We can all readily admit to a time in our busy lives where we have felt tired. But what is the difference between the regular day-to-day dip in our energy levels and more pervasive symptoms such as fatigue, which can negatively affect our very existence?
Making sense of the pressures of modern life requires some basic understanding of the human body. One cannot truly travel a wellness journey without tapping into this knowledge, now no longer restricted to the pages of medical textbooks (just ask Dr Google).
Circadian rhythm explained
Have you ever noticed that you feel energized and drowsy around the same times every day? Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock running in the background of your brain, cycling between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. This rhythm is primarily controlled by the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain whose main role is keeping the body in homeostasis (balance) as much as possible. This includes managing systems that control functions such as hunger, body temperature, blood pressure, sex drive, thirst and sleep cycles. For most adults, the biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night (between 2:00am and 4:00am) and just after lunchtime (around 1:00pm to 3:00pm). These fluctuate depending on how each individual’s alertness is usually wired (night owls versus early birds) thus addressing fatigue needs to factor in this physiological phenomenon first.
What is fatigue
Being self-aware of your own daily performance levels is often an unrealistic practice in a world that commands your constant attention. But it nevertheless, important to observe. For example, it is perfectly normal to feel tired after a protracted day of physical and mental work. Fatigue, in simple terms is a persistent, unexplained and limiting type of tiredness often experienced periodically and when severe, daily. It is often accompanied by a lack of motivation to begin an activity and can last throughout the day, especially if the cause is a clinical one. You feel unable to be productive at work and at home, causing eventual anxiety, lack of sleep and deteriorating brain function. It can be a debilitating experience if left unmanaged, compared to normal cycles of feeling tired, that are often relieved by a good nights’ sleep, multivitamins and regular exercise.
Causes of fatigue
There are numerous physical and mental causes of fatigue, the list is in fact exhaustive and should be ideally left for professionals. This is partly why an annual health examination is encouraged for all individuals. It is crucial in addressing symptoms like fatigue thoroughly, preventing long-term damage to cycles such as sleep and undiagnosed conditions affecting energy levels. Such conditions that are commonly a factor include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), allergic rhinitis (hayfever), diabetes, anaemia (common amongst women), food allergies, depression, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, vitamin deficiencies (e.g. Vitamin B12), and sleep apnea. The good news? These conditions can be managed and the impact on your energy can be dramatically improved once the cause is treated.
However, it wouldn’t be responsible to not mention that our behaviour contributed significantly to ongoing fatigue. Taking stock of your habits is an important step in diagnosing and managing the possible causes of fatigue. Important lifestyle factors include alcohol use, prolonged use of certain medications (antihistamines, antidepressants), lack of exercise or excessive exercise, saturated meals, insufficient sleep etc.
Managing the Energy Clock
Since fatigue is a symptom of an underlying condition, the treatment depends upon the condition that is causing the fatigue, regardless of whether it is physical, psychological or a combination of the two. A thorough medical profile and physical examination is the definitive route to take to address longstanding fatigue that persists for more than a month. We often take our body’s ability to bounce back after a hard slog at a desk too lightly, leaving symptoms to spiral out of control before seeking help. This can have a disastrous effect on recovering from bouts of fatigue. There is also not enough said about being mindful of how we spend our regular hours. This is ultimately how we govern our own energy clock, especially because all bodily functions are conducted from specific areas of the brain.
Some quick tips to improve your day-to-day energy levels include:
- Create a daily routine that disciplines your brain into cycles of activity and rest (this is critical to your daily recovery).
- Re-design your life in weekly cycles to avoid overexertion and encourage regular sleeping pattern.
- Invest in appropriate supplementation that is associated with preserving the quality of cells and cell function.
- Connect with your own energy clock, especially if you work in high-performance settings. This includes the disciplined art of knowing your circadian rhythm (I recommend keeping a diary for the first two weeks that tracks your sleep/wake cycle). It’s important for long-term health to understand when to push through a busy phase and when to slow down your schedule to afford the body the time to recharge effectively.
After all, no technology in the world can replace the power of self-mastery, self-awareness and self-discipline. Your health relies on it.
Until next time