Why Are We Too Tired to Get Healthier?

If you have an energy deficit, it is more challenging to step up physical activity or change your diet – two basic steps to a healthier lifestyle.

If you have an energy deficit, it is more challenging to step up physical activity or change your diet – two basic steps to a healthier lifestyle. To start the cycle on healthier habits, it’s necessary to get to the bottom of what’s making you tired.

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the World Cancer Research Fund, 38% of adults “lack the motivation” to make healthy changes in their lives. Of those, 35% said they were “too tired.” (1)

Adults are battling energy deficits and mounting stress.

Human beings require a certain amount of energy to keep their bodies moving, their cells powered, and their minds functioning. The ideal is to operate with an energy surplus. However, if your energy becomes depleted due to high levels of stress, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, or illness, you’re going to be living with an “energy deficit.” That will translate in your body and mind as feeling tired.

If you’re in deficit mode, you are certainly not going to have the ability to step up physical activity or have the interest in changing your diet – two basic steps to a healthier lifestyle. To start the cycle on healthier habits, it’s necessary to get to the bottom of what’s making you tired.

Some reasons why Americans are tired

There is a wide range of origins for our depleted energy as a population. Some may require intervention from a medical professional. You may be able to resolve some yourself or you may need a little guidance. Either way, the following causes of fatigue are formidable obstacles to taking care of your health.

Lack of Physical Activity. While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise if you’re tired, it’s not. One strenuous bout of activity may make you feel more tired, but regular physical activity several times a week will boost energy overall. Frequent exercise leads our bodies to produce more mitochondria, the part of the cell responsible for energy production, which increases the amount of energy our body can produce. (2)

Processed and Sugary Foods. These are energy culprits. They can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar accompanied by a burst of energy, then a crash of fatigue. These foods generally do not provide the nutrients your body needs such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and vitamin C as well as sodium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and fatty acids.

Not Enough Sleep. The ideal according to experts is nine hours of sleep per night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that one-third of adults get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. Not only can lack of sleep make you tired and unable to concentrate, but chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and immune system impairment.

Medical Conditions. The following have been known to cause tiredness, often because they disrupt sleep.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Pauses in breathing can cause wakening and non-restorative sleep.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The cause is unknown but triggers include stress and viral infections.
  • Diabetes Type 1 and 2: Lack of insulin in the body means cells don’t get the energy they need to function normally.
  • Fibromyalgia: Characterized by widespread bodily pain, this can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and sleep.
  • Infection (bacterial, viral or parasitic): Fatigue can set in as the body’s immune system attempts to recover.
  • Depression: Feeling too tired to do anything often accompanies depression. Energy levels decline and symptoms such as sadness and emptiness exacerbate feelings of fatigue.

The stress connection

Much like the process that happens with sweets and blood sugar, stress triggers adrenaline in the “fight-or-flight” defensive mode. In a real emergency, adrenaline can make you run or think faster to deal with the danger at hand. However, once the threat has subsided and your hormones have returned to normal, you’ll feel a “crash.” That tiredness comes about when your body realizes how much energy it took to keep you in that heightened state for as long as it thought it was needed.

Another hormone that acts in a similar way is cortisol. Under normal circumstances, it regulates blood sugar, helps with inflammation, and regulates metabolism. When your body perceives a threat, cortisol will work to shut down non-essential functions so your brain and body can concentrate on keeping you safe. If this is happening on a long-term or frequent basis (as with chronic stress), it can affect sleep cycles and lead to chronic fatigue.

While suggestions abound for reducing everyday stress, including meditating, connecting with others, avoiding unhealthy habits, and keeping a journal, chronic stress isn’t easily addressed. There may be underlying issues that have risen to the surface and need your attention. In this case, reaching out to a licensed professional counselor with your employer’s EAP may be a helpful way to get to the bottom of why you’re stressed, and consequently, so tired.

It helps to know what’s what

Finding out what is making you tired is a great first step toward your own personal path to improved health. If you’re having a medical issue, your physician is the place to start. Otherwise, allow yourself to be guided and motivated without any pressure to do anything you don’t want to do by a health coach who’s trained in the science of behavior change. If your employer doesn’t offer health coaching as part of your well-being benefits, speak with your manager or your human resources director about new ideas for helping employees like you get healthy.

(1) 'Too tired' to be healthy? You're not alone. (advisory.com)
(2) https://www.forbes.com/health/body/why-you-are-always-tired/

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People usually want to be healthier. But getting started in a program and staying motivated can be tough. That’s why employer-initiated health coaching is so valuable.