By Marika Berni, ND
There is something about this time of year that makes me want to curl up on my couch and watch Netflix all day. It could be the cooler weather, the shorter days and the increased pace that come hand in hand with fall, but when it becomes a consistent feeling and begins to affect how you function (or more likely, don’t function) I think we begin to worry. Fatigue can be constant, felt right from the moment we wake up until our heads hit our pillow, it can be an afternoon slump, or falling asleep in front of the television way to early at night. It can be the reason we are not as productive, or lack motivation. It can be why we feel down and not up to socializing. It is probably the number one complaint that I get in my office.
Fatigue can be a sign of a greater underlying issue or disease but usually it is caused by lifestyle factors, which can be identified and supported. Your goal is to wake up on your own in the morning with lots of jump in your step ready and excited to start your day. I want my patient’s energy to be high (at least an 8 or 9 out of 10) consistently throughout the day without the need for caffeine or sugar. There should be no dips in energy levels!
Here are some of the common causes of fatigue accompanied by the typical questions I would ask my patients when they are in my office.
How many hours do you sleep? Do you wake up at night? Do you have trouble falling asleep?
Ok, I know this is obvious. We all know that we need 8 hours of deep restful sleep every night. If you do not get 7-8 hours a night then you will feel tired. My patients complain that they stay up late because they are “trying to get it all done”. My argument is that if they were properly rested they would be more efficient in their day! Did you know that it is important to try to keep the same routine even on weekends? Your body wants to follow its’ circadian rhythm and sleeping in on weekends may throw that off. Try to stick to the hours of 10 or 11pm – 6 or 7 am. The hours between 10-2 am, are very important for your body to regenerate, rebalance and restore itself. If you had a late night then you can try to have a 30 minute nap at some point the next day, but stay on schedule. Waking at night can be a sign of high cortisol and stress, or low blood sugar. Trouble falling asleep could be caused by too much caffeine in your day. By assessing your quality of sleep and prioritizing your sleep routine you can have an effective, safe and stimulant free effect on your daily energy levels.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Do you have cravings? Do you reach for a quick fix of energy such as carbohydrates or sugary foods? Do you feel shaky between meals? Are you tired if you skip a meal?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may be having trouble controlling your blood sugar and this may be the cause of your fatigue. Skipping breakfast, eating at irregular times and going too long between meals can result in low blood sugar levels. When this happens we inevitably reach for a quick carbohydrate food (muffin, bread, crackers, chocolate bar, pasta) to bring our glucose levels back up. But without adequate fiber, protein or healthy fat our blood sugar is sure to drop within 1-2 hours again, creating a vicious cycle of cravings and fatigue. We can see this clearly in children at a party when they are given carte blanche to have birthday cake and lots of treats. They are full of energy for about an hour or so, and then crash with tears and exhaustion not long after.
Have you ever noticed that you feel tired after eating?
It is common for my patients to tell me that their energy crashes after lunch. I have had patients who actually skip lunch as they know they will get tired and do not want it to affect their work performance or be caught napping at their desk after lunch. It is vital for good consistent energy that you eat a well balanced meal 3 times a day with snacks in between, but what do you do if it makes you feel tired? Food sensitivities to foods such as wheat or sugar can make you foggy headed or fatigued. It is important to identify whether any specific food affecting you and reduce or remove it from your diet.
What is your stress level out of 10?
With this question I explain to my patients that I don’t mean how stressed do they think they should feel, considering the things going on in their lives. I want to know how they actually feel. People have the capacity to handle stress differently. Some of our ability to handle stress is actually already genetically programmed. For example, I can have a patient who is a single mother of 3, working full time, who tells me she is not stressed at all. Then I can have a retired women, in a happy relationship, with loads of free time, who complains of feeling very stressed. These two women have different genetic make ups, coping strategies and could also have different hormonal/physical stressors. Stress fatigues us by affecting our sleep patterns, and by depleting the nutrients necessary to produce adrenal gland hormones which are released when we are stressed.
Nutrient Depletions and Hormone Imbalances
Do you wake up feeling tired despite 8 hours of sleep?
When I see a patient who still wake up fatigued despite making positive sleep hygiene changes, eats a healthy diet and exercises regularly, I know I need to dig deeper. Checking serum levels of iron, Vitamin B12 and thyroid hormones can often uncover the cause of my patient’s fatigue.
Fatigue Fighting Check List
- Assess and improve sleep hygiene habits.
- Balance your blood sugar levels.
- Reduce energy robbers.
- Support your adrenals.
- Ask your Naturopathic doctor to do blood work to assess for nutrient depletions.
- Assess for food sensitivities.
Book an appointment with Dr. Berni to see how she can help you support your health.
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