

Having a Messy Office

Some evidence suggests that a cluttered desk mentally exhausts you by restricting your focus and limiting your brain's ability to process information. One study published in 2018 in Current Psychology found a link between the clutter in the home and worse life satisfaction among older adults.

Making time to regularly de-clutter your desk, rather than letting your things accumulate, can prevent your space from becoming overwhelmingly cluttered. 

"At the end of each day, make sure your work and personal items are organized and put away," Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist, told Health. "It will help you have a positive start to your day the next morning."

If your office needs major reorganization, avoid becoming overwhelmed by taking it one step at a time. Start tidying what you can see, then move through your desk and cabinets drawer by drawer.

Working Through Vacation

Checking your e-mail when you should be relaxing by the pool puts you at risk of burnout, a mix of feelings that are closely related to depressive symptoms. Unplugging and allowing yourself to truly unwind allows your mind and body to rejuvenate and return to the office stronger than before.

In one study published in 2016 in Leisure/Loisir, researchers surveyed 3,500 full-time workers in Canada. The researchers found that people were healthier and reported better life satisfaction the more vacation days they took.

To truly cut yourself off from work while on vacation, try leaving your phone in a different room or—if you can—leave it at your hotel when you go out. If you want no choice but to disconnect, try going on vacation somewhere with no Internet service.

Lifestyle Habits

And, of course, many of our decisions around exercise and bedtime can directly affect how rested we feel during the day. Here are some common mistakes people make when moving their bodies and getting adequate sleep.

Checking E-mails at Bedtime

The glaring light of a tablet, smartphone, or your computer's backlit screen can throw off your body's natural circadian rhythm. The light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, according to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends powering down screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. And if you can't avoid checking your device before your head hits the pillow, try putting it in dark mode. Or simply decrease the screen's brightness.

Skipping Exercise When You're Tired

If you feel like you're running on empty, skipping exercise is probably best. But if you're just a bit energy-deprived, skipping a workout to save energy may work against you. 

Researchers studied sedentary but otherwise healthy adults in a metastudy published in 2013 in Fatigue: Biomedicine Health & Behavior. The participants began exercising lightly three days a week for as little as 20 minutes. The researchers reported that those adults felt less tired and more energized after six weeks.

Regular exercise boosts strength and endurance, helps your cardiovascular system run more efficiently, and delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. 

Crashing on the couch instead of exercising can be tempting. But the American Heart Association recommends the following tips to make exercising more painless:

  • Find an exercise you enjoy.
  • Build activity into your schedule so you don't have to give up something else to do it.
  • Break it up into smaller workout sessions.
  • Don't quit, even if you miss a day or two.

Staying Up Late on Weekends

Staying up on Saturday night and then sleeping in Sunday morning leads to difficulty falling asleep Sunday night, making for a sleepy start to the week.

To ensure that you don't put a dent in your weekday sleep pattern, try the following on weekends:

  • Try not to stay out late so you can go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time you usually do on weekends.
  • If you have a late night, still try to wake up close to your normal time.
  • If you're tired, take a power nap in the afternoon instead of sleeping late.

"Napping for 20 minutes or so allows the body to recharge without entering the deeper stages of sleep, which can cause you to wake up more tired," said Dr. Towfigh.

A Quick Review

Getting a good's night sleep doesn't automatically mean you'll feel energized. Poor diet choices or overworking can make you lose the pep in your step, as can skipping exercise and messing with your sleep pattern on weekends. 

However, there's always time to change your habits and, in turn, your energy level.

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