Don’t take fatigue lying down

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Have you ever had one of those days where you are so weary, you can’t seem to do anything except binge-watch Netflix?

Sure, everyone gets tired sometimes, and often bounces back after a quick rest or a good night’s sleep. However, if bouts of fatigue occur more often and last longer, you shouldn’t ignore them.

“Older adults may chalk up fatigue to aging, but there is no reason you should battle ongoing tiredness,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a geriatric physician with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Here are signs that you should take your tiredness seriously:

  • inability to do activities you enjoy
  • waking up exhausted, even after a good night’s sleep
  • not feeling motivated to begin the day
  • sudden bouts of exhaustion that go away and then return
  • shortness of breath.

This type of fatigue can affect your health in many ways. You may have less energy to exercise. You may have trouble concentrating, staying alert, and remembering things. You may anger easily and become more socially isolated.

It’s worth checking in with your doctor

Fatigue also could signal a medical condition, according to Dr. Salamon, and you should consult your doctor to see if you have any of the following issues.

  • Anemia. This occurs when your blood has too few red blood cells or those cells have too little hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen through the bloodstream. The result is a drop in energy levels.
  • Heart disease. Heart disease can cause the heart to pump blood less efficiently and lead to fluid in the lungs. This can cause shortness of breath and reduce the oxygen supply to the heart and lungs, making you tired.
  • Sleep problems. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in your breathing, often lasting several seconds, or shallow breathing while you sleep. It is common among older adults and those who are overweight. Another sleep-related issue is an overactive bladder, which forces repeated nighttime bathroom trips. Either of these can disturb your sleep enough to leave you feeling tired during the day.
  • Medication. Certain medications can make you feel tired, such as blood pressure drugs, statins, antidepressants, antihistamines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and cold medications. “People react to medications differently and they often end up taking more as they get older,” says Dr. Salamon. Check with your doctor, especially if you have added a new medication or recently increased your dosage. “Sometimes it helps to take certain medicines, which may cause fatigue, at night rather than in the daytime,” she says.
  • Low-grade depression or anxiety. Mental health issues often drain energy levels. “You may suffer from depression or anxiety and not even know it,” says Dr. Salamon.
  • Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). This is a complex disorder that causes unexplained extreme fatigue, which can worsen after physical or mental activity and does not improve with rest. Its cause is unknown, but may be linked to one or more underlying issue.

Some simple ways to boost energy levels

For regular, everyday fatigue, try these tips:

  • Drink a cup of coffee or tea. A little caffeine can jump-start your day, she says. “You don’t need more than that, but it can offer a mental and physical lift, especially if you have trouble with morning fatigue.”
  • Go for a 30-minute walk. “If you can’t get outside, walk around your house in bouts of 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a day,” says Dr. Salamon.
  • Take a nap. A midday nap can help overcome tiredness later in the day. Keep naps to about 20 to 30 minutes, as studies have suggested that napping for 40 minutes or longer can have the opposite effect and leave you feeling groggy rather than refreshed. “Also, don’t nap too late in the day or in the early evening, when it could interfere with your normal sleep schedule,” says Dr. Salamon.

Related Information: Boosting Your Energy


  1. Sandeep Sitoke

    I check my health with this app it’s not promotional I only share which is working for me.

  2. J. K. Frascari

    It is critically important to note that Matthew Solan’s recommendation to “Go for a 30-minute walk. ‘If you can’t get outside, walk around your house in bouts of 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a day,'” can be HARMFUL for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). See:

    Mr. Solan, the responsible thing would be to explicitly note this exception directly after this particular piece of advice. Many thousands of people with ME/CFS have been advised to exercise, contradicting biomedical research that has established the dangers of doing so for people with ME/CFS.

    Please, we need and expect you to be scientifically accurate when writing for the Harvard Health Blog and elsewhere.

  3. Ellen

    Isn’t fatigue sometimes a symptom of Parkinson’s disease?

  4. R. Smith

    Doctors ruined my life for 30 years with all the meds they gave me for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Finally, I watched House of Healing on Youtube. The counselor in this video used to be a paid counselor…not just a Jesus freak. The template he uses is similar to the questions I was asked while being a guinea pig for a new drug for fibromyalgia at University Hospital in Cincinnati (the drug didn’t work for me). Michael W. Smith from House of Healing has changed my life and the lives of all my suffering friends. He exposes the fact that most sufferers of fibro/ptsd/etc. were traumatized early in childhood; physically, emotionally and/or in addition to being victims of sexual predators and abandonment; they feel rejected and become easy targets for narcissists.
    I watched a secular You Tube video by Kim Saeed called “Why narcissists discard you at the worst possible time!” Finally, I realized I had been unwittingly traumatized for 32 years by a narcissistic husband, narcissistic family members and “friends.” I learned to remove myself from situations.
    Just knowing the game plan of narcissistic abuse patterns has kept me out of pharmaceutical drug dependence…I owe a lot to my biochemist son that is a patent attorney(lol) in Washington D.C. John is the one who told me that it was all in my head while doing research in the lab and working on publishing an article in Nature during the time he was a student working at The University of Chicago.
    The early patterns of rejection, abuse, victimization and sexual abuse becomes a lifelong pattern. Sexual predators remove the child from the guardianship of loving parents; the predator tells the child not to tell your parents, therefore, the victim is now an “orphan”. Being an “orphan” and victim of narcissistic abuse creates stress and burns up the thyroid and immune system. Thyroid overload is the physical cause of all the symptoms of fibro/ptsd/etc. (the mean used in thyroid testing is way below a healthy norm). My dentist, a biochemist, told me the only answer he found for his wife is dissicated thyroid since none of the artificial thyroid meds worked for his wife.
    For me, this seems to be an excellent addition to a combined approach of sunshine, an amazing support group, forgiveness, exercise, fresh non refined,low carb non gmo food, B12, ginger, turmeric, prayer,proper breathing, info from Heart Math Institute, applying research proving the power of words and prayer over cellular development( Masaru Emoto) so that I speak affirmations over myself in front of a mirror, understanding cardio-neurology and quantum physics( at a very basic level) have all been part of my amazing journey back to health.
    R. Smith, M.E.

    • Elaine

      Thank you for sharing your difficult journey that has brought you to a better place. Staying away from all drugs if possible is the way to go with CFS/Fibro. Also, consider an overgrowth of Candida in the intestines, likely from antibiotics & steroids. Think of a tree with a fungus. Now imagine the human body with one.

  5. Zahida mahmood

    I like all the articles which I receive from ” health Harvard”, but this one is amazing. This is my life story. I love this article and want to thank to all members, writers, doctors who do so much research and help us. Many many thanks.

  6. Anonymous

    Don’t forget to have your thyroid checked. I had lots of tiredness over the winter and it turned out my thyroid was out of balance. The doctor isn’t sure what caused it but it’s back to normal.

    Also, not mentioned is the amount of alcohol people drink that can interfere with sleep patterns. I don’t drink but have relatives that do especially close to bedtime and complain they don’t sleep well.

  7. Ms Tess

    You didn’t mention allergies. On days when the pollen count is very high I lack the energy to do much of anything except nap. My dog also reacts by biting herself. After a brief rain I am good to go.

  8. Joseph Shapiro

    There are 73 “Topics” listed. Assuming $20.00 each, the cost $1,460 ! Perhaps it is time for consolidation, on line, or print, or both. Your thoughts.

  9. Stephanie

    You left out Epstein Barr virus. A recurrence of this virus can cause extreme fatigue for an extended period of time, but can be improved with simple lifestyle changes.

  10. Jane

    Also check vitamin D levels. Very low vitamin D can cause that all day tired feeling.

  11. Esther Siebert

    Not sure why several people think ME/CFS isn’t mentioned. The current article says:

    “Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). This is a complex disorder that causes unexplained extreme fatigue, which can worsen after physical or mental activity and does not improve with rest. Its cause is unknown, but may be linked to one or more underlying issue.”

    Maybe this wasn’t included in the original post. I don’t know. But it is now…

  12. Richard P

    The first piece of advice is to take a drug?!!

  13. Jeremy

    I agree why no mention of cfs me. It’s disgusting how patients are trampled on by the medical profession as far as this illness is concerned

  14. Nancy Blake

    There is no mention of ME/CFS as a possible cause of fatigue.

  15. Nancy Blake

    This article fails to include ME/CFS/SEID as a possible reason for fatigue.

    Inability to keep up with normal activities, and a range of symptoms indicative of problems with muscle metabolism, cognitive function and endocrine regulation (sleep rhythms, maintenance of body temperature, appetite regulation), and signs of immune activity (sore lymph glands, sore throats, ongoing low-grade fever is an immediately recognisable constellation of symptoms indicative of ME/CFS/SEID.

    This multisystem disease is one in which, accoding to the IOM report, ‘Beyond Myalgic Encephalomyelis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Redefining an Illness’, exertion of any type, physical, cognitive or emotional, may adversely affect many organ systems.

    This is a potentially severely disabling multisystem disorder in which is is essential that diagnosis is followed by a prescription of protracted rest.

    A mistaken psychiatric diagnosis and prescription of CBT and Exercise can result in mild or moderate levels becoming severe, with patients bed-ridden, in extreme and intractable pain, completely incapacitated, and contining in this state indefinitely.

    This is one disease where advice to exercise is dangerous. The Harvard Health bulletin, of all publications, should include these provisos in every article referring to fatigue, or recommending exercise.
    The editor, Dr. Komaroff, is an expert in this condition, having studied it for many years. So I do not understand why this publication appears to ignore it.

    • Elaine

      Very well said. Why is it always overlooked? It is a disease with its primary symptom fatigue. There is also no mention of Lyme Disease, widespread and growing in Massachusetts. And no mention of a possible deficiency of B vitamins, particularly B12. The UK uses hydroxocobalamin, a more biologically available form of B12 that I believe helps CFS/ME patients and anyone with fatigue for that matter.

  16. Sergio H. Ferretti

    Gentlemen, I have been translating into Portuguese some of your articles for a friend of mine who faces multiple sclerosis.
    Thank you for your nice articles.
    Sergio H. Ferretti

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