Ask a Really Smart Doctor: Why Am I So Tired?

Do you feel exhausted even if you sleep well and are generally healthy? What the heck could be making you so tired? We got the lowdown on how to fight fatigue from two top doctors.
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Even if I sleep well, I feel completely drained. What could be going on?

Dr. Fugh-Berman: First, you should see your doctor to rule out a few things. She can do tests to check for anemia, thyroid troubles, low vitamin D, and depression, all of which can cause chronic sluggishness.

Dr. Roizen: It could also be gum disease, a type of low-grade infection that causes inflammation. Your immune system has to fight it off, which can make you feel surprisingly exhausted. Be sure you're brushing and flossing, and see your dentist regularly. Bladder, skin, and gastrointestinal infections can fly under the radar, too. So can Lyme disease, which may go undiagnosed. Arthritis also causes energy-zapping inflammation.

What if I don't feel sick, just exhausted?

Dr. Fugh-Berman: There isn't a magic fix for tiredness, unfortunately. It's great if you're getting seven hours of sleep each night, but you might actually need eight or even nine to feel your best. You've also got to take a look at your stress levels. Most women are spread too thin and do too much for others. Stress may be tiring, but power naps or short meditation breaks work wonders. Splurge on a babysitter or house cleaner if you can. Women need to take care of themselves more and not feel selfish.

Dr. Roizen: Meanwhile, caffeine can be helpful. Choose coffee, tea or even caffeinated water rather than a sugary energy drink. Also, keep a log tracking when you're tired along with what you're eating and how well you sleep. It may be that you're eating dinner too late.

Why is eating dinner late a problem?

Dr. Roizen: It's harder to fall asleep and stay asleep while you're digesting. The later you eat, the later your body will release insulin, which can send your blood sugar up and down and wake you up. Try reversing the size of your meals, so you have a big breakfast and a smaller dinner. This way it's less likely your stomach will keep you up.

Dr. Fugh-Berman: And remember that while alcohol relaxes you so it's easier to fall asleep, it can wake you up later or keep you from getting the deep, rejuvenating sleep you need.

Could certain foods be making me sleepy?

Dr. Fugh-Berman: Starchy and sugary foods can slow you down. Cut back on carbs and eat more protein, especially at breakfast. Try eggs, yogurt, and nuts to keep you going.

Dr. Roizen: Remember that colorful fruits and vegetables have polyphenols that can help fight the inflammation that makes you feel tired.

Can taking vitamins help?

Dr. Fugh-Berman: There's no harm in taking a B-complex vitamin if you're dragging, but it's more important to focus on your sleep, diet, and exercise.

But it's hard to get motivated to work out when I'm tired.

Dr. Roizen: Believe it or not, exercise will give you energy. Aim for 30 minutes of walking every day and eventually add in resistance training and more vigorous cardio like swimming or running to increase your strength and stamina.

Dr. Fugh-Berman: On the days you don't have time for a half-hour workout, splitting it up into three 10-minute walks can be just as effective. But don't do strenuous exercise too close to bedtime or you might have trouble nodding off and feel tired again.

Meet the Doctors

Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, associate professor of pharmacology and family medicine, Georgetown University Medical Center, and member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board.

Michael F. Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer, Cleveland Clinic, coauthor of the You books and member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board.



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