What is a normal level of tired?
June 8, 2021 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I feel exhausted, a lot, lately and I'm wondering if there's a medical reason or if this is just normal for someone with my age and lifestyle.

I'm 34, female, and have an office job where I'm sitting in one place for the majority of the day. My office job is 100% WFH and very demanding. I regularly work 12 hour days with few breaks. I eat healthy about 40% of the time, but also eat junk. I haven't been doing sustained high intensity exercise, but I do go on walks with my dog on a regular basis. I don't feel depressed really... I've been diagnosed in the past but I still get joy from things and have hobbies that I'm interested in. I have a moderate level of anxiety as is probably typical. I take gabapentin 300mg 2 times a day and zoloft 50mg 1 time a day, which I believe are helping me so I prefer to stay on both at this time. I never have any problems getting to sleep and sleep about 8-10 hours a night.

I just don't know how "normal" it is to feel like I barely have enough energy to get things done at work and then at the end of the work day all I want to do is lie down and nap. Every time I get up from my chair, I feel like I want to lie down. I am not too exhausted to, for example, drive to the store or walk my dog around the block, but it takes some effort. Also, I drink caffeinated drinks (either coffee or sugarfree energy drinks) essentially around the clock just so that I can keep this low level of energy to do simple things. I would say I drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day, but also 3-4 small energy drinks with added vitamin B and stuff.

So... I know you are all not my doctor but does this sound normal? After typing this all out I feel like I need to make some lifestyle changes but just don't know if I also need to get a blood test and figure out what the heck is going on with my body.
posted by koolaidnovel to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You work 12 hour days? Mental work? Of course you're tired. I'm not sure if it's clinical, but if I feel brain dead and exhausted after 8 hours of drama, you must feel so much worse!

I don't know if there's anything you can do about your work, but that seems to me like where you'd start rather than anything clinical/medical.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:04 PM on June 8 [29 favorites]

I'd start by getting a blood test, to be honest. Lifestyle changes are great, but it's important to have a baseline. Also, regularly working 12-hour days at a demanding job for long enough will produce exhaustion in any normal human, no matter how you change your lifestyle!
posted by All hands bury the dead at 8:06 PM on June 8 [8 favorites]

You work TWELVE HOUR DAYS, which is half a 24-hour day. The fact that you're doing office work as opposed to digging ditches or anything like that doesn't matter. Mental energy is still energy - it is stress, and stress takes its toll.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 PM on June 8 [21 favorites]

I think it would be a good idea to touch base with your primary care physician to rule out anything more serious than "overwork and stress". It could be as simple as "needs iron in her diet". It does sound like your level of fatigue is more than usual and is concerning you, and a professional assessment could be helpful.
posted by citygirl at 8:10 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think the blood test is a good place to start. I've felt similar and it turned out that my vitamin D and iron levels were really low. It took about three/four weeks of iron and vitamin D supplements for me to feel much more at my normal baseline.
posted by later, paladudes at 8:13 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Checking thyroid levels would be worthwhile but working 12 hours a day would be enough to be exhausted on its own!
posted by leslies at 8:18 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

So I sometimes have to work 12-hour days, and then I absolutely just get home and take a nap. Like, if I'm working from 8-8?? Yeah, nothing else is getting done. And that happens to me truly once or twice a month at most -- I can't even imagine my level of fatigue if I was doing that every day. (We're the same age, fwiw. In my early twenties I worked 12-14 hour days all the time and still went out to the bar after, but those days are far in the rearview mirror.)

I don't know if you're able to take vacations, but do you feel this tired when you're not working? (Or on the weekends, if you don't have to work then?)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:35 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]

I think it’s normal to be that tired in your 30’s- in the sense that if you’re not eating healthy 80 percent, getting a chance to exercise with weights or something that makes you sweaty, and getting to socialize with your friends and working all the time... you just feel it more as you get older. I’d go to the doctor to to make sure about iron and vitamins and everything too though.
posted by pairofshades at 9:10 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

In addition to the above, also, you know, pandemic trauma.
posted by metabaroque at 10:04 PM on June 8 [6 favorites]

First, take a vacation.
posted by knownfossils at 10:29 PM on June 8

I think the 12 hour days are the culprit. I, before I was diagnosed with hypothyroid, was sleeping between 10 and 14 hours a day, and then taking naps. I never had energy and never felt rested. I woke up tired. I barely could handle 8 hours at a job and frequently napped during lunch. I lived, but basically if it wasn't directly survival related it did not get done and everything felt like a big deal. Lots of people said it was depression (i couldn't get enough energy to have activities i enjoyed, because i needed so much sleep) but thyroid medication changed my life.

That doesn't sound like what you are going through to me. But, it also doesn't mean you don't have a medical problem than can make stuff harder and it is totally worth getting checked out. Ruling out that stuff is really just a couple of blood tests.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:08 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I spent a decade being exhausted for medical reasons. Your schedule is demanding, but it's also definitely worth talking to a physician and getting some blood tests -- iron, vitamin D, etc. Getting those two levels under control (with IV infusion for the iron) has done wonders for me personally.
posted by cnidaria at 11:47 PM on June 8

The schedule you're working can have physical long-term effects on your body, too. A checkup is definitely in order - maybe with an insulin curve thrown into the lot. People I know who work hours like that in business consulting either fall apart health-wise in their 30s, have a nervous breakdown and/or become health freaks, because it takes a lot of compensating to get to baseline when you're putting in that much effort.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:13 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]

My view is that this level of fatigue is not normal - but then, working 12 hours days is not normal. As everyone says above, it is thoroughly unsurprising that you feel bone tired all the time. I hope you are able to get back to a more balanced schedule soon.

Also, I would get blood tests for sure. When I felt like this a couple of years ago (as a mid-30s female with a similar lifestyle), blood tests revealed that my iron, vitamin D and folate levels were massively low, and my testosterone was so low it didn’t even meet the minimum threshold. After a few months of vitamin and mineral supplements, testosterone cream and plenty of sunshine, plus basics like eating a piece of fruit or veg every day plus red meat a couple times a week, it was phenomenal just how much better I felt - and how much more thoroughly I was able to benefit from the rest that I did get.

The other thing I wanted to gently point out is that you are (unsurprisingly) drinking a huge amount of caffeine. Four coffees PLUS four energy drinks is a massive amount of caffeine. I wonder if your adrenal glands are functioning as they should? I also do wonder if your medication regime is one that normally induces drowsiness. Perhaps you could discuss that with your doctor also. There are medications now that are much less fatiguing (YMMV, but I found Valdoxan an amazing improvement over SSRIs in this respect).

All the best to you at this difficult time.
posted by Weng at 12:17 AM on June 9 [7 favorites]

1. You are working 12 hour days at a demanding job, and your level of fatigue is normal for that. You can expect it to get worse over time. I strongly recommend reading the book Laziness Does Not Exist, which unpacks what overwork does to you over time.
2. Everyone I know that has been on gabapentin has expressed some degree of tiredness on it. So that is an additional factor.
posted by rednikki at 1:33 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]

My office job is 100% WFH and very demanding. I regularly work 12 hour days with few breaks. I eat healthy about 40% of the time, but also eat junk. I haven't been doing sustained high intensity exercise

I think all your answers are contained in those three sentences. It would be extraordinary not to be exhausted while doing all those things. You're doing super-long shifts at a very demanding job with no breaks, and presumably very little daylight. If you eat healthily only 40% of the time then I'm afraid you're actually not eating healthily (sorry!) and you don't do any high intensity exercise.

It's definitely worth getting yourself checked with a doctor because of course it's totally possible to have an underlying cause on top of all those lifestyle factors, but it would be absolutely par for the course to be exhausted because of the lifestyle you've described. Our bodies aren't machines that you can run for as long as you want, as hard you want, and just turn them off to sleep then resume. They need a lot of TLC to run well, and yours isn't getting any of the things it needs (consistently nutritious food; physical and mental rest on top of just your sleep time; regular exercise of sufficient intensity to make you feel warmer and slightly out of breath).

The tricky thing is that if you're working 12 hours a day, it must be hard to find the brain space or the hours to change things. The easiest changes to make would probably be improving your diet - plan your meals ahead of time and shop accordingly at the weekend, lots of lean protein, wayyy more vegetables than you think you need, and some wholewheat carbs (people have Opinions on carbs, but for someone who's already stressed and overloaded I think just pimping an existing diet makes more sense than starting a radical paleo transformation or something). You can buy pre-cooked meats and chop some raw veg/salad stuff at the weekend and have it in the fridge so it's easy to grab on a work day.

Start doing a Couch to 5K jogging programme on your dog walks - even if you feel exhausted before you go out, at the beginning it's mostly walking anyway, and you will be amazed that you come back from exercising with more energy than you had before.

Long term, finding a job with more forgiving hours is probably your biggest fix.
posted by penguin pie at 4:27 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

How long have you experienced fatigue at this levels? Is this the normal amount of working that you do? What happens if you rest up on the weekends or have you had a chance to take a week off to just crash and try to rest up?

IANAD. It does sound like a very busy schedule, but I'll be honest, I just basically the lost 1.5 yrs of my life because I attributed my severe fatigue (among other symptoms) to "stress" and "being overworked". In my case, it seems to have been primarily a result of a sharped increase in my asthma/allergy symptoms (which yes, were exacerbated by stress apparently). And yes, I did work crazy long hours often 7 days a week, but I love my job, know what I'm capable of, and in my case, there was more going on.

Now, I'm obviously not trying to say your symptoms are due to allergies or asthma. My point is that it's probably worth at least talking to a doctor and at least getting blood work done (Vitamin D, B12, Iron, etc). Because I really wish I had paid more attention to what my body was trying to tell me.

Before going to a doctor, you might consider keeping a little daily diary for a couple weeks where you record the basics like how long and how well you slept, how tired you felt at various points in the day, what you ate and when, and any other symptoms that showed up (like GI distress). You might also want to experiment with just going off caffeine for awhile.

I wish I had spent more time listening to my brain/body rather than trying to use objective metrics of whether I should be tired or not.
posted by litera scripta manet at 4:33 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

A doctor once prescribed me gabapentin as a sleep aid to counteract another med I was taking that was giving me insomnia, and wow did it work. Maybe you've developed a tolerance, but it is definitely not an 'activating' medication. I'd talk to your doc about only taking it at night and finding something else for daytime if needed and seeing if that helps.

But yeah, 12 hour days with minimal exercise and not eating great will run you into the ground, and that level of caffeine intake is not helping your body cope over the long term. You can get away with this in your 20s, but once you're in your 30s, your body starts cashing in those IOUs with increasing regularity. I speak from experience here.

Even if you love your job to bits, you're going to hit a wall with all this at some point, and deep burnout is really tough to recover from if you still need to actually work to keep a roof over your head. I advise you to make some lifestyle changes before that happens.
posted by ananci at 5:16 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]

Another vote (despite my username) for drinking much less caffeine. Consuming that much continually will actually result in your body having less energy, and is likely interfering with your sleep.
posted by coffeecat at 8:01 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Taking a Vit. D supplement is a good idea. Also, make sure you're getting enough B12. For a while, take a multivitamin with iron, just in case. I find that being low on D or B12 really affects my energy and normal-strength supplements are safe.

Caffeine around the clock is hurting you. Try to taper down to cutting out caffeine about 10-12 hours before normal bedtime. Reducing caffeine will make you cranky and less energetic, but only in the short run. You've built up a tolerance, and need to adjust. Coffee and tea are actually pretty healthy, just not so much.

Work on reducing sugar; it's just terrible for you, and screws with energy levels. Sign up for a meal kit or otherwise find a way to get healthy, easy food into the house. You don't have to eat kale all the time, but 5 servings of veg/fruit a day, fiber, protein, etc. Meal plans are often unrealistic for me, esp. living alone. But keep fresh fruit & veg in the house, even if some of the lettuce goes bad before you can eat it. Spinach, dried cranberries, a few pre-peeled carrots, some croutons and dressing is a fast, tasty, easy salad; substitute as you like. Even small improvements in nutrition are a big help. If your urine is no darker than apple juice; you're hydrated, but keep water at your desk. Junk food like Doritos and soda pop really trains your taste buds to want more of the same; do what you can to get sugary drinks and real junk out.

Exercise, depression, working too much. 12 hrs/ day is unreasonable. Try really hard to stop doing non-essential tasks, and try to delegate what you can. Take a walk break every 4 hours; play with the dog, walk around the block, get sunshine, fresh air, perspective. You really will return with more energy. Exercise is also really great for low-grade depression. And your dog will be delighted.

I'd probably visit my doctor, get basic blood tests, but the doctor is going to recommend the same lifestyle changes recommended here. They really work, over time.
posted by theora55 at 8:27 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Just one thing to add about the caffeine: If you do have low iron, caffeine is actually going to make it harder for your body to absorb whatever iron you do have in your diet. All the other advice here tracks with my own experience of being a low-energy 30-something. I've been anemic for years but only recently started intentionally trying to add iron back into my diet (which reminds me, I need to buy orange juice today; Vitamin C helps with iron absorption).
posted by saramour at 10:58 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

« Older Is it crazy to ask for a raise mid-contract?   |   Am I being too picky with dentists? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments