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Tired? Why We're So Sleepy and How to Find More Energy

Published on: August 29, 2013

The alarm sounds, and you begin to count the minutes until you can return to your forgiving bed. An hour into the day, and you’re already exhausted — your body feels as if it will never catch up.

“Fatigue can be a normal response felt when our demands on our bodies, especially muscles, outstrip the fuel supply,” says William T. Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington. “It is also a common response to stress and to disturbed sleep patterns.”

Vitamin deficiency, says Edwards, is also a key factor for those disposed to drowsiness. Taking vitamin D and B-12 supplements can help, especially in Seattle’s winter months, he says.

Obesity and lack of sleep are significant causes of chronic fatigue, says Edwards, and poor dietary habits — such as overeating or skipping meals — also increase sleepiness. Adding regular, moderate exercise to your schedule can help get that energy back.

These are the easy changes — the ones we have the most control over. Reducing stress is a tougher battle. “Whether stress is emotional, psychological or physical, it results in a wide array of signs in the body,” Edwards says. “High adrenaline and cortisol levels severely impact sleep by interfering with the normal sleep-inducing hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that are necessary to the onset of normal sleep.” When a person is stressed, sleep rhythm is often interrupted, even after falling asleep. That can result in a fidgety, restless night.

Persistent fatigue often leads to missing activities that you once enjoyed, notes Edwards. “The problem begins to control one’s life, and the limitations it imposes get progressively worse. Life becomes narrower and narrower.” This lack of activity can result in high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary disease, depression and disruption in family life, he says.

But here’s one reason to perk up: Edwards notes that studies show that regular exercise always comes out as the best, most effective way to treat fatigue.

That means you can reduce that sleepy sensation — as long as you’re proactive about making a change. Hit the gym, take a brisk walk or play some tennis. The reward? An inviting pillow and some sweet, sweet sleep. Dream on.

Allyson Marrs is a Pacific Northwest native and a writer with a special interest in health and wellness.


1. Consult with your primary care provider to be certain you aren’t experiencing a symptom of an illness that can cause fatigue. You may also need to consult with a mental health provider to evaluate whether depression is a contributing problem.

2. Build an exercise program. Start with walking. Distance is not important. Exercise daily, or at least five days a week.

3. Learn relaxation skills to reduce stress, and practice every day. Many self-help books and CDs are available, but most people do better working with a “coach,” such as a yoga instructor or a cognitive behavioral therapist.

4. Stay socially active and engaged. Loneliness and isolation contribute to depression, which makes symptoms of fatigue worse.

5. Maintain a balanced diet. If you feel as if you need to lose weight, you probably do. Remember that it is much harder to fight deconditioning if you are overweight, and deconditioning and obesity are major contributors to chronic fatigue.

6. Take a good daily multivitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in the Northwest, especially in the winter. You may need a separate vitamin D supplement.

7. Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and rise at specific times. To avoid external stimulation, such as light and noise, use a sleep mask and earplugs. Sleeping pills are generally not helpful when taken on a regular basis, but sleep aids such as valerian root and melatonin may help.

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