Fatigue is practically an epidemic among busy young women. Get a handle on the causes and what will really bring your energy back.
When was the last time you blasted out of bed with energy to burn? Yeah, we thought so. You're probably dealing with a stressful job, a packed social life, and a seemingly endless to-do list of obligations. Add to that an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep and you never feel fully rested.
All the above explains why women's health expert Holly Phillips, M.D., told Cosmo that her young patients have increasingly been bringing one question to her: "Why am I so tired?" We figured it was time to get some answers, so we asked Cosmo readers to send us their fatigue-related complaints. We passed them to Dr. Phillips, who breaks it down here.
" I am dragging all day but can't sleep at night. Why? "
I wish there were a simple answer for this so I could pass it on to my sleep-starved patients. But insomnia accompanied by daytime fatigue can be caused by a lot of factors, such as a poor diet or an undiagnosed physical condition.
Yet most of the time, it's at least partly caused by the jam-packed lives young women lead
Here's how: As you go through your day, ping-ponging between work pressures, responsibilities to family and friends, and dating, you can swing from one emotion to another, which is a real energy drain. But by the time you finally hit the sheets, you're so hyped up with the residue of those emotions that you can't decompress.
I know it's not realistic to quit your job or scale your social life way back. Just pare down your schedule so you're not spinning quite as many plates at a single time. Vow to cut out at least one or two social events per week, and start saying no to unnecessary daily tasks. Even those small changes can make a huge difference.
Spend the time you gain listening to music, taking a walk, or just vegging out- anything that offers breathing room in the day and helps you wind down at bedtime.
"Could a medical condition be making me so fatigued? "
Yes. Issues with your thyroid can be a culprit. Anaemia is another potential cause. It means your red blood cells aren't able to move oxygen as efficiently as they should, so you constantly feel drained. Seasonal allergies can make you lethargic too. If you're still beat after improving your sleeping, eating, and stressmanagement habits, ask your MD to test you for these conditions.
" Is it possible to get too much sleep? "
No, you'll naturally awaken when you're recharged. But it is possible to lie in bed too long. Over time, this can make you sedentary, which is linked to heart disease and diabetes, even if your weight is healthy. Plus, just staying in bed when you're not tired can bring on headaches, due to a change in your brain's production of serotonin.
Should you find yourself conking out in the middle of the day or snoozing more hours than you normally do at night, visit your doctor. Unexplained excessive sleep can be a sign of depression.
" I sleep eight hours a night, but I'm still tired. What is the right amount of sleep for me? "
Adults generally need between seven and eight hours nightly, but some people feel rested after eight to nine, while others, after five.
Figure out your own snooze requirements with this experiment: get a solid eight hours' sleep each night for a week. Don't do anything out of the ordinary to mess up your sleep cycle, such as going on a drinking bender. For the last night, don't set your alarm and see how many hours later your body awakens on its own.
If you snooze for only five or six hours, that's your personal quota. But if you catch zzz's for nine or 10, your body craves more than eight hours to feel refreshed.
" I'm exhausted during my period. What's up? "
It's hormonal. About a week before your period, your body's progesterone level plunges, which can make sleep less restful. By the time your flow shows, you've built up a serious sleep deficit. Period side effects like cramps and irritability don't help. Take an antiinflammatory, like ibuprofen, before bed to ease cramps.
Can I take a sleeping pill or supplement if I'm desperate for rest?
Try to resist sleep aids. They can be habit-forming, and some have a side effect called rebound insomnia if you take them for more than 14 days. Still, an OTC sleep aid is okay as long as you aren't on other meds (check with your M.D. first if you are) and don't combine it with alcohol.
Prescription pills like Alprax work well, though they too can become a habit. Again, tell your doc about any other meds you take first, don't pop them if you've been drinking, and never take more than prescribed. When it comes to herbal supplements, like melatonin in the US, some studies show they work. But even these aren't tested by the FDA, so you don't know what you're getting. Ask your doctor for her opinion.
" I fall asleep fine, but I wake up at 3 a.m. and can't get back to sleep. How can I bust this cycle? "
Often it's an environmental cue that wakes you-say, a noise outside your window or light from your computer. Then once you're up, anxiety creeps into your mind, and it's tough to resume snoozing- particularly if you're a light sleeper or your environment is distracting.
But there are things you can do. First, stay under the covers and focus on something pleasant. If you're still awake after 20 minutes, leave the bed, go to another room, and take on some not-toostimulating task, like reading. Eventually, you will feel tired again, at which point you can go back to the bedroom.
Reduce the odds of these wake-ups the same way you would ease regular insomnia: by making sure you're truly tired before hitting the sack, avoiding caffeine after 4 p.m., and creating a bedroom that's set up for snoozing so no noise or light can wake you. (Blackout blinds and an eye mask work wonders.)
" Why does stress make me tired? "
When something stresses you out, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol gives you a burst of energy and puts your senses on alert to get you through a crisis, after which your body can relax.
Yet when you're stressed for a prolonged period of time, your body is always pumping out cortisol and you never have the chance to wind down. Constantly being anxious is hard on your system- you alternate between wired and tired. Stress also has an indirect effect on fatigue: it gives you an easy way out from hitting the gym and eating well-two things you should never forgo when you're tired, because they create an energy surge.
Unless you're so tired you can't stand up, work in a 20-minute cardio or stretching session, and treat yourself to healthy snacks, like low-fat yoghurt. You'll notice a difference.
"Are some foods and beverages energy suckers?
Absolutely. A huge offender: caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, soda, and tea. While a cup or two of coffee in the morning will help you feel more alert, withdrawal from it can bring on fatigue a few hours later, putting you in a caffeine-dependency cycle.
A diet filled with sugary, high-carb fare has this effect too. You grab a muffin, say, and then a few hours later, your blood-sugar levels plunge, inducing more cravings.
A drink or two makes you feel like the life of the party, but booze is a depressant, so you'll crash after a while. Alcohol also reduces the quality of your zzz's, so you're more prone to waking after a few hours.
The fix: Keep your energy steady by having no more than three cups of coffee, cola, or tea per day, always before 4 p.m.; avoid more than two drinks a day; and ditch the sugary stuff for whole grains and protein-rich foods.always before 4 p.m. You'll start to notice the difference in just a couple of days and feel far more energetic.