1. You’re not sleeping well enough.
It’s not just about the quantity of your shut-eye, but also the quality. Insufficient sleep is probably the main cause of feeling tired for Americans, according to Noah Siegel, a sleep medicine physician at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute at Harvard University.
Seven to eight hours of shut-eye each night is the typical requirement for adults, but even if you’re in bed for that amount of time (or longer), you may not be getting the restorative, refreshing sleep you need, he said.
“Many patients come to me saying they’re in bed for nine hours, but still wake up sleepy,” Siegel said. The culprit? Environmental disturbances, such as blue light from screens; ambient noise; hot or cold temperatures; an uncomfortable mattress; or restless pets or children in the bed are often to blame, he added.
Action plan: There are lots of ways to improve your sleep quality, Siegel said. Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, cut out caffeine and alcohol, keep your room cool and avoid screens before bed.
2. Your iron levels are low.
“Low iron levels affect how much oxygen reaches your tissues and deprives them of the energy they need,” Corriel said.
This is often accompanied by anemia, but patients can still feel tired and have low iron without being in the anemic range. Other symptoms of iron deficiency include pale skin; brittle nails and dry skin; headaches and dizziness; chest pain or shortness of breath; cold hands and feet; inflammation or soreness of the tongue; and unusual cravings for ice, dirt or starch, said Madeline Basler, a nutritionist in New York.
Action plan: Eat more iron-rich foods. If you’re an omnivore, go for items like oysters, clams, poultry and red meat. Your body absorbs animal sources better than plant sources, Basler said, but vegetarians and vegans can enjoy plant-based foods like white beans, spinach, lentils and fortified cereals.
3. You’re deficient in vitamin B12.
“B12 is an essential vitamin found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk,” Corriel said. For this reason, some vegetarians, and especially vegans, tend to be deficient in this vitamin. It’s necessary for the proper function and development of the brain, nerves, blood cells and other parts of the body.
Action plan: Repletion can be accomplished through various methods, but the most popular ones come in oral or injection forms, Corriel said.
4. You’re eating too much sugar.
Although the body needs some sugar for energy, eating too much of the refined kind can cause unwanted consequences, such as weight gain, chronic disease and, of course, those dreaded “sugar crashes,” which affect your mood and energy levels, said Atlanta-based psychiatrist Dion Metzger.
Action plan: Protein is the antidote to those crashes, helping to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent those spikes and dips in energy. Try to include more veggies and high-protein, low-fat foods in your diet, Metzger said, and less fried foods and sugary snacks like cookies, cake and donuts.
You shouldn’t cut out carbs entirely, though. “Carbs convert into glucose, which is our brains’ preferred energy source,” Basler added. Just be sure to choose the whole-grain kind.
5. You don’t get enough exercise.
You may not use up much energy being a couch potato, but a lack of movement ironically may lower your energy levels overall.
“Leading a sedentary life can often lead to feeling fatigue,” Corriel said. “Our bodies need movement, and the physical inactivity negatively affects our muscles and our emotional well-being.”
Action plan: “Strenuous, aerobic exercise helps promote good quality sleep, and in return better quality sleep will improve performance, both physical and mental,” Siegel said. He suggested aiming for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise six days per week.