There are a few things that contribute to feeling fatigued, including but not limited to:
- Too much sugar in your diet
- Eating food that cause inflammation such as:
- Trans fats
- Processed foods
- Food you are allergic to or intolerant to
- Too much alcohol
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Not enough sleep
- Not enough good quality sleep
- Going to bed too late
They all have two things in common:
- They increase inflammation in the body
- They warp secretion of the cortisol hormone
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is your stress hormone. It peaks when you are most active or stressed to give you a boost in energy to complete your activity (e.g. training) or to deal with a stressful situation (e.g. run away from a tiger, chase a food source or in today’s day and age, deal with life stresses). It drops to its lowest when you are supposed to be resting.
Let’s go through these factors that cause fatigue.
Too much sugar in your diet:
When you consume sugar you have secretion of the dopamine hormone, which is your ‘feel good’ hormone, which also helps you feel motivated and energized. As soon as that sugar hit drops so does dopamine. This leads to you feeling flat and tired. Every time you consume sugar, you need a larger dose in order to get the same dopamine buzz. The higher you rise the deeper you fall. The more you crave sugar. Vicious circle which ultimately leads you to feeling fatigued and unable to sustain the high you crave.
High sugar intake can impact the quality of your sleep which is another way it contributes to feeling fatigued.
Inflammatory food and other products – Trans fats, processed foods, food you are allergic or intolerant to, alcohol, medication:
When you consume these foods, they increase inflammation in the body. Elevated inflammation signals to the brain the body is stressed, which then signals the body to secrete high levels of cortisol to cope with the stress. The body has a set timeline throughout the day for peaks and troughs in cortisol level. When you cause variations to that timeline it can warp the production of cortisol, causing all sorts of health issues. The first sign being constant fatigue. This is because it puts extra stress or your thyroid and adrenal glands, glands which help the body regulate and produce other vital hormones.
High inflammation impacts the quality of your sleep which is another way it contributes to feeling fatigued.
Vitamin D and Iron Deficiency:
Low levels of either, or worse, both of these 2 vital nutrients can cause extreme fatigue. It starts with dark circles under the eyes, develops into bags and yellows the whites of the eyes. These are clear signs. This then gradually creates mood swings, elevates your emotional state and increase inflammation in the body, again increasing cortisol secretion and ultimately fatigue. Deficiency in iron causes insufficient oxygen to be transported around the body, leading to further fatigue.
Nutrient deficiencies cause elevated inflammation, so as stated earlier, can then impact your sleep and ultimately increase fatigue once again.
Going to bed too late, insufficient sleep, insufficient quality sleep:
Sleep is the time you are supposed to rest and recover. If you behave in a way which includes any of the things we have already discussed or go to bed too late, you effect your body’s rest and recovery. This in turn affects your cortisol which leads to fatigue.
Let’s explore this a little further.
Cortisol is at its lowest point around midnight, starts to gradually increase again from there, speeding up production in the early hours (about 2:00am) and peaks between 7:00-9:00am. From this peak it then starts to gradually descend again throughout the day with peaks and troughs depending on whether it is time to eat, exercise or deal with a stressful situation. It starts to really drop again from sunset, in preparation for melatonin production, the hormone the induces sleepiness.
Now if you are not going to bed until well after 10:00pm, you are warping the natural production times of cortisol. You are missing the ultimate drop in cortisol for complete rest, and have less time in the rest phase before cortisol starts to increase again from 2:00am. That then pushes back the time you reach the peak from 7:00-9:00am to say 10:00-11:00am (mid-morning).
This is why you may be waking feeling tired at say 9:00am event though you have had 9 hours having gone to bed at midnight. If you have awoken earlier than 9:00am you will also be facing insufficient sleep making the fatigue even worse.
Now if your peak of cortisol is around mid-morning, this is the time you will finally start to feel alive and awake. First sign, your cortisol is out of whack.
If the peak is supposed to be around 9:00am then a drop should occur around midday when some lunch helps you pep back up before dropping in time for dinner, then a further drop at sunset and beyond to prepare for sleep.
However, if you peak is happening mid-morning, you will find yourself hitting a drop mid afternoon instead of lunch time, sending you into cravings of energy food (typical coffee and a biscuit). So you eat energy food, artificially pep yourself back up, elevate cortisol again instead of letting it reduce as you approach the evening. You will feel like you are crashing around 8:00-9:00pm and if you don’t go to bed at that point, you are wired to the max by 10:00-11:00pm.
If this sounds familiar, understand you have completely warped your cortisol secretion with the lifestyle you are leading.
So how do you fix this?
- For starters go to bed half an hour earlier. So if you are going to bed at midnight, go to bed at 11:30pm. Do this for a few nights, then go to bed half an hour earlier. Continue to do this until you are in bed no later than 10:00pm.
- Then keep to a routine. Ensure you are in bed on time every night. Create your routine just like we do for our children.
- Wake at the same time every single morning.
- I am talking about the rule, not the exception to the rule. In other words, if you have a wedding to attend, a party etc. that is the exception to the rule. I am talking day to day life.
- Having a sleep routine will help you sort out most of your sleep issues which cause warped cortisol secretion.
- Cut out as much sugar, and other inflammatory foods, and alcohol as possible. I will not tell you to stop taking medication, but I will suggest you speak to your doctor about when the best time to take them is so the don’t impact your sleep as much.
- Eat healthy fats and lots of vegetables in your diet to help your body work optimally, and drink plenty of water, reducing inflammation.
- Ensure that you have regular blood tests to keep your vitamin D and iron levels within the safe ranges.
By implementing all of this, you improve the length of your sleep, the quality of your sleep, the times and levels of cortisol secretion and ultimately help reduce your fatigue, so you can start feeling energized and half human again!
There are a few other factors to take into account such as illness, trauma, menstrual issues to name a few, however these are not as common as what we have discussed earlier. If you start with what we have discussed today, and you still don’t see any improvement, then I recommend you speak with your health care professional or your coach for direction on having some of the other deeper issues investigated.
- Coach Terri