Why am I so tired?

Elle Brown RN
Elle Brown examines how nurses and midwives can bring energy into their lives.

Why I am so tired

Almost everyone has experienced a degree of fatigue at some point in their life. More than tired, the feeling of overwhelming exhaustion and the urge to rest and sleep are the hallmarks of fatigue. We sometimes accept fatigue as a “normal” part of being a shift-worker, but it can have dramatic effects on your quality of life. Let’s take a look at some factors that may be contributing to your fatigue.

Why am I more fatigued than usual?

Time of year

Some months of the year seem to go hand in hand with fatigue. The end of the year, Christmas and its obligations and rituals. Autumn and the change in weather, deciduous trees dropping their leaves and daylight-saving ends. Winter and the urge to stay at home because you can’t be bothered getting into three layers of clothing and the evenings come quickly. If you’re feeling particularly drained in winter, there is some evidence that Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to depression and fatigue.

Life events

Various life events are associated with fatigue — for different reasons. The sleeplessness and fatigue that accompanies children. The shifted sleep patterns and fatigue that accompany jet lag. The insomnia that plagues the shift worker. The disrupted sleep patterns of mental illness. The nocturnal hot flushes and middle of the night awakenings of menopause. Some of these get better with time, but they are all powerful drivers of fatigue. What’s going on in your life? Are you experiencing more upheaval than usual? 

Shift work

Fatigue related to shift work has negative effects on the wellbeing of nurses and midwives. It can also have a deleterious effect on patient safety. Shift work can make your attempts to have a sleep pattern, regular sleep and wake times almost impossible. It should always be possible to negotiate a shift pattern or days that you can work to fit your outside of work caring requirements, life cycle stage and preferred days/nights. Check out Fight fatigue in nursing and midwifery for more information on how to structure your roster to optimise rest.

What can I do to treat fatigue?

The solutions to fatigue will look slightly different for everybody, and it’s not all about sleep. If you’d like some ideas to improve sleep hygiene, check out these tips from Celeste.

Find activities that energize you

It’s tempting to hibernate when you’re tired, but sometimes what we actually need is stimulation. Choosing activities that really interest you or fulfil a need for creativity or exercise is a powerful antidote to fatigue. Quarantine a day or an evening where you pursue a goal or spend time doing something you enjoy.

Get a check-up

If you’re getting plenty of sleep, there can be an underlying medical reason for fatigue. Seeking out a check-up can also be a good opportunity to reflect and speak candidly about what is happening in your life. You might also take the opportunity to seek a better health plan or seek expert advice from a psychologist, dietician, or exercise physiologist.

Assess your financial needs

How much you are working and why? A visit to a financial counsellor or call to the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) may allow you to reappraise your financial goals and tailor your work life accordingly. Sometimes, we continue with the hours we have always worked out of a sense of duty or habit rather than financial need. Alternatively, you may be able to restructure debt or reorganise your finances to give yourself some more breathing room. If you’re experiencing financial anxiety, check out our podcast: Your financial wellbeing matters with Wealth Health Co.

Consider change

Burnout is a key contributor to fatigue. If you’re experiencing burnout, it might be time to consider a professional pivot.
Does your work challenge you? Are you continuing to learn and have a curiosity about the work you do? It might be time to consider changing your workplace or to seek out further education to enable you to change roles within the same organisation. You can usually access People and Culture or the Employee Assistance Program at your workplace for some advice. You may also seek out the services of a coach or recruitment advisor to help you find a new direction. Check out our podcast on the subject: Career transition: Your career matters!  

Take some leave

Lastly: how is your annual leave balance? Do you have plans to take time off? Are you someone who only takes leave when pressured to by your employer or are you proactively planning leave?

Sometimes you can have plans for the future, but taking leave now would be better for your health. It can be a sacrifice to give up future plans for important vacations or visits to family and friends, but sometimes the here and now is the best time to take some leave.

Is your fatigue situational, or chronic?

Sometimes fatigue rises to the level of Myalgic Encephalitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). MECFS is a neurological disorder characterised by post-exertional malaise where symptoms worsen after exertion and aren’t helped by sleep or rest. ME/CFS is complex and can have many causes and contributing factor. It is difficult to identify the prevalence of the condition in our community. More than 20,000 Australians were treated for the condition in 2020, but researchers believe the true rate to be higher. The condition is most commonly diagnosed in women aged over 40, but can affect people of any age or gender. If you feel you might be dealing with ME/CFS, you should talk to a doctor about your concerns.

Reach out to us

Call us any time to talk — 1800 667 877. Nurse & Midwife Support is the 24/7 national service for nurses, midwives and students. Give us a call to talk to a nurse or midwife about how you might beat fatigue.