Is this why you're so tired all the time?

Here are a few common causes of fatigue – and what you can do about it.

Written by Sharon Curtain

Do you wake up feeling tired, struggle through the afternoon and rely on caffeine or energy drinks? Are your weekends usually more like “sleepends”?

If feeling exhausted is part of your normal life, tackling these common causes of fatigue can help bring your energy levels back up.

Poor sleep

One obvious but often overlooked reason you’re hitting snooze as long as possible is that you need more sleep, or a better quality of sleep.

How much sleep are you getting? Everyone varies in the amount of sleep they need to feel fully refreshed, but the Sleep Health Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. That means if you’re going to bed at 12pm and getting up again at 6am, chances are you’re building up a sleep deficit.

For many people, the issue with sleep isn’t so much the number of hours, but the quality of sleep you’re getting. If your sleep is often disrupted, this could be the reason you’re not waking feeling restored. Common sleep disturbances include noises, children, pets, checking your phone before bed and through the night, late afternoon caffeine and undiagnosed sleep apnoea.

What you can do:

  • Check how much sleep you’re getting by using an activity tracker or sleep diary – this gives you a snapshot to work from.
  • Go to bed earlier, aiming for the same time every night. Setting a bedtime alarm can help.
  • Remove the temptation to check your phone by putting it on charge in another room.
  • Tips to sleep better include avoiding caffeine after lunchtime, relaxing before bed by reading a book, listening to music, journaling or meditation.

Check out sleephealthfoundation.org.au for more tips on improving your sleep.


If you lack energy, struggle to concentrate, get easily dizzy or breathless (even when you're not exerting yourself), look pale, have thinning hair or always seem to be catching colds, these could be signs of anaemia.

Anaemia is a condition in which the body can’t make enough healthy blood cells to transport enough oxygen through the blood stream. As a result you feel constantly exhausted.

Causes of anaemia include a dietary deficiency of iron, folate or vitamin B12, poor absorption, or an increased need for/loss of these nutrients in the body, for example, from blood loss or infection.

What you can do:

  • Talk to your GP. They may test your iron, folate and B12 levels, or do a full blood count to diagnose anaemia.
  • Boost iron intake by including red meat 3-4 times a week or choose an iron supplement with added vitamin C (smaller doses are less likely to cause constipation).
  • Increase folate-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli), beans and legumes (peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils), yeast and beef extracts, oranges and orange juice, wheat bran and other whole grain foods, fortified breakfast cereal, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver.
  • Try B12 supplements. The sublingual (absorbed under the tongue) variety are most effective, as deficiency is often a result of inefficient absorption in the stomach.

Underactive thyroid

Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that produces hormones important for many bodily processes. An underactive thyroid (a condition called hypothyroidism) can cause low energy levels, fatigue and trouble concentrating.

Because the thyroid plays a major role in regulating your metabolism, many people with hypothyroidism also experience unexplained weight gain. Hair loss, intolerance to cold temperatures, fatigued and aching muscles, slow heart rate, and depression are also common symptoms.

Hypothyroidism is more common in women than in men, and the risk increases with age. The most common cause is the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s disease, but it can also be caused by other things such as iodine deficiency.

What you can do:

  • Speak to your GP, who might suggest a blood test (TSH, T4, T3 and Thyroid Antibodies) to check your thyroid function.
  • Iodine is low in our food supply, so an iodine supplement can be useful to support healthy thyroid function.

Stress and burnout

This year has been very challenging, and a modern lifestyle of high stress, long work hours, poor nutrition, inadequate exercise and lack of recharge time has many of us heading toward burnout, as chronically elevated cortisol levels have us ready to fight or run, all day long.

What you can do:

  • Make some lifestyle changes to reduce and manage stress. Prioritise relaxation and self-care, and perhaps try meditation or yoga.
  • Many of us can benefit from a magnesium supplement. Magnesium is important for normal energy metabolism, and contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
  • Talk to your GP, a dietitian or a naturopath for other ways to support your body during times of prolonged stress.
Written by Sharon Curtain

Sharon Curtain is a dietitian with experience in hospital, community and industry settings and specialises in food industry process.

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