Why am I tired all the time?

Feeling exhausted is so common that it has its own acronym, TATT, which stands for ‘tired all the time’.

Dr Rupal Shah, a GP in south London, says tiredness is one of the most common complaints she sees in her surgery. “I see loads and loads of patients who complain of feeling exhausted, even though they’re sleeping well. Often it’s been going on for several months.”

At any given time, one in five people feels unusually tired, and one in 10 have prolonged fatigue, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Women tend to feel tired more than men.

“It’s unusual to find anything physically wrong. Most of the time, fatigue is linked with mood and the accumulation of lots of little stresses in life,” says Dr Shah.

Dr Shah says she routinely takes a blood test from patients complaining of tiredness to rule out a medical cause, such as anaemia or an underactive thyroid gland.

“There’s more chance of a medical reason for tiredness if there are other symptoms as well, such as heavy periods, weight loss, a change in bowel habits, hair loss, extreme thirst and so on.”

If you want to work out how you became tired in the first place, it can help to think about:

  • parts of your life, such as work and family, that might be particularly tiring
  • any events that may have triggered your tiredness, for instance, a bereavement or relationship break-up
  • how your lifestyle may be making you tired.

Physical causes of tiredness

There are lots of health complaints that can make you feel tired. Not just the well-recognised ones like anaemia and thyroid problems, but also more surprising ailments, such as diabetes and food intolerance.

Read more about the medical causes of tiredness.

Being overweight or underweight can cause tiredness. That’s because your body has to work harder than normal to do everyday activities. If you’re underweight, you have less muscle strength, and you may feel tired more quickly.

Pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks, can also sap your energy.

Psychological causes of tiredness

Psychological tiredness is far more common than tiredness that's caused by a physical problem.

One key reason is anxiety, which can cause insomnia and in turn lead to persistent fatigue. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly a third of the population are severely sleep-deprived, often because of job and money worries. The Foundation’s report, Sleep Matters, suggests a link between insomnia and low energy levels.

The worries and strains of daily life can be exhausting, even positive events, such as moving house or getting married. And emotional shock, such as bad news, bereavement or the break-up of a relationship, can make you feel drained.

Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety can make you feel more tired. They can also prevent you from getting a proper night's sleep.

If you think your tiredness may be rooted in low mood, try this short audio-guide to dealing with your sleep problems.

Lifestyle causes of tiredness

Tiredness can often be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as drinking too much alcohol, or having a bad diet. If you drink alcohol in the evening, it tends to wake you in the middle of the night. And if you drink a lot regularly, it can make you depressed and affect your sleep. “I’m always surprised to find how often patients who complain of tiredness are drinking far too much,” says Dr Shah.

If you have a disturbed sleep pattern – for instance if you work night shifts, sleep in the day or look after young children – it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and you’ll feel tired during the day.

Read more about how to change your lifestyle to boost your energy.

How to tackle tiredness

It may be common to feel tired all the time but it isn’t normal. If you’re worried, see your doctor for advice and reassurance. “We can rule out anything serious,” says Dr Shah. “Just knowing there’s nothing wrong can be reassuring in itself.”

Page last reviewed: 21/02/2013

Next review due: 21/02/2015

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Comments

The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Norfolk Maiden said on 24 October 2013

Not one mention of sleep apnoea? I was diagnosed about 5 years ago with it. Constantly tired as I was stopping breathing loads of times in the night as when I relaxed, my throat closed.

I was totally unaware that there was anything wrong except that I felt completely exhausted all of the time.

Simple questionnaire at the doctors, a visit to the hospital and a night's stay in the sleep clinic where they gave me a CPAP mask. Boy! When I woke up, I was totally amazed. Everything was clear and bright.

I love my mask, she's called Daft Ada as I always joke about sounding like Darth Vader when I sleep.

I think loads of people have this without realising it, especially if you are or have been overweight.

If you think this may be an issue for you, please go and get it checked out. You won't regret it!

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anjgi said on 10 June 2013

I had eating issues from a very young age and was a thin, weak child. As I grew older I got tired very quickly and was overly anxious. Thankfully, I conquered my eating issues and am now a much more confident and less anxious person but I have suffered from extreme tiredness all my life. Now I'm in my mid fifties and going through the menopause. I feel completely drained and very very depressed. I am loathe to go to my GP with yet another issue which is treated with disdain. It has just taken two months to get an appointment for a ultrasound on my arm (I have lumps which are painful and need investigating, but there is no rush on it - I presume it's not serious, but they don't tell you, even if you press for more information). I do not want to be put on HRT - I've managed so far without it and I am over the worst of the menopause now - flushes have all but gone, it's just the extreme tiredness and depression. I do not take medication well. I tend to worry about the side-effects and I do not want to end up on drugs for the rest of my life. I am not anemic. I do not have a deficiency of anything but youth. I hate getting old and feeling useless. I go to bed tired. I sleep well. I wake up tired. Everything aches. What's the point of it all?

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MagicWandsAliya said on 02 June 2013

Im a Women aged 18 and i work 5 days a week full time... Recently ive started to feel really tired even though ive had 8 hours of sleep, i find it very difficult to get out of bed and during the day i feel extremely lazy. a couple of months ago, i never had this problem and suddenly it has come upon me. I dont know what to do or what to take to get my energy levels up and running to stop me from becoming lazy... any advice?

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Deckytwotimes said on 16 May 2013

Well Im not a women, but a reasonably fit guy of 56. I play golf now but have always played a great deal of sport.Over the last year I have felt increasingly tired, with my body aching quite alot every morning or when I exert myeslf to any level. This is really alien to me......Is this normal for someone my age or should I be seeing a doctor ?

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Deckytwotimes said on 16 May 2013

Well Im not a women, but a reasonably fit guy of 56. I play golf now but have always played a great deal of sport.Over the last year I have felt increasingly tired, with my body aching quite alot every morning or when I exert myeslf to any level. This is really alien to me......Is this normal for someone my age or should I be seeing a doctor ?

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soozybee said on 08 July 2012

You are tired all the time because you eat too many carbs causing insulin spikes throughout the day.

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 21 May 2012

We've reviewed the evidence sources for this article and agree that latest evidence does not support the statement that 'breastfeeding can 'sap your energy', so it has been removed.

Thank you,
Kathryn Bingham, Live Well Editor

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Bunnys Mummy said on 02 May 2012

Breast feeding is shown to provide better sleep - I am saddened that an NHS article is not properly researched
Please see the link to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett's research on sleep in CLinical Lactation -- which says exactly the opposite about breastfeeding and fatigue!!!
http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/kendall-tackett_CL_2-2.pdf

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esm17 said on 01 May 2012

Your Tired All The Time article is inaccurate to say that breastfeeding saps energy. I'm concerned mothers may be persuaded to wean prematurely because of it.

Quoting from Breastfeeding Answers MadeSimple by
Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA pub 2010 by Hale p87
"When mothers stop breastfeeding, their fatigue level does not change (Wambach, 1998). In fact ... One US study of 113 new mothers found that
breastfeeding mothers averaged 40-45 minutes more sleep at night during the first three months, the authors (Doan et al, 2007) wrote "formula feeding not only failed to improve parent sleep, but actually resulted in parents getting less sleep, even when fathers helped during the night with supplementation feedings." "

From the same page "breastfeeding mothers spend more time in a type of deep sleep called slow wave sleep (Blyton et al 2002 p297)" References Wambach, KA (1998) Maternal fatigue in breastfeeding primaparae during the
first nine weeks postpartum Journal of human Lactation, 14 (3) 219-229.
Doan, Gardiner, Gay and Lee, 2007 Breastfeeding increases sleep duration of new parents. Journal of perinatal and neonatal nursing, 21(3), 200-206.
Blyton et al 2002 Lactation is associated with an increase in slow-wave sleep in women, Journal of sleep research, 11(4), 297-303.

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kathybramley said on 12 November 2011

The wellcome site's subtle text background needs changing; not very helpful!

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