Diabetes and Chronic Fatigue: What You Need to Know

Studies show that people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from chronic fatigue than the rest of the population. Some research even suggests that nearly 85% of people with diabetes report fatigue. And while you might be thinking, most people would probably say they don’t get enough sleep if asked, chronic fatigue is more than a fleeting feeling of tiredness. The Mayo Clinic describes fatigue as an “unrelenting exhaustion… a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration.” They further note the affect chronic fatigue has on your emotional and psychological well-being.

With so many people being confronted with this often debilitating condition, you’d think there would be more awareness of it, maybe even a cure for it. Yet, while there is a notable connection between diabetes and chronic fatigue, scientists remain unsure of its underlying cause.

However, there are a lot of things you can do to help improve your energy levels, and establish whether or not you are suffering from chronic fatigue. We’re here to help you understand potential risk factors for developing this condition, things you can do to have more energy, and when it might be time to talk to your doctor.

senior man has eyestrain and fatigue

How can diabetes cause fatigue?

Stress, anxiety, and depression: Between constant management, fear, and pain, stress often plays a large role in the life of an individual with diabetes. That stress is often accompanied by high blood pressure and heart rate, both of which deplete energy. Further, it’s not uncommon for all this stress to take its toll and manifest itself in the form of anxiety and/or depression. Studies suggest that people with diabetes are actually 3-4 times more likely than the general population to suffer from depression, which often goes hand in hand with decreased energy and lethargy.

Diabetes-related inflammation: Inflammation is often accompanied by the release of cytokines, which encourage your body to rest. If you’ve ever had the flu and felt excessively tired, you’ve most likely experienced a similar feeling. Put simply, it’s your body’s immune system telling you it’s time for sleep.

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Hypoglycemia: Feeling fatigued is a classic sign of low blood sugar, though everyone’s reaction to hypoglycemia is different. It’s important to establish how you feel when your blood sugar is low, so you know if your fatigue is symptomatic, or caused by something else.

Insulin resistance: This is a common culprit for chronic fatigue. If your cells are resisting the glucose (energy) you’re fueling it with, it won’t have the energy it needs to get through the day.

Hyperglycemia: High blood sugar causes blood to become “sludgy” or “sticky.” When circulation is impeded in this way, your body’s cells fail to get the nutrients and oxygen they need to stay fueled.

close up of male finger with blood and test stripe

When is it time to talk to a doctor?

It’s important to maintain regular appointments with your health care team, and you should always notify them if you experience any changes in your emotional or physical health. However, if any of the following symptoms become excessive or consistent, and are not caused by a specific event or situation (i.e., the flu), it’s time to make an appointment with your physician:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of memory
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Pain in muscles and/or joints
  • Tenderness in lymph nodes
  • Waking up tired
  • Extreme, persistent exhaustion

What can you do to increase energy?

Maybe you haven’t been experiencing fatigue long enough to call it chronic. Perhaps you recently went through a stressful situation and think you might be having lingering feelings of exhaustion as a result. Or, you could just be trying to isolate the problem. Whatever your reason, if you’re looking for a way to naturally boost your energy and promote more restful sleep each night, there are things you can do:

Decrease your consumption of caffeinated beverages: While this might sound counterintuitive, too much caffeine can actually have the opposite effect its intended to, causing fatigue. If you think you might be getting too much caffeine, make sure to cut back gradually to avoid withdrawls.

Limit alcohol and quit smoking: While alcohol is known to aid in sleep, studies show that the positive effects don’t last. Instead, it actually inhibits REM sleep. Smoking can have a stimulating effect, making it harder to fall asleep.

Drink more water: Not only can dehydration make you sleepy, it might be to blame if you’re experiencing headaches and poor concentration. While the amount of water you should be drinking each day varies upon your height, weight, lifestyle, and location, you should aim to drink at least 13 cups if you’re male, and 9 cups if you’re female.

Sleep: This one might seem obvious, but it’s important to take a look at your nightly routine. How often do you fall asleep scrolling through Facebook? Do you go to sleep at the same time each night? Do you have a ritual you do that signifies it’s time for bed?

Using cell phone at night lead to blindness

Setting a sleep schedule can help set your body’s sleep-wake cycle, and nightly rituals help signify to your brain that it’s time to wind down. Try dimming the lights, listening to relaxing music, using aromatherapy, meditating, praying, or taking a warm bath before bed each night. Electronics can cause your body’s “master clock” to think it’s still daytime, delaying the release of sleep-inducing melatonin. Try powering down devices and avoiding screens at least 30 minutes before bed.

Create a comfortable environment for sleeping: Adjust the temperature, find a good pillow, soft sheets, and a mattress you like. If you’re prone to getting cold, wear warm socks to bed so you’re not kept awake by cold feet. Do whatever you can to ensure you’re as relaxed as possible when you’re getting into bed, so you don’t find yourself waking up later to make adjustments.

Nap, but not too much: If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, it’s probable that you’ll find yourself feeling sleepy in the middle of the day. If you feel like a nap could allow you to wake up refreshed (and have the ability to do so), take a nap, but make sure to keep it short (10-30 minutes). Any longer than that and you might find yourself struggling to fall asleep at bedtime.

Get your daily dose of vitamin D: Remember that “master clock” we mentioned earlier? Sunshine helps inform your body that it’s time to be awake and active, while nightfall signals it’s time to downshift and begin preparing for rest.

If you’re struggling to fall asleep, move: Finding yourself tossing and turning can be stressful. And the longer you stay in bed, unable to sleep, the more frustrated you’re likely to become. Avoid associating your bed/bedroom with that negativity and alleviate pressure by getting out of bed and doing something relaxing until you feel tired.

Incorporate exercise into your routine: Regular exercise can help you get more, and higher quality, sleep. Additionally, physical activity can help lower stress levels, allowing your brain to disengage and fall into a sound sleep with more ease.

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