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Fighting fatigue: Here’s why you’re tired without knowing why

For most of us the underlying causes triggering chronic tiredness are lifestyle-related and can be managed, with or without prescription medicines.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 28, 2015 16:03 IST
Sanchita Sharma
According to a study published in the journal Human Factors, emotional stress and frustration can leave you physically exhausted.
According to a study published in the journal Human Factors, emotional stress and frustration can leave you physically exhausted. (Shutterstock)

Too exhausted to get out of bed to face the day? Most people blame it on insomnia and disrupted sleep, which may well be the case, but sleeplessness is just one of the many factors that turns you into a grumpy gnome at the thought of getting started each day.

Sleeplessness could be sign of stress, sleep apnea and/or depression, and persistent, relapsing fatigue after six to eight hours of sleep could indicate an undiagnosed disease, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), cancers, or congestive heart failure, among others.

For most of us, however, the underlying causes triggering chronic tiredness are lifestyle-related and can be managed, with or without prescription medicines.

Mental stress

Emotional stress and frustration can leave you physically exhausted, reported a study in published online in the journal Human Factors. The study found that overloading the brain and body simultaneously activates a specific area in the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which controls planning complex thoughts, decision making, and moderating social behaviour. Too much stress on it fatigues you faster.

Under stress, adrenalin peaks and raises heart rate and blood pressure, tenses muscles and makes breathing rapid and shallow. The hormone cortisol stimulates the release of energy, flooding the body with glucose, fatty acids and amino acids. Prolonged stress, however, forces the body to cope with this heightened state of physical stress, making it collapse as soon as your guard drops.

Pollution

Exhaustion caused by pollution is compounded by complex interactions between SO2, CO and NO2. (Virendra Singh Gosain / Hindustan Times)

Air pollution, both outdoor and indoor, makes you lethargic, forgetful and lowers productivity. Apart from irritating the airways and lungs and causing asthma and lung diseases, PM10 (fine particle matter, dust, soot) and Ozone destroy red blood cells and lower the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity, starving the brain, muscles and organs of oxygen. The resulting exhaustion is compounded by complex interactions between SO2, CO and NO2, reported researchers in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics in June.

Among the indoor air pollutants that cause fatigue are secondhand smoke that tends to cling on linen, carpeting and upholstery, carbon monoxide that depletes oxygen levels in the body and starves muscles and vital organs of sustenance, and volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals found in paints, cleaning agents, varnishes, pesticides, air fresheners, and building material.

Anaemia

Fatigue is the most common symptom of anaemia, which occurs when your body does not have enough haemoglobin – the iron-containing protein in red blood cells -- to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Even mild anaemia makes you tired, sluggish, forgetful and absentminded.

If the deficiency is not acute, an iron-rich diet is enough to push haemoglobin levels over the recommended 13 gm/dl. Haem iron -- from animal sources such as red meat, chicken, liver, shrimp, oysters and eggs – have high bioavailability and are easily absorbed by the body, with 15-35% being utilised by the body as compared to the 2-10% from iron found in fortified cereals, legumes, leafy vegetables, dried peas, beans, dried apricots and raisins.

Cooking in an iron pot or pan pushes up iron-content in cooked food while having vitamin C with meals -- fresh lemon or citrus fruit juice, for example – raises iron absorption from vegetarian food by making the stomach more acidic. Tea, coffee, colas and other caffeine drinks lower absorption.

Depression

Depression affects twice as many women as men and the signs usually first appear between the ages of 15 and 30 years. (Shutterstock)

Fatigue is a major symptom of depressive disorders, with most people affected different degrees of lethargy, easy fatigability, and marked lack of energy. Depressive disorders are usually accompanied with other emotional disturbance, diminished focus, word-finding difficulties, and recall problems, reports the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. The lethargy is likely to be accompanied with feelings of low self worth, nervousness, sleeplessness, overeating or appetite loss and excessive worrying.

Fatigue often continues to affect people with depression who are on antidepressant medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Since depression affects twice as many women as men and signs usually first appear between the ages of 15 and 30 years, getting diagnosed helps in mood management.

Read: Disturbed sleep is more harmful to you than lack of sleep

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, causes overwhelming, debilitating fatigue from unexplained causes. Suspected triggers include immune system gone awry, nutritional deficiencies, viral infection and metabolic abnormalities, but there is no agreement on the causes. Most people with CFS also have recurring headaches, muscles and joint pain and muscular weakness.

A new study released this week reported that people with chronic fatigue have higher levels of visual stress and experienced discomfort and exhaustion from viewing repetitive striped patterns, such as when reading text. The results of the study, which is published in the journal Perception, suggest visual system abnormalities in people with CFS are an identifiable and easily measurable behavioural marker and can help in its diagnosis.