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7 Surprising Reasons You’re Tired All the Time—and How to Beat Them

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1. You’re never done with your to-do list.

Overstuffed agendas are just like cracks in the pavement—they can trip you up and bring you down. “If your list is too long, you’re going to feel defeated because what you do accomplish is just a drop in the bucket,” explains organizing expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. Extra-long to-do lists are good for only one thing: draining your energy.

To make your goals achievable, think of every day as a container. “You’re only going to fit so much,” says Morgenstern. Then become a “time realist” as you write down approximately how long each chore will take and when you can actually accomplish it, whether that’s this afternoon or next month. “Once your list is conquerable, you will feel empowered instead of overwhelmed,” she says.

2. Waking up exhausted after a full night’s sleep is your new normal.

Just because you were in bed for seven hours doesn’t mean you got a good night’s rest. “Sometimes there’s a quality issue, not a quantity issue when it comes to sleep,” says clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, PhD, who is board certified in clinical sleep disorders. More than 50 million Americans suffer from disruptive conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (which causes you to repeatedly stop breathing for at least 10 seconds while asleep) and periodic limb movement disorder (in which repetitive body twitches interrupt precious shut-eye). Common problems like night sweats, heartburn and general pain (such as lower back discomfort or a headache) can also rob you of restorative hours. Physical discomfort changes your brainwaves during slumber, causing abnormal sleep patterns. “It can occur even when you’re taking pain medication, so you may not realize it,” explains Breus, who is also the author of The Power of When. If you (or your partner) suspect your sleep is being disturbed, speak with your doctor, who may recommend an in-lab or at-home sleep test.

3. Your pour choices.

Believe it or not, mild dehydration can occur after walking on a treadmill or simply sitting for 40 minutes. “If you lose too much water from your body—through illness, exercise or overheating—your organs, including your brain, may not get enough blood flow,” says Mallika Marshall, MD, a physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Chelsea Urgent Care Clinic. “When your brain doesn’t get enough blood, you can feel tired and sluggish.” While the perfect amount of H2O to sip each day varies by person, the Institute of Medicine suggests that women drink about 91 ounces of fluid daily—which can include coffee and tea.

4. Being outside just isn’t a priority.

Unless you’re headed for a much-deserved beach vacation, chances are you’re not thinking about making time to spend in the sun—and that’s a shame for more than one reason. Your body may be lacking in vitamin D, which in turn may leave you feeling depleted. In fact, low levels of vitamin D were found in approximately 77% of patients who complained of tiredness, according to research conducted at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. But the lethargy was significantly diminished once their levels were normalized.

“Many of us don’t get regular sun exposure year-round,” says Marshall. “We often have to obtain vitamin D from other sources.” How much sun exposure you need varies by person according to skin tone, time of day and geographic location. Ask your doctor to check your levels and consider getting some D from fortified foods (like milk, orange juice, yogurt and cereal), fish (such as salmon and canned tuna) and supplements. Adults are advised to consume 600 IU of vitamin D a day, but the precise amount depends on several factors. Seniors, for instance, tend to need more.

5. You’re sitting . . . and sitting . . . and still sitting.

A desk job may be sapping your energy, but there’s uplifting news: Researchers noted that volunteers reported lower levels of fatigue when long periods of sitting were interrupted by short stints of light-intensity walking. “Even if people meet the guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderately intense aerobic exercise, when they spend most of their remaining waking hours sitting, it can slow their metabolism and diminish overall health,” says Heather A. Hausenblas, PhD, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Jacksonville University. To offset that, stand when you chat on the phone, set an alarm reminder to get up and walk around your office every hour, and pace while you’re thinking.

6. “Disorganized” is your status quo.

Yes, those heaping piles of mail on your counter can weigh you down. Research from Princeton University concluded that clutter—or sensory overload—forces the brain to work super hard, causing it to tire over time. “On top of exhausting your mental energy, clutter can also negatively impact your mood and ability to focus,” explains psychologist Joe Taravella, PhD, a clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. “Even a disorganized desktop on your computer can lead to fatigue and uneasiness.”

While Morgenstern suggests scheduling time to get rid of obvious junk, she believes most clutter represents an emotional attachment and advises asking yourself what you’re really holding on to. For instance, she didn’t want to part with dozens of cookbooks, even though she used the oven about once a year. “They represented the ‘good mom’ I’d planned to be, but I was a different kind of good mom,” she explains. “Once I accepted that reality, I was able to let the cookbooks go.”

7. There’s something deeper going on.

It’s possible that you’re not just tired all the time, but are also struggling with a mood disorder. “Individuals with high-functioning depression—which affects nearly 3.3 million American adults—appear fine,” says Taravella. “But on the inside they could be dealing with ongoing fatigue as well as negative self-talk, feelings of hopelessness and difficulty accomplishing tasks.” Also referred to as persistent depressive disorder, it can cause lower-level symptoms of major depressive disorder (for example, dragging through the day rather than being completely unable to work). Since you may not realize you’re depressed, Taravella suggests asking a trusted friend or relative if they’ve noticed a change in the way you view life—like seeing just the negative. “Even if you’re only wondering ‘Could this be me?’ speak with your physician,” he suggests. It’s one talk that could significantly change your life.

Bonus Tips

  • To stay properly hydrated, calorie-free water is the clear choice, but foods like fruits and veggies count toward your fluid intake too.
  • Looking at the color red or just a photo of nature has been shown to boost energy.