In many ways, energy is the elixir of life. With it, you feel ready to take on the world. Without it, you may have trouble just getting through the day.
Energy is both physical and mental in scope—and lack of energy is a common complaint: in Gallup-Healthways surveys that asked one million Americans about their well-being, 14% said they did not have the energy they needed to get things done. Likewise, 10% of Americans surveyed for the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll said they experienced so much daytime sleepiness that they were likely to nod off at inopportune times—such as during a meeting or while driving.
Often a lack of energy or a feeling of fatigue is to be expected: for example, if you are recovering from the flu or failing to get enough sleep. Maybe you’re simply trying to do too much, and the resulting stress is wearing you down. Your exhaustion may be due to some of the physical changes that accompany aging, such as normal reductions in the amount of deep sleep or, for menopausal women, frequent hot flashes that disrupt sleep. While no one can turn back the clock, there are steps you can take to slow or even reverse some aspects of age-related fatigue. In fact, we’ve created a whole Special Section in this report on ways to jump-start your natural energy.
In some cases, though, fatigue is not part of a normal process, but rather a sign of a chronic illness. For example, lack of energy is one of the main symptoms of depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other pain syndromes, heart failure, multiple sclerosis, anemia, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, all of which require medical attention. Fatigue often subsides when these conditions are treated.
Currently, fatigue cannot be measured scientifically. But advances in understanding the neurochemical processes involved with brain function are providing insights that could, one day, pave the way for new tests to measure fatigue and new medications to treat it.
In the meantime, it’s important to know that while a lack of mental or physical energy can have many different causes, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that will help you regain the energy you need in order to fuel your life.
Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.