With lots of us fighting the urge to hibernate, now is the perfect time for our fab osteopath, Katie, to share her top tips for beating fatigue this winter.
“As the seasons start to change and the number of daylight hours decrease, I’ve been noticing a lot of yawning going on. And it’s not due to boredom!
Research shows that 1 in 5 of us are unusually tired and 1 in 10 are chronically tired.
Fatigue is a symptom of many medical conditions and these may need to be investigated. Tiredness which isn’t relieved by a good nights sleep should warrant a visit to the doctor after about a month. If you have other symptoms such as nausea, weight loss, increased thirst, hair loss or changes to your bowel habits then you should go before this point for initial blood tests.
Common medical causes of tiredness include:
- Anaemia (iron deficiency, especially in women and vegetarians/vegans)
- Early stage pregnancy
- Thyroid problems
- Side effects of medication
- Underlying infection
However once these have been ruled out, what can you do to help yourself to feel better?
- Get a good nights sleep
This may be quite obvious, but it is the most important part of trying to combat fatigue (which is why it is number one on our list!) Even if you follow all the tips below, if you don’t aim for a good nights sleep you may feel better but it is unlikely you will be 100% better.
Unfortunately there is no magic number for the hours you need to sleep; under 7 hours is likely to be too little but over 9 is likely to be too much – you need to work out your own pattern.
There are many different ways to try and improve sleep: keeping a dark and cool bedroom; sleeping within a set routine; avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or watching television before bed. Keeping all electronic devices such as phones and tablets out of the bedroom can be very beneficial too!
- Control your weight
Evidence suggests that if you are overweight or underweight you are more prone to experiencing fatigue.
If you are underweight you may not be having an adequate nutrient intake to run your body at its optimal level. Similarly, if you are overweight it will take more energy to move your body and keep the simple processes of breathing and heart circulation going.
Unexpectedly there is research to show that obesity is more of a risk factor for tiredness in women than in men, especially in the older population.
- Diet, Caffeine and Alcohol
A good diet gives you all the vitamins and nutrients you need (mild deficiencies can cause tiredness, which I will discuss below).
If you eat a healthy low GL diet it will help keep your blood sugar level constant and thus stop you experiencing energy highs and lows.
Similarly, high levels of caffeine can cause dips in energy levels. As caffeine is a stimulant it means that whilst in your body it can make you feel more alert. This can heighten the feelings of fatigue you experience when the caffeine wears off. Try weaning yourself off caffeine over a course of three weeks and then stay off it for a month to see whether it makes a difference to your energy levels.
Having too much alcohol can also lead to fatigue. The NHS recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units per day. They also recommend that women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units per day (this page will help you understand what a unit is…)
‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week. If you feel that you drink too much it may be a god idea to have a chat to your GP about what you could do next to help.
Research shows that massage can reduce fatigue (although I know you may feel sleepy and relaxed afterwards!) and it also helps increase sleep quality – a double whammy! It is usually recommended that patients have a series of around 10 massage treatments for fatigue which should be spread throughout 5-10 weeks.
Massage has also been shown to reduce fatigue in those suffering from cancer, and thus improves quality of life.
Massage may even reduce post-partum or pregnancy-related fatigue so it is definitely worth a try.
It is believed that touch and manual therapies decrease stress hormone levels in the body and increase levels of our ‘feel good’ hormones, dopamine and serotonin which help you to feel better and more awake.
If you have a medical condition which may impact how massage works (such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer) it is important to tell your massage therapist. It is also important to go to a massage therapist experienced in treating people with your condition, or go to a medically trained professional such as an osteopath, physical therapist or trained nurse.
- Take Your Vitamins
Vitamin B12 can be associated with tiredness, especially in vegetarians and vegans, although meat-eaters may also suffer. Doctors rarely test for blood levels of B12 so it may be a hidden cause of your tiredness.
If you have very low levels of B12 you may even begin to experience pins and needles in the fingers and toes. Try increasing your intake to see if it makes a difference, either by taking supplements or natural sources. These include marmite (yeast extract), liver, milk, fortified breakfast cereals and there is some evidence for taking the green algae supplement, chlorella, to reduce deficiency. Vitamin B12 also helps you to absorb iron to reduce anaemia.
You can read part 2 of my top tips to beat fatigue in the new year – when we will all have got through the busy festive period and will be in need of some energy boosting!