Fatigue: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment 

Do you regularly find yourself resting or dozing when you should be busy? It could be that your body is trying to tell you something is wrong.

A Black man sitting on an office desk with hand placed on his head, looking tired and exhausted

Key takeaways:

  • Fatigue is a feeling of constant exhaustion, often accompanied by a lack of motivation. 
  • Medical conditions, medications, lifestyle habits, and nutrient deficiencies can cause fatigue. 
  • You can manage fatigue at home by practicing good sleep hygiene, exercising daily, and eating a balanced diet. 
  • Bananas, oats, chia seeds, and almonds are examples of foods that can fight fatigue and boost your energy levels. 

Have you ever woken up from sleep feeling like you just ran a marathon? Instead of being energized, you can’t even get out of bed, and you feel like canceling all your plans for the day. Fatigue is the likely culprit. 

This article will help you understand what fatigue is and what can cause it. You’ll also learn about how you can manage fatigue at home and when you should see your primary healthcare provider.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a term used to describe a state of extreme tiredness and lack of motivation. There are two types of fatigue:

  • Physical fatigue 
  • Mental fatigue 

Although the two types of fatigue often occur together, they are different. Physical fatigue impacts your ability to carry out daily tasks, while mental fatigue involves a decline in cognitive performance and mental clarity. 

Signs and symptoms of fatigue

People dealing with fatigue experience different symptoms depending on the cause—physical or mental. 

Fatigue is often accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Extreme exhaustion 
  • Low energy and motivation 
  • Difficulty with concentration 
  • Muscle pain and weakness 
  • Moodiness and depression 
  • Short-term memory problems 
  • Persistent headaches 

Causes of fatigue

Several health conditions, mental health issues, and lifestyle factors can cause fatigue. Certain medications can also cause or worsen fatigue. 

Health conditions

Many physical health conditions can cause fatigue. They include: 

  • Anemia 
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity 
  • Heart disease 
  • Cancer 
  • Congestive heart failure 
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome 
  • Sleep disorders 
  • Diabetes 
  • Kidney disease 
  • Autoimmune disorders  

The following infectious diseases can also cause fatigue:

  • HIV 
  • COVID-19
  • Pneumonia 
  • Tuberculosis 
  • Hepatitis 
  • Malaria 

Mental health issues

Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health issues such as: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders 
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) 
  • Schizophrenia 

Lifestyle habits

Your lifestyle habits and daily activities can lower your energy levels and lead to fatigue. These include: 

  • Poor diet 
  • Dehydration 
  • Excessive alcohol use 
  • Consuming too much caffeine 
  • Skipping meals 
  • Illegal drug use 
  • Working irregular shifts 
  • Chronic stress 
  • Lack of exercise 
  • Lack of sleep 

Drugs and medications

Certain prescription and non-prescription drugs can induce fatigue. Common examples include:

  • Opioids 
  • Antipsychotics 
  • Beta-blockers 
  • Sedatives 
  • Antihistamines 


Nutrient deficiencies can also cause fatigue. The following nutrient deficiencies have been linked to fatigue:

  • Iron 
  • Magnesium 
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • Folate (vitamin B9)
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B12)
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin D

Fatigue after sleeping: why you may experience it

There’s nothing wrong if you occasionally wake up tired. However, if it happens often, it could be due to a medical condition or your lifestyle habits. 

The following can make you wake up feeling tired:

  • Sleep apnea: A sleep disorder that makes your breathing repeatedly stop and start while you’re asleep. 
  • Insomnia: This sleep disorder makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. 
  • Poor sleep hygiene: Staring at screens before bedtime and sleeping in an uncomfortable bed or room are examples of poor sleeping habits that can impact the quality of your sleep. 
  • Restless leg syndrome: A condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs while resting, which can disrupt sleep. 
  • Excessive urination: Waking up to use the bathroom several times at night can disrupt your sleep cycle.

Getting quality sleep at night can help you feel energetic when you wake up. You can improve the quality of your sleep by adopting good sleeping habits. For a deep, restful sleep, you should:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. 
  • Engage in physical exercise daily.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, from the bedroom. 
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet room that is neither too cold nor too hot.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeinated products before bedtime. 

If you keep waking up tired after improving your sleep hygiene, you should speak to your doctor. You may be suffering from a sleep disorder. 

How to diagnose fatigue

There’s no particular test used to diagnose fatigue because the causes vary. Your doctor will try to find out the cause of your fatigue by asking you questions. They may also order laboratory tests to detect any underlying medical condition. 

How to treat fatigue

Treatment for fatigue depends on what is causing it. Your doctor will suggest an appropriate treatment plan once they establish the cause of your fatigue.

In the meantime, you can try to alleviate your symptoms at home by:

  • Getting enough quality sleep 
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet 
  • Managing stress 
  • Exercising regularly 
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight or obese  

What foods help with fatigue?

Fresh, nutrient-rich food can provide your body with an energy boost that helps combat fatigue.

Consider incorporating the following foods into your diet for more energy:

  • Bananas 
  • Oats 
  • Chia seeds 
  • Eggs 
  • Spinach 
  • Beans 
  • Almonds 
  • Watermelon 

Also, remember to stay hydrated. Water does not contain any nutrients or calories, but it powers your body’s metabolism.

Avoid processed foods that are high in sugar and contain artificial ingredients, which can make you feel sluggish during the day.

What vitamins can help with fatigue?

B vitamins such as niacin (vitamin B3), cobalamin (vitamin B12), vitamin C, and vitamin D are crucial in energy production and can help reduce fatigue.

You can get these essential vitamins from food sources. However, if you’re diagnosed with a deficiency or you’re at risk, your doctor may recommend dietary supplements. 

For example, vegans may benefit from taking vitamin B12 supplements because the vitamin is naturally present in foods of animal origin.

When to see a doctor for fatigue

Everyone experiences fatigue now and then. It could be due to an illness, jet lag, sleep disturbances, or a night of partying with friends.

You should see a doctor if you’re experiencing extreme tiredness without a known cause that doesn’t respond favorably to suitable lifestyle changes.