Life can be exhausting. But while run-of-the-mill sleepiness can generally be cured with a nap, fatigue is often harder to shake. It can leave you feeling psychologically drained or even physically weak.
The exact cause of fatigue can be hard to pin down. Sleeplessness can be the problem, but it isn’t always. Medication and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis might also play a role. But often fatigue is a direct result of stress.
In a study of nurses, researchers in the U.K. found that fatigue increased over the course of a 12-hour shift. No surprise there. But what’s interesting is that the drop in energy wasn’t related to how often the nurses sprinted from one end of the hospital to the other. For some nurses, increased physical activity decreased feelings of fatigue.
So what caused energy to drain? A lack of control. Nurses who felt they had little control over how they went about their work were more exhausted at the end of their shift. This lack of control, which researchers consider one of the main causes of stress, was shown to cause more fatigue than the actual physical demands of their work.
You can probably relate: If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and helpless, you’ve probably also felt your motivation and energy drop. You may have also experienced some of the conditions related to fatigue: headaches, moodiness, dizziness, sore muscles and an inability to concentrate.
Unfortunately, the past year has been pretty dang stressful. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of parents said the level of stress in their life has increased since the start of the pandemic. (One thing that doesn’t have to stress you out is the cost of your medication. Learn how Optum Perks can help.)
Fatigue can interfere with work, relationships and overall health. But you can fight back with these all-natural remedies.
1. Establish a firm sleep routine
The Sleep Foundation recommends that adults log 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. That’s your first line of defense against fatigue, says W. Christopher Winter, MD. He’s president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution.
To make sure you’re hitting your numbers, Dr. Winter recommends a bedtime routine that helps you wind down. Starting at the same time every night, turn off your smartphone and computer. Ideally, you’ll want to do this 1 hour before you plan to fall asleep. Dim the lights in your house and do something calming, such as reading, taking a warm bath or doing a few deep-breathing exercises.
“Your mind appreciates the anticipation of sleep, and it will reward you by helping you fall asleep faster,” says Dr. Winter. He adds that you should also be sure to wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Do that and you should feel a noticeable uptick in your energy and mood.
2. Let the sun shine in
Now that you’re waking up at the same time every day, try to get some sunlight early, says Dr. Winter. When natural light lands on your eyes, your brain begins to transition from a state of sleepiness to alertness. The effect works even if you spend just a few minutes on your back porch reading the newspaper.
While morning sunlight is the most beneficial, you can reinforce the bright-eyed feeling throughout the day. Just occasionally step outside for more rays, says Dr. Winter. Opening the windows to let in natural light also helps.
3. Go for a walk
Walks, even short ones, can have a massive impact on your mood and energy, says Kourtney Thomas, a strength and conditioning coach in Denver. “Trying to move more can be a huge help when it comes to reducing fatigue and lowering stress levels,” she says.
A short stroll down the block is useful. For the biggest mood boost, consider a hiking trail or a walk through a park. A study of 3,000 adults in Tokyo found that people who spent time in or viewed green outdoor spaces during the day had lower rates of loneliness, depression and anxiety.
“It can help to set some small goals to challenge yourself, like adding to your step count every day or trying to increase your distance,” says Thomas. “But in general, simply getting outside to walk can give you a boost.
4. Check your vitamin and mineral levels
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats can have a big impact on how you feel throughout the day. But even with a healthy diet, you could struggle to maintain adequate levels of certain nutrients.
The vitamins and minerals below are all available in pill form. But consider talking to a doctor before you begin taking a new supplement, especially if you’re on other medications. Some vitamins, minerals and herbs can interfere with prescription drugs.
- B12. B12 is 1 of 8 B vitamins that the body uses to convert food into energy. It occurs naturally in many animal foods (beef, liver and clams are the best sources). Without this supplement, vegetarians and vegans are susceptible to deficiency. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1.5% to 15% of people don’t get enough B12. Read more about B vitamins here.
- Iron. This mineral is essential for oxygenating red blood cells in the body. As with B12, it’s easiest to get from certain animal products, so vegetarians and vegans should pay special attention to their iron intake. An iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Good plant sources of iron include white beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans and peas. Learn more about iron-deficiency anemia here.
- Coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant, protecting your heart and muscles and improving digestion. It occurs in every cell in your body. In a 2019 review of studies looking at CoQ10, researchers found evidence that this supplement may ease fatigue in healthy people as well as those with certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and late-stage heart disease.
Worrying about paying for your health care is also draining. If you’re struggling to pay for your medications, Optum Perks can help. Download our discount card to start saving up to 80% at pharmacies nationwide.
Nurses and fatigue: Annals of Behavioral Medicine. (2018). “Why does work cause fatigue? A real-time investigation of fatigue, and determinants of fatigue in nurses working 12-hour shifts”
Sleep Recommendations: Sleep Foundation
Healing power of nature: Ecological Applications. (2020). “A room with a green view: the importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID‐19 pandemic”
Coenzyme Q10 and fatigue: “Effect of coenzyme Q10 supplementation on fatigue: A systematic review of interventional studies”