Boosting Energy & Managing Fatigue Archive


Shorter sleep may cause dehydration

 Image: © miya227/Getty Images

In the journals

Adults who sleep only six hours per night may have a higher chance of being dehydrated, compared with those who sleep longer, according to recent research published online Nov. 5, 2018, by the journal Sleep. The findings suggest that some of the symptoms of inadequate sleep, such as fatigue, fuzzy thinking, and headache in the morning, may be due to dehydration.

Researchers looked at the risk of dehydration in approximately 20,000 U.S. and Chinese adults. In both populations, people who reported sleeping six or fewer hours had up to a 59% higher risk of dehydration compared with those who slept seven to eight hours on a regular basis. The researchers speculated that the finding may reflect the nightly rhythm of a hormone called vasopressin. During sleep, the pituitary gland in the brain uses vasopressin to signal the kidneys to retain fluid in the body rather than excreting it through urine.

Refueling your energy levels

Lost your spark and gusto? These strategies can help you recharge.

Everyone has the occasional low-energy day when you are easily fatigued. Often the feeling passes, and you bounce back to your regular robust self. But if you struggle with a constant lack of energy, you may have a problem deep within your cells.

Mitochondria are the power source inside all your body's cells. These tiny structures fuel the body by producing molecules called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. However, as you grow older, your body has fewer mitochondria.

Is my constant exhaustion normal?

Ask the doctors

Q. I feel like I'm tired all the time. Is this just a normal part of aging?

A. The short answer to your question is, no. Getting older may mean you have less endurance than you used to and you may feel tired sometimes, just like anyone else, but if you are experiencing long-lasting daily fatigue, there could be an underlying medical cause.

Tired of being fatigued

Don't accept regular fatigue as part of aging.

Image: © seb_ra/Thinkstock
Weariness, tiredness, lack of energy. There are many ways to describe those times when you are so fatigued you can't do anything. Often you bounce back after a quick rest or a good night's sleep, but if fatigue is occurring more often and lasting longer, it could be a sign of something more serious.

"Men may chalk up fatigue to aging, but there is no reason you should battle ongoing fatigue," says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a geriatric physician with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Everyone gets tired sometimes, and your endurance may decline with age — you may not move as fast and sometimes tire quicker — but you should never be too fatigued to enjoy an active lifestyle."

How to keep your brain healthy through exercise

Exercise helps keep the brain healthy by improving memory and problem solving, and may even reduce the risk of dementia. Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone advocates regular exercise as a treatment for all people and explains more about the benefits for the brain.

Could a vitamin or mineral deficiency be behind your fatigue?

The world moves at a hectic pace these days. If you feel like you're constantly running on empty, you're not alone. Many people say that they just don't have the energy they need to accomplish all they need to. Sometimes the cause of fatigue is obvious — for example, getting over the flu or falling short on sleep. Sometimes a vitamin deficiency is part of the problem. It might be worth asking your doctor to check a few vitamin levels, such as the three we've listed below.

  • Iron. Anemia occurs when there aren't enough red blood cells to meet the body's need for oxygen, or when these cells don't carry enough of an important protein called hemoglobin. Fatigue is usually the first sign of anemia. A blood test to measure the number of red blood cells and amount of hemoglobin can tell if you have anemia. The first step in shoring up your body's iron supply is with iron-rich foods (such as red meat, eggs, rice, and beans) or, with your doctor's okay, over-the-counter supplements.
  • Vitamin B12. Your body needs sufficient vitamin B12 in order to produce healthy red blood cells.  So a deficiency in this vitamin can also cause anemia. The main sources of B12 are meat and dairy products, so many people get enough through diet alone. However, it becomes harder for the body to absorb B12 as you get older, and some illnesses (for example, inflammatory bowel disease) can also impair absorption. Many vegetarians and vegans become deficient in B12 because they don't eat meat or dairy. When B12 deficiency is diet-related, oral supplements and dietary changes to increase B12 intake usually do the trick. Other causes of B12 deficiency are usually treated with regular injections of vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin D. A deficit of this vitamin can sap bone and muscle strength. This vitamin is unique in that your body can produce it when your skin is exposed to sunlight, but there also aren't many natural food sources of it. You can find it in some types of fish (such as tuna and salmon) and in fortified products such as milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. Supplements are another way to ensure you're getting enough vitamin D (note that the D3 form is easier to absorb than other forms of vitamin D).

For more ways to combat fatigue, buy Boosting Your Energy, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Iron and your health

If you feel run-down, lack of iron is probably not the cause. You can easily get enough of this key mineral in your diet.

Decades ago, advertising for the liquid vitamin and mineral supplement Geritol warned against "iron-poor, tired blood." It's a reference to the fact that red blood cells need iron to make hemoglobin, the molecule that grabs oxygen and transports it around the body.

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