7 Key causes of fatigue and sleepiness

August 5, 2020 5 mins read
7 Key causes of fatigue and sleepiness

You might feel like falling asleep at your desk or taking a quick nap in the most unlikely place, leaving you wondering what the causes of fatigue and sleepiness are. Here, we will look at how the two conditions may be similar in their symptoms but different in their reasons.

Fatigue vs. sleepiness

People who experience fatigue often complain of a constant and consistent state of tiredness which they may describe as a mental and physical feeling of exhaustion. For instance, you may feel drained or physically weak and struggle to complete daily tasks. Fatigue may not always be solved by sleeping more, as it is not the amount, but the quality of sleep that determines how tired you may feel. Fatigue tends to be linked to a specific health disorder like sleep apnea or an illness. It can also be diagnosed as a singular disorder called chronic fatigue syndrome.

Sleepiness, on the other hand, can be determined as a feeling of wanting to fall asleep or drowsiness and is short term compared to fatigue which can last for extended periods. The desire to sleep remains and can sometimes increase the more a person is awake. This is linked to adenosine, a chemical in the brain that is released to indicate that we need to sleep. Adenosine builds up throughout the day, culminating in the urge to fall asleep in the evening. Sleepiness should generally be relieved by getting enough quality sleep.

Causes of fatigue and sleepiness

1. Lifestyle

Making healthy lifestyle choices, like exercising, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and keeping a regular sleep schedule, can contribute to good quality sleep.

Have you ever noticed how often after an active gym session, the feeling of sleep becomes more prominent? That is because during exercise, the heart rate increases, feel-good hormones like dopamine are released and the body begins to cool down, preparing it for a state of rest. If you don’t have a regular exercise regime your body is likely to lean towards sleepiness as it doesn’t have an active state to balance it out.

Sleeping late affects your sleep patterns and can result in tiredness and a lack of concentration which can pose a risk if you operate machinery or have to drive to work in the morning.

Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine harm the sleep cycle as they keep you up and make it difficult to sleep properly and get quality sleep.

Alcohol is a sedative which can induce sleep but ultimately may disrupt your sleeping pattern, causing you to wake up in the night.

2. Stress

A hectic day at the office can take its toll on your sleep health, especially if you end up working late. Major and minor life events such as changing jobs, the death of a loved one or a break-up are leading causes of fatigue and sleepiness.

3. Depression and anxiety

People between the ages of 15 and 30 are the most affected by depression which can be caused by a myriad of issues. Women are more likely to be affected by depression. Depression and anxiety impede on your ability to sleep as the likelihood of sleeping late or for short periods is heightened by these mental illnesses. Often, medication taken to treat depression and anxiety can lead to feelings of sleepiness or intense drowsiness.

4. Vitamin deficiency

Another cause of fatigue and sleepiness can be a shortage of vitamins. Low levels of vitamin B-12, vitamin D, iron, magnesium and potassium can all result in fatigue. The body needs these vitamins in abundance to maintain energy levels throughout the day.

5. Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can cause sleeplessness and lead to fatigue in sleepiness.

Energy levels take a dip when primary or chronic insomnia sets in. Insomnia is a condition where you have trouble falling or staying asleep. The sleep deprivation that ensues because of insomnia can cause fatigue.

Sleep apnea happens when there is an obstruction that prevents air from reaching the lungs resulting in snoring and a short period where breathing stops. A person may experience sleepiness and fatigue because of sleep disruption.

Willis-Ekbom disease is commonly called restless leg syndrome. Individuals struggle to sleep as they can feel different sensations in their legs. They may then wake up to walk around or stretch their limbs to alleviate the condition and experience a loss of quality sleep as in the case of insomnia.

6. Chronic fatigue syndrome

An excessive feeling of fatigue that doesn’t get alleviated by sleep or medication to boost one’s energy levels may point to chronic fatigue syndrome. The causes of this illness are varied, but it is understood that it doesn’t improve with sleep. The effects include tension headaches or migraines, feeling tired after waking up, being exhausted after rigorous physical and mental activity and unexplained muscle or joint pain.

7. Medical conditions

There are several other medical illnesses which may contribute to fatigue. Diabetes, anemia and thyroid disorders can all cause sleepiness and fatigue. Anemia happens when there is a shortage of red blood cells, which is indicative of an iron deficiency.

If you have addressed any of these causes of sleepiness and fatigue but still feeling sleepy all the time or struggling to stay awake at work, consult your doctor to rule out any underlying issues and to get the help you need.