Men: why are you so tired?

High Wilson
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Many modern men are suffering from low energy, fatigue and sleepiness: what can we do about it?

According to many experts, we are experiencing an epidemic of fatigue. Many of us complain of never waking up refreshed, or of plodding zombie-like through exhausted days, or of working hard all week and not being able to rise from the sofa on our days off.

Feeling tired all the time used to be predominantly female complaint but men are catching up fast. So why are so many modern men suffering from low energy and sleepiness, and what can we do about it?

Reason 1: we burn the candle at both ends
The first reason we're tired is quite simply that we don't get enough sleep. A 24-hour society means there's ever-increasing pressure on our time, and for many young men the thing to go is not overtime, marathon Xbox sessions or the pub, it's a good night's sleep.

The simple message, says sleep expert and physiotherapist Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide is "that we need to prioritise sleep — and give it its proper place in our lives."

So the solution may be simple. Put down the joy pad, walk away from the laptop, and get an extra hour or two in bed.

Reason 2: we have emotional or psychological problems
There's a new sleep thief in town called the quarter-life crisis, and it effects many men in their 20s and 30s. It's characterised by anxiety over life choices and the future, and one of the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression is fatigue.

Maybe you've just split up with a long-term partner or lost a grandparent, or maybe you feel trapped in a dead end job — any of these and more can hit young men hard and lead to a life sapping loss of energy.

If you're very anxious or depressed, you may need to see a counsellor (consult your GP in the first instance). Milder emotional problems can be eased by eating healthily, exercising, calling on the support of friends and accepting that the bad times won't last.

Reason 3: we don't do enough
By which we mean, we don't do enough physically. "We all lead more sedentary lifestyles," says Sammy Margo. "But we also have all sorts of things to take our mental focus. That means we're all physically under active but mentally over active."

If you're the sort of man who spends a lot of time slumped in front of screens — whether TV, PC, iPad or games console — and very little time in the great outdoors, you may feel tired a lot of the time.

The answer is to schedule some movement into your day. Take a walk at lunchtime, hit the gym once in a while, have a kick-about in the park on Sunday afternoons. Any movement will help you to clear the mental fog that makes you sleepy even in the middle of the day.

Reason 4: we don't have enough time for others
That's probably a time thing rather than a personality problem, but it's worth finding an hour or two a week for acts of altruism or friendship, whether that's volunteering somewhere or listening to a mate's relationship woes. Why? Because getting some positive human connections in your life stops you from feeling sleepy.

That was the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, which found that altruism can boost happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, your sense of control over life, physical health and mood, all of which give you back the va-va-voom that stops fatigue in its tracks.

Reason 5: we eat badly
Men are prone to poor eating habits that leave them feeling tired and listless. First off, make sure you eat breakfast, and then eat light meals every three or four hours. That will make sure your blood sugar levels remain stable, and ward off the crippling fatigue that can come when they dive.

But 'light' is key. Men often eat too heavily at lunchtime, which means they become lethargic as their bodies expend energy digesting big meals. That makes your body's natural mid-afternoon slump so much worse. Finally, fill up on fibre and cut down on chocolate and biscuits between meals. Sweet treats give you a short-term sugar high that quickly turns into a brain-numbing slump.

Reason 6: we have medical issues
Women often blame various moods and maladies on hormones but, in this instance, men might be able to do the same. One of the classic symptoms of low testosterone is fatigue, and experts say that testosterone deficiency is actually more common in younger men than originally thought.

It's still not common in men aged below 35 though, but there can be other medical reasons for a fatigue that never seems to go away, including anaemia. If you've started feeling unusually tired, speak to your GP first of all. A simple blood test is all it might take to put your mind at rest.

Reason 7: we can get chronic fatigue
Some people go on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), usually in their 20s to mid 40s. The main symptom is a long-term tiredness that isn't made better by sleep or rest. CFS can be mild or severe, and in the worst cases can leave patients unable to carry out basic everyday tasks without help.

If you feel tired a lot of the time but otherwise lead a normal life it's highly unlikely that you have CFS. But let the doctor check out any chronic or persistent tiredness that isn't alleviated by more sleep. In most cases, though, a few lifestyle adjustments should put a bit of energy back into your waking hours.

Eat well, drink less, move more, cut down your screen time and spend some time connecting with others: all are easy ways to fight fatigue and start feeling well and truly alive again.

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