Health Articles, Stress, Sleep +Tiredness

Why am I always so tired?

A very common complaint that we hear from patients in clinic … is that they constantly feel tired. 

Sometimes this is related to lack of sleep, but sometimes no amount of rest seems to alleviate the tiredness.  In addition to poor quality sleep, extreme stress, lack of activity, and constant triggering events are so common now that many people are left feeling exhausted and tired all the time.

If it gets to the point that a person is always tired, so much that he or she never feels rested and has trouble engaging in normal daily activities, it can lead to fatigue. 

The most fundamental concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that of “Qi,” the life force energy that flows through the body.  According to TCM, fatigue is related to the quantity and quality of Qi a person is able to maintain.  Qi deficiency, then, is seen as the primary cause of fatigue.

Qi deficiencies can show up in different ways

Spleen-pancreas – This is the organ system that directs digestion.  When this is weak, you may feel bloated after eating, have a tendency toward loose bowels, feel weak and depressed, and bruise easily.  This can be due to erratic eating patterns, or consumption of too many cold foods or sweets.  Even worrying or over-thinking can be a contributing factor.  Many people go through stressful periods when they exhibit these behaviours and symptoms.

Lung – The function of the lungs is to extract Qi from the air we breathe.  Sometimes lung Qi is weakened when we do a lot of talking as part of our work without taking enough breaks.  Emotions of grief and sadness can also weaken the lungs.  This may present as being prone to coughs or colds and a feeling of shortness of breath.  

Blood Deficiency – This often goes together with Qi deficiency.  When our Liver Blood energy is weakened (through overwork, poor sleep, poor diet, illness, or excessive bleeding), you may feel restless and have a hard time falling asleep even though you are tired.  You may also experience dizziness.  When the blood deficiency is heart-related, it can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Yang Deficiency – Lack of heat energy in the body causes lack of strength, spontaneous sweating, feelings of cold, lassitude of spirit and fatigue.  This differentiation can cause menopausal fatigue and low back pain.  

Fatigue does not always stem from a weakness in your body’s energy.  Sometimes fatigue comes from energy not moving properly.  Health, in Chinese Medicine, is all about the smooth flow of energy through the body.  When something alters that smooth flow – illness, injury, trauma, stress, poor lifestyle choices, etc – fatigue can result.  When your body’s energy is not flowing the way it should be, your body actually has to exert a lot more energy to keep you running well.  The kind of fatigue that comes from Qi Stagnation (energy not flowing well) can present as a fatigue that improves with exercise or movement.  As an example, it is the kind of fatigue that makes it really hard to get to the gym, but completely disappears once you complete your work-out.  

Qi stagnation fatigue can make us feel “tired but wired,” and can also be closely related to feeling overwhelmed or run down by stress.  This sort of fatigue is helped by exercise, movement, and stress-reduction techniques.

Lastly, fatigue can be caused by damp.  Dampness is a concept somewhat unique to Chinese Medicine – it refers to an abnormal processing of fluids in the body. Dampness can “lodge” itself in many different areas and as such, can lead to numerous symptoms.  When dampness is pervasive throughout the whole body, usually one experiences a kind of constant fatigue – this can be both physical and mental.  Patients who are tired from dampness describe feeling “sluggish,” “heavy” or “fuzzy.”  This kind of fatigue is greatly improved by making dietary changes such as reducing the intake of dairy, cold or raw foods, and greasy or fried foods.  Dampness is also helped by regular exercise, which helps to break through that sluggishness.  Avoiding damp environments is also an important factor.

How we can help you

An acupuncture practitioner will first perform a thorough consultation, which may include taking your pulse and looking at your tongue, to identify the specific symptoms of fatigue and the factors potentially causing them.  A course of treatment may include not only acupuncture, but heat therapy and dietary and lifestyle advice according to the specific organ pattern that is presenting. Chinese herbal medicine is an integral part of treatment for fatigue and should be combined with your acupuncturist’s nutritional recommendations.

8 Top Tips to Beat Fatigue

While acupuncture treatment and herbal support will go a long way to combat fatigue, it is critical that patients make meaningful lifestyle modifications.  New habits will not only improve symptoms of fatigue but may help prevent exhaustion in the future.

1. Timing is everything – The adrenal hormones will be more balanced if you follow natural circadian rhythms.  This means, ideally, rising with the sun and going to bed well before midnight.  Exercise early in the day rather than stimulating the body with activity in the evening.  Stick with the same sleep routine, even on weekends and holidays.

2. Cut caffeine – Drinking coffee to stay focused is actually detrimental to your health.  Think of it as borrowing energy; you’ll have to pay it back later, with interest.  If you are used to multiple caffeinated drinks per day, start by reducing them gradually.

3. Avoid Alcohol – Even though it may feel like a glass of wine helps you relax in the evening, alcohol has a negative impact on the quality of sleep, often causing you to sleep lightly and wake during the night.

4. Drink more water – Dehydration reduces mental alertness and physical stamina.  Drinking 8 glasses of water per day ensures that nutrients and oxygen are moving smoothly through the bloodstream and that toxins are being excreted properly.  Don’t wait until you’re thirsty; by then, you are already dehydrated.  Remind yourself to drink at regular intervals.

5. Eat smaller meals more frequently to maintain blood sugar levels and energy.

6. Exercise – Even when the mildest exertion can be exhausting, it’s vital to establish and maintain regular physical activity.  A short 15-minute walk outdoors will help get the blood pumping, and exposure to sunlight is crucial for getting Vitamin D to boost immune function.

7. Qi Gong – The focused breathing and subtle movements of Qi Gong are designed to nurture Qi. Specific exercises will help to bring in more Qi, encourage Yang fire energy, and relieve stress.

8. Rest – Prioritizing rest means more than getting enough sleep at night.  Change your mindset from one of constant “busyness” and productivity.  Give yourself time to rest, read, meditate, listen to music, laugh, and just do nothing.  If you have to convince yourself, remember “Doctor’s orders … I have to rest!”  

If you have been struggling with fatigue or if you’re interested in finding out how we can help, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Dr Juanita Fuchs (Acupuncture)

Morningside Acupuncture & Natural Therapies Healing Sanctuary

your place to rest, relax + heal