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Fighting Fatigue? Get a Better Life

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Log Those Zzzs

Yawn, it's the old saw: "If you're not getting enough sleep, nothing else will work," says Mack. "You can't ask your body to work on three to four hours a night and not have some physical complaint. Your body can just take so much."

You absolutely need those seven to eight hours of Z's every night, she tells WebMD. "And it needs to be good rest. You need to feel better when you wake up," she says.

Many people suffer from sleep apnea and don't realize it, says Horesh. "If you snore, if you have ever woken up gasping for air, if you wake up feeling not well rested, if you're so tired you fall asleep behind the steering wheel -- those are all signs that your airway is getting blocked during sleep. You're not getting full REM sleep that you need to feel rested. Unfortunately, people take it as normal. They say, 'I'm a bad sleeper.'"

For the rest of us, caffeine can be a big problem. It's easy to sip eight or nine cups of coffee through the day -- just to get the buzz you once got on two or three cups. If there's also Mountain Dew or tea at night, you're likely to have trouble sleeping, says Mack.

"Drinking two or three cups a day is OK," she tells WebMD. "But very large amounts from multiple sources -- tea, iced tea, soft drinks -- all that counts as caffeine. Drink too much, and you get into trouble."

Good "sleep hygiene" is essential: That means going to bed and waking up at the same time, not drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol (it also disturbs sleep). Also, don't use the bed for much more than sleep. No eating, watching TV, or reading in bed.

When Should You Worry?

If fatigue has lasted more than a month -- and your lifestyle is in fairly good shape -- then see a primary care doctor, advise both Mack and Horesh.

  • If blood sugars are chronically high, a sign of diabetes, you will feel chronically tired.
  • Cancer will also make you feel rundown. That's good reason to get routine screening mammograms and other screening tests.
  • Fibromyalgia, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases also have fatigue as a symptom.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome is more than it may sound. "The term is really misused. Many people think that if they're always tired, they have chronic fatigue. People who truly have it are completely debilitated, they are up and functioning only about two hours a day, just can't move otherwise -- severely fatigued."
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