Tiredness means feeling exhausted, even though you’re sleeping well. Tiredness is a normal part of life but sometimes tiredness can be severe or go on for a long time. Tiredness is usually due to harmless lifestyle causes. Occasionally it is due to a psychological problem or a physical illness. Most causes of tiredness don't need any medical treatment. You should see your GP if there doesn't seem to be any reason for you feeling so tired.
How common is tiredness?
Tiredness is very common. Everyone feels tired at some point. It is impossible to say exactly how common it is because most people don't see a doctor.
Sometimes the tiredness can be very bad and go on for a long time. This is much less common. If you do feel very tired and it doesn't improve after a few weeks then you should see a doctor. It is still usually harmless but should be checked.
What are the causes of tiredness?
It's unusual to find a physical problem causing tiredness. Tiredness is much more often caused by psychological and social issues, including stress.
Lifestyle and social causes of tiredness may include work, family issues, bereavement, the break-up of a relationship or a life-changing event such as moving house or getting married. Emotional shock can also cause tiredness. Poor diet, too much coffee or drinking too much alcohol can also cause tiredness.
Physical causes of tiredness
Tiredness may be due to a wide range of physical illnesses. Examples include:
- A tendency to be lacking in iron (anaemia)
- An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- Heart failure
- Chest illnesses (including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Bowel problems (eg, coeliac disease)
Most physical causes of tiredness will cause other symptoms. Some causes of tiredness (such as anaemia and hypothyroidism) may not cause any other symptoms apart from tiredness.
If you are overweight you may suffer with breathing problems when you are asleep (obstructive sleep apnoea), which can cause tiredness during the day.
Tiredness is more likely if you are underweight or overweight. Pregnancy can make you feel very tired. Tiredness may also be caused by chronic fatigue syndrome.
Psychological causes of tiredness
Psychological tiredness is much more common than tiredness caused by a physical problem. Both anxiety and depression can make you feel very tired. Any cause of a sleep problem will also cause tiredness during the day.
Lifestyle causes of tiredness
Tiredness can be caused by lifestyle, such as drinking too much alcohol, or having a bad diet. People who work night shifts may have a poor sleep pattern and so feel more tired.
Tiredness may also be caused by life events such as getting married or moving house.
Should I have any tests?
If the cause of your tiredness isn't obvious it is worth seeing your doctor. Your doctor will then check whether there are any physical or psychological causes for your tiredness.
Your doctor will often check a blood test to rule out physical causes such as lack of iron (anaemia) and underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
Your doctor may also ask questions to check you don't have any other symptoms that may need to be investigated. You may be given a simple questionnaire to complete to check for anxiety and depression.
What can you do to feel less tired?
- Eat regular meals and healthy snacks. Avoid having large meals and avoid skipping meals because this can make tiredness much worse.
- Regular moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming or cycling, can help you feel less tired. Regular exercise is also an excellent way to stay healthy.
- If you are overweight then losing weight will help.
- A good night's sleep is very important. Avoid having naps during the day.
- Anything that helps you to relax and reduces stress will help you to feel less tired.
- Drink more water. Reduce or even cut out your caffeine intake (particularly coffee). Drink less alcohol and avoid binge drinking.
Did you find this information useful?
Further reading & references
- Tiredness/fatigue in adults; NICE CKS, October 2009
- Hamilton W, Watson J, Round A; Investigating fatigue in primary care. BMJ. 2010 Aug 24 341:c4259. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c4259.
- Rosenthal TC, Majeroni BA, Pretorius R, et al; Fatigue: an overview. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Nov 15 78(10):1173-9.
- Vaucher P, Druais PL, Waldvogel S, et al; Effect of iron supplementation on fatigue in nonanemic menstruating women with low ferritin: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2012 Aug 7 184(11):1247-54. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.110950. Epub 2012 Jul 9.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.