Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are different, but they often occur together. Over time, repeated physical exhaustion can lead to mental fatigue.
Poor sleep, especially for long periods of time, can also lead to fatigue. Official recommendations are that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. However, according to some studies, about one-third of Americans say they don't get enough sleep.
A healthy diet and regular physical activity can help reduce fatigue for many people. Treating the underlying cause of fatigue, whether it's poor sleep or a medical condition, can also help.
When fatigue affects safety, it becomes a public health issue. A person who is severely fatigued may exhibit behaviors similar to those of an intoxicated person.
This article will explore the types of fatigue, some of its causes, and the treatment options available.
Types of fatigue
There are two main types of fatigue: physical fatigue and mental fatigue.
People who are physically tired may find it difficult to do things they normally do, such as climbing stairs. Symptoms include muscle weakness, and diagnosis may require completion of strength tests.
When mentally fatigued, a person may find it difficult to focus and stay focused. They may feel sleepy or have difficulty staying awake while working.
Is it drowsiness or fatigue?
Drowsiness occurs when a person does not get enough quality sleep or lacks stimulation. It can also be a symptom of a medical condition that interferes with sleep, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.
Drowsiness is more likely to be short-term than fatigue. It can usually be treated with regular, consistent sleep.
However, fatigue—especially chronic fatigue—is often related to a health condition or problem. It can also be its own chronic condition, called chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis.
causes of fatigue
Fatigue is associated with many health conditions and lifestyle factors. These are outlined in more detail in the following sections.
mental health issues
Fatigue is a common symptom of clinical depression and may be caused by depression itself or related problems such as insomnia.
The following mental health issues can also cause fatigue:
- bereavement and grief
- eating disorder
- Emotional exhaustion or burnout
- life events, such as moving or divorce
Endocrine and metabolic causes
Health conditions and other factors that affect hormones may contribute to fatigue. These include:
- Cushing's syndrome
- kidney disease
- electrolyte problems
- Thyroid disease
- Hormonal birth control, including birth control pills and implants
Certain medications can cause fatigue. These include:
- some antidepressants
- anxiety medication
- antihypertensive drugs
Stopping the medication can also cause fatigue until the body adapts. Changes in dosage may also be the cause.
heart and lung disease
Heart and lung diseases can affect blood flow in the body or cause inflammation and may lead to fatigue. These include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- heart valve disease
- coronary heart disease
- congestive heart failure
The following sleep factors can also contribute to fatigue:
- Working late
- shift work
- jet lag
- sleep apnea
- Reflux esophagitis
chemicals and substances
Vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies and intoxication can all interfere with sleep and cause fatigue.
Drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can also disrupt sleep, especially before bed. Using products containing nicotine can also disrupt sleep.
A variety of health conditions can cause fatigue, including:
- heart disease
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- Weakened immune system
- systemic lupus
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- inflammatory bowel disease
- Cancer and cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- heavy blood loss
Fatigue can also be a symptom of infection. Some infections that cause extreme fatigue include:
- infectious monocytes
People with chronic pain may wake up frequently during the night. They may also wake up feeling tired and poorly rested and unable to get quality sleep.
The combination of chronic pain and lack of sleep can lead to persistent tiredness and fatigue.
In one study on fibromyalgia and sleep, half of the people with fibromyalgia also had sleep apnea, which can cause fatigue.
being overweight or underweight
Being overweight increases the risk of fatigue by increasing the risk of conditions such as diabetes or sleep apnea in which fatigue is a common symptom.
Carrying more weight and experiencing joint or muscle pain may cause or worsen fatigue.
Likewise, people who are underweight may tire easily, depending on the cause of their condition. Eating disorders, cancer, chronic illness, and hyperthyroidism can all cause weight loss as well as excessive tiredness and fatigue.
Too much or too little activity
Fatigued people may feel unable to exercise, and a lack of exercise can lead to further fatigue. Lack of exercise can eventually lead to physical discomfort, making it more difficult and tiring to perform physical tasks.
Fatigue can also affect healthy people after prolonged, strenuous mental or physical activity.
The main symptom of fatigue is exhaustion from physical or mental activity. A person does not feel refreshed after resting or sleeping.
They may also have difficulty performing daily activities, including working, doing household chores, and caring for others.
Symptoms of fatigue may be physical, mental, or emotional.
Common symptoms related to fatigue include:
- muscle pain or soreness
- Apathetic and unmotivated
- daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating or learning new tasks
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea
- Irritability or moodiness
- Reaction time slows down
- vision problems, such as blurring
Symptoms tend to become worse after exertion. They may appear a few hours after activity or exercise, or they may appear the next day.
Diagnosis can be difficult because the causes and symptoms of fatigue are varied and nonspecific.
The doctor may ask the following related questions:
- nature of fatigue
- Patterns of fatigue, such as times of day when symptoms worsen or improve, and whether napping helps
- human sleep quality
- A person's emotional state and stress level
A person can help diagnose this by recording the total amount of time they sleep each night and how often they wake up each night.
The doctor will perform a physical exam to check for signs of illness and ask what medications the person is taking.
They also ask about lifestyle habits, including diet, caffeine use, drug use, alcohol consumption, and work and sleep patterns.
Diagnostic testing can help diagnose the underlying cause of fatigue. Depending on other symptoms, urine tests, imaging scans, mental health questionnaires and blood tests may be needed.
Tests like these can help rule out physical causes such as infection, hormonal problems, anemia, liver problems, or kidney problems.
Your doctor may also order a sleep study to rule out sleep disorders.
If they diagnose a disease, they will recommend appropriate treatment.
To effectively treat fatigue, doctors need to find and diagnose the underlying cause.
Choosing the right treatment for your condition can help relieve fatigue.
Getting quality sleep is an important part of managing fatigue.
Maintain good sleep hygiene:
- Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off.
- Set the bedroom temperature to a comfortable level. The Sleep Foundation recommends a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make sure the room is dark and quiet.
- Avoid looking at screens an hour before bed, as light and sound from TV, computers or mobile phones can stimulate brain activity and affect sleep quality.
- Avoid eating shortly before bed.
- As bedtime approaches, try to slow down physically and mentally. Taking a warm bath or listening to some soothing music before bed can help clear your brain of stress and worrying thoughts.
It may also be helpful to keep a sleep diary to spot patterns.
Diet can affect how tired or energetic a person feels. Maintaining a moderate and balanced diet can lead to better health and better sleep.
Here are some tips to try:
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
- Eat low-sugar snacks.
- Avoid highly processed foods and follow a healthy diet.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
There are many foods that can help relieve fatigue.
Regular physical activity can help reduce fatigue and improve sleep.
People who have not exercised for a while should start exercising gradually. A doctor or exercise therapist can help.
People should exercise during the most productive times of the day.
yoga and mindfulness
In an earlier study from 2010, people with multiple sclerosis who completed 2 months of mindfulness meditation reported reduced fatigue, anxiety, and depression, as well as improved quality of life.
Another earlier study in 2010 found that the benefits of yoga could partially improve fatigue symptoms and sleep quality in cancer survivors. The 4-week course includes postures, meditation, breathing and other techniques.
Fatigue and driving
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people to familiarize themselves with the warning signs for road drowsiness.
A survey they conducted found that approximately 1 in 25 drivers aged 18 and older fell asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days.
If a driver finds themselves engaging in any of the following behaviors, they should pull over to take a break or change drivers:
- yawn and blink
- Can't remember how many miles they've driven lately
- missing exit
- drift across driveway
- Drive onto the rumble strip
- difficulty concentrating
A range of health conditions and lifestyle factors, such as diabetes, depression and chronic pain, can contribute to fatigue.
If fatigue and sleepiness are affecting a person's daily life and none of the advice in this article works, then they should see their doctor for advice.
To help with diagnosis, people can keep a log of their sleep habits and symptoms. Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor will be able to recommend some appropriate treatment options.