As many as one in five people feel fatigued at any time. If you’ve been feeling exhausted then you’ll want to know: Why am I so tired all the time; how can I get more energy?
Fatigue – what is it?
Fatigue is a symptom of many health conditions and life circumstances. Technically fatigue is one or more of these:
- Overwhelming exhaustion that lingers beyond a good night’s sleep
- Sleepiness and a lack of motivation to move about that doesn’t go away if you rest
- A limiting lack of energy that prevents you from getting normal tasks done
- Feeling like your muscles are too heavy and moving about takes energy you don’t have
- Foggy achy head, finding it difficult to think or concentrate
- Apathy and disinterest – everything feels too much
If you feel like this for more than a few days, for a reason that’s not clear, then you must see your doctor.
Is fatigue common?
Yes! Numerous studies across different populations show fatigue is common. You can find many studies, such as this one https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5557471/ which illustrate that women tend to report fatigue more than men, and those of lower socioeconomic status also experience more fatigue. Across populations it appears above 20% of people report fatigue.
What causes fatigue?
Excessive tiredness can be caused by simple or serious health conditions. Common deficiencies of vitamins and minerals have tiredness as a symptom. There are many life circumstances which can leave you feeling exhausted. Let’s look at a few in more detail:
Life Stage : A new baby, a new job, grief or a crisis, moving house, caring responsibilities, overwork, stress at home or in the workplace.
Medical conditions: commonly, as you can see on the NHS website, and the Mayo Clinic , conditions causing fatigue include diabetes, depression, cancer, thyroid, coeliac disease, fibromyalgia, liver problems, MS, hormonal changes, heart disease and sleep apnoea, and so many more. This is why it is so important to receive a diagnosis if you experience fatigue which doesn’t let up over time.
Deficiencies: Iron deficiency (experienced by many women with heavy or prolonged periods), Vitamin D deficiency (common if you live in the northern hemisphere where we aren’t exposed to strong sunlight which generates vitamin D), magnesium (particularly common in women), and an imbalance in good nutrition generally. Some people have metabolic conditions which prevent them from absorbing nutrients well and this can result in multiple deficiencies.
Poor choice of foods which attack energy levels: Food high in sugar or refined carbohydrates provide instant energy. Your body will then have a crash in blood sugar which will make you feel exhausted. Wholegrains, plant based proteins, and wholefoods containing natural sugars will balance your energy levels and make you feel a whole lot better. A high intake of caffeine may also leave you struggling later in the day. (For more about the pro’s and cons of caffeine read this).
A combination of the above!
Unpicking the causes of your fatigue is really important. You must rule out serious health problems, working with your Dr.
Does Gilbert’s Syndrome cause fatigue?
For people with Gilbert’s Syndrome lack of energy is a really commonly reported symptom. I hear all the time from people desperate with debilitating exhaustion, with energy levels that are unpredictable.
There are a number of reasons why people with Gilbert’s Syndrome may feel exhausted.
- Reduced liver function. If you eat highly refined carbohydrates such as white bread or sugary things, your blood sugar will rise and fall a lot. This means the enzyme we’re deficient in cannot work as well as it needs blood sugar. The result is your liver won’t do its cleaning job effectively and certain toxins and bilirubin will build up in your body. Typically feelings of exhaustion, jaundice, itching and nausea are reported. You may feel a bit like you have a persistent hangover. Of course consuming toxins may add to that effect, eg alcohol.
- Delayed gastric emptying. Food takes longer to leave your stomach if you have Gilbert’s Syndrome. I’m sure many recognise the abdominal discomfort that entails! This has been linked to fatigue . It is also worth noting that it is also linked to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Which itself has often been linked to Gilbert’s Syndrome.
- Excess serotonin. People with Gilbert’s Syndrome have defective processing of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that send messages around the brain and nervous system). This can lead to raised levels of Serotonin for example, which is linked to feelings of lethargy and lack of motivation as well as anxiety.
How do I get more energy?
Assuming you don’t have a particular condition or issue that is causing you to feel exhausted, then there are four simple foundations to build your energy on
- Good Nutrition
- Good Sleep
- Mental resilience
The great thing about these four things is that they support each other.
Eat well and be properly nourished and you’ll exercise better and get better sleep. Better sleep will help you be mentally resilient and give you more muscle energy for exercise. Exercise will help you be more mentally resilient etc etc
- Good Nutrition. A plant based whole food diet has been overwhelmingly shown to provide you with the most sustained energy, lifespan and wellbeing. Eating a variety of plants, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains will ensure you don’t need any vitamin supplements. With all food patterns you need to make sure you aren’t missing anything out. For vegans that means ensuring you get Vitamin B12. Things that will suck your energy and not enhance your wellbeing include refined sugar, other refined and processed foods. If you want the ultimate nutrition facts then dig in here nutritionfacts.org and buy the book ‘How not to die’ . I offer other thoughts on foods to eat here https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/the-liver-diet/ https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/detox-diets-and-gilberts-syndrome/ https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/sesame-magic-for-your-liver/ The How Not to Die cookbook has lots of tasty recipes and you can see from the reviews that many readers report increased energy.
- Exercise should ideally be a mix of activities that raise your heart rate and which challenge your posture and muscles both in terms of flexibility and density. Walking briskly combined with pilates (plenty free videos on youtube) are simple cost free and energising. If you aren’t up to a great deal of exercise, then just start with walking a small distance and build up. Even standing up for a while engages muscles. Adding in exercise is something that needs to become a habit or you won’t stick to it. Stand up whilst you are on the phone or watching a favourite programme, take a 20 minute walk at lunchtime, do squats in the shower or whilst brushing your teeth, dance to a favourite song for 5 minutes when you get home from work. Every bit of movement is helping you stay fit and well.
- Good quality sleep is vital. Research shows that our circadian rhythm (our body clock) is really important to when we feel awake and when we sleep well. Just making sure your bedroom is really dark can make a big difference to your body clock. Getting plenty of light in the morning will also help you feel alert and awake during the day and sleep better in the morning. There are lots of ways to deal with bad sleep – which I won’t go into here. It’s enough to say that regular sleep hours in a dark room without interruption are fundamental to good quality sleep. There are many books on the subject. Try the popular ‘Sleep Smarter’ by Shawn Stevenson
- Mental resilience is a quality many of us feel we could develop more. It enables you to put the ups and downs of life into perspective. With mental resilience you will better cope when something bad happens in your day or your life, and will worry less about it. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t worry, be upset, grieve or be without feelings. It means you can do those natural things and then move on in time. If you want to understand more about living without anxiety you can buy ‘The Anxiety Solution’ by Chloe Brotheridge or find resources at www.calmer-you.com and Chloe’s podcast. You can also find out more about mental resilience and ‘grit’ here https://positivepsychology.com/5-ways-develop-grit-resilience/ Another great way to build up your mental resilience is through meditation. If it isn’t something you have considered or have found difficult in the past, then you could try these simple and effective tools from Mind Cards:
If you are doing the right things and are still feeling fatigued then you really need your doctor’s help to look into underlying medical conditions.
Your personal biology will need a personalised response so that it works the best way it can for you and your circumstances.
Sometimes this may mean prescription medication or balancing up other elements of your nutrition, supplements or lifestyle.
Beating fatigue in Gilbert’s Syndrome
So, let’s take a look at what this might mean if you have Gilbert’s Syndrome. As mentioned, there are specific reasons you’ll feel fatigued. Everyone with Gilbert’s Syndrome will have other things going on for them too – other chronic conditions, lifestyle or life stage issues, hormonal changes etc. This means that some things may work some of the time and you may need to adjust because of what is going on for you right now.
What you put in is key to what you get out
Many people with Gilbert’s Syndrome steer clear of alcohol as it really messes with their wellbeing and energy levels. You may want to consider this for other chemicals and potential toxins to lighten the load on your liver. This would mean a plant based wholefood diet which avoids processed and refined foods. Ideally organic! Particularly good foods include broccoli, nuts and seeds. https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/the-liver-diet/ . Keep it low in refined sugar and make sure to include limited good fats of plant origin.
Drinking plenty of water will also ensure you stay hydrated and support the removal of toxins from your body.
Eat little and often. For a couple of reasons.
1) to maintain stable blood sugar levels
2) with delayed gastric emptying a large meal will make you feel uncomfortable and make it harder to move about.
This isn’t an excuse to pack in more food, unless that means eating more vegetables! Look at what you would like to eat over the day or week and portion it out. If you do it ahead of time you won’t have to think about it.
Antidepressants in the form of SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) can help for some people. If you feel your anxiety or low mood are overwhelming then you must speak to your doctor and get their advice and diagnosis. These are also prescribed for IBS (again, something that people with Gilbert’s Syndrome have a high rate of) and may be a useful treatment option to consider – in dialogue with your doctor. This may improve your sleep, mental resilience and energy levels. However, as some people with Gilbert’s Syndrome may have raised levels of serotonin, as mentioned above, then you need to be cautious of side effects. Some brands may work better than others.
Supplements. Extra ingredients that can give you a boost or added support to your system are basically just plants in powdered form in a capsule. Some of the supplements offering additional energy balancing and support include types of ginseng, rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha etc available at Approved Vitamins and have been used safely for thousands of years. I list some supplements you can try in the Resources section. https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/resources/
I use rhodiola rosea and ashwagandha and have seen an impressive improvement in my ability to function. I occasionally add in gotu kola towards the end of the week or if I’ve not had a great night’s sleep, or have extra physical or mental demands. It works like a really gentle caffeine that doesn’t have the come-down effects.
Some people find caffeine works well at the right points of the day – find out more about caffeine here and let us know how it makes you feel https://gilbertssyndrome.org.uk/gilberts-syndrome-and-caffeine/
Sleep appears to be a really important factor in feeling well, when you have Gilbert’s Syndrome. A good 8 hours can make a world of difference. Some of the supplements I mention above can help sleep. Follow the suggestions in the four foundations section above. Resist the temptation to lie in bed and doze or rest without sleep. This won’t help you sleep later. Keep bed for specific night time hours if you can, and keep your sleep routine and hours regular. Being active during the day will help you sleep better later.
Anxiety can stop you sleeping and suck your energy whilst awake. If it’s overwhelming then seek help from your Dr. I mention Chloe Brotheridge’s work above, but also Mind and other websites have many pointers for help. Mindfulness is a well founded technique for calming your mind and should guarantee better sleep and more energy. You can find some free apps here. As mentioned above, these are also a really simple and effective tool to help try mediation:
I’d really like to hear what your experience is. If you follow the lifestyle above has it changed your energy levels? I found becoming vegan, eating plant based, adding in supplements and building mental resilience transformed my energy levels. What’s worked for you? Please comment.
Remember – many people feel fatigued. There are basic principles to seize more energy. Plus – there’s the magic ingredient of you and your physiology to consider. Get medical support where needed, and understand your health conditions. You’ll then be in control of your energy and your life.