Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (2022)

We’ve all been there. It’s 2 p.m. and lunch is long over. But instead of feeling recharged and focused, you’re ready to curl up in a corner, turn off the lights and take a nap. No one will notice, right?

While it’s completely normal to hit the dreaded afternoon slump, what happens when this feeling is around all day, every day?

Workplace fatigue isn’t just being physically tired—it’s being mentally exhausted.

Not only are your energy levels low, but so is your motivation. When we’re fatigued like this, it can make it difficult to concentrate and stay organized. And when it lasts for days or weeks, despite adequate sleep, it can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, and on the road to burnout.

Anyone can feel tired at work. It’s when those feelings of tiredness persist that you need to take action. Let’s take a closer look at what causes work fatigue and what you can do to stop being so sleepy at work.

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What is work fatigue and how is it different than just being tired?

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (1)

If you’re tired, you might feel that way for a day or two, but it will usually resolve itself after a couple of nights of quality sleep. Fatigue, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated.

So what is work fatigue?

(Video) #Tired all the Time? Common Lifestyle and Health #Causes of Fatigue

The Mayo Clinic defines work fatigue as, “unrelenting exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest, a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time, reducing your energy, motivation, and concentration.”

Much like burnout, work fatigue is a constant state of tiredness that won’t go away. Eventually, it seeps into other aspects of your life and makes it harder to focus, feel motivated, and even disconnect from work.

What causes basic tiredness to become work fatigue?

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (2)

Scientists don’t actually know why working a desk job makes us feel fatigued, but there are several variables that could play a role in this condition.

For one, the changing nature of work is redefining our daily schedules and making it more difficult to re-energize even on our days off.

In fact, the average American worker puts in 137 more hours per year than someone in the same industry in Japan (and nearly 500 more hours per year than employees in France!) While most people do at least one hour of work on 50% of all weekends.

Remote work also plays a part in this change. While remote workers claim to be more productive they’re also more likely to work overtime and less likely to take a day off. Remote workers also tend to work without a schedule, making it even more challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance that prevents fatigue and burnout.

This isn’t to say that work fatigue is a consequence of modern working culture. In fact, there are many other factors that contribute to our daily weariness. Here are just a few:

Not enough or poor sleep

One of the most common (and obvious) causes of work fatigue is a lack of adequate sleep. In the U.S., roughly 40% of employees experience sleep loss. In fact, so many people aren’t getting enough sleep that the CDC has declared it a public health emergency.

Modern work schedules often force us to override our normal sleep patterns with more than 43% of workers saying regularly feel sleep-deprived.

(Video) Psychiatrist discusses work burnout and fatigue symptoms

If you’re just tired at work, a night or two of good sleep will usually fix the problem. But if you’re experiencing work fatigue, you won’t feel better no matter how much you sleep.

Insufficient downtime

The average American spends upwards of 10 hours a day staring at a screen. While we can blame a portion of that on work, most of us also spend our off-hours with our nose firmly attached to our mobile device or laptop.

Not only does this impact our ability to get proper rest (devices that emit blue light like phones, tablets, and laptops can reduce sleep quality and increase depression, anxiety, and stress) but studies show that being unable to fully disconnect from work is a major source of ongoing work-related fatigue and even burnout.

Going against your natural “Productivity curve”

We all go through a series of energy highs and lows during the day. This is thanks to something called the Circadian rhythm—an internal clock that cycles through periods of alertness and fatigue.

Going against this cycle can increase your likelihood of work fatigue and also leave you feeling frustrated and burnt out.

Worst of all, work fatigue can quickly lead to burnout

The main problem here isn’t that these factors make you feel tired at work, but that they can become so stressful that you hit burnout. More than just being tired and unmotivated, burnout is constant fatigue paired with a sense of cynicism, detachment from work, and a lack of accomplishment.

5 ways to fight work fatigue and reclaim your energy all day long

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (3)

We all feel tired at work. However, if the problem is long term, it’s time to look at ways to reclaim your energy. First, determine the cause of your fatigue. Then, pinpoint a solution that will work for you.

1. Find and work during your peak productive hours

Once you determine your body’s natural Circadian rhythm, you can learn to work during the hours when you’re most alert. Simply put, this means scheduling deep, focused work when your energy levels are naturally higher.

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (4)

When your energy levels are low, such as during the afternoon slump, switch your focus to less-important tasks like answering emails and returning phone calls.

(Video) Working Tired: The Impact of Fatigue at Your Workplace

2. Manage your motivation

We mentioned earlier how a lack of motivation can impact your energy levels and cause fatigue. But motivation is a fickle thing. If you wait for it to appear, you’ll find yourself waiting forever.

Instead, you need to engineer your workspace and your brain to self-motivate. Start by changing up your workspace to reduce clutter and make it more action-oriented. Clutter provides distraction and tends to make us unmotivated.

You can also start motivating yourself by implementing a five-minute rule. If you find yourself procrastinating on a project, spend just five minutes on it. After five minutes, you’ll usually end up doing the whole thing anyway.

Finally, create rituals and routines to signal to your brain that it’s time to start something new.

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (5)

Your brain loves repetition, so if you spend five minutes cleaning your desk before it’s time to start work, or five minutes responding to emails after each break, you are training your brain to expect this activity before you begin something more mentally strenuous.

3. Take more breaks during the day

If you’re tired at work, why not take a break? A power nap, just 15 to 20 minutes of sleep, can boost alertness and improve performance (while longer naps—called slow-wave sleep—are excellent for decision-making skills).

Taking breaks during the day isn’t just good for your productivity or combating fatigue—it’s instinctual. Sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman found that the human body follows a rest-activity cycle every 90-120 minutes. At night, that cycle takes you through the different stages of sleep. During the day, it manages your energy and alertness levels.

What this means is that your body craves a break to rest and recover after about 90 minutes of work. Once you understand this rhythm, you can use it to your advantage by scheduling your breaks so you are resting and recovering when your body needs it most.

4. Set limits on your working time

Work-life balance is crucial for fighting work fatigue. Yet few people set proper limits to their working day. Instead, we let our phones and email seep into our personal time and never fully disconnect from work.

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On the other hand, leisure time—especially spent on hobbies and other meaningful tasks—helps up become more creative, focused, and even more productive the next day.

One of the easiest ways to make more time for these activities is to use a commitment device like RescueTime Alerts.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you want to spend more time on your musical hobby. Instead of practicing by yourself you could invite a friend over to play with you. Or, you could set a RescueTime Goal of more than 1 hour on audio editing outside of work hours.

Work fatigue: Why you're always tired at work (and what to do about it) (6)

Alerts and FocusTime are RescueTime Premium features. Start your free 14-day trial and take back control of your time today!

5. Develop a meditation routine

Finally, some studies have shown that activities like meditation and yoga can help decrease the stress and anxiety that lead to work fatigue.

A regular schedule, either in the morning or before bedtime, can have long-term effects with yoga practitioners reporting 86% more mental clarity compared to their non-practicing counterparts.

Stop feeling so sleepy at work

You don’t have to relegate yourself to feeling tired at work all the time. Instead, determine the cause of your work fatigue and try one of these solutions.

Create a sleep schedule that’s attuned to your Circadian rhythm. Be sure to take regular breaks and focus on yourself—even if it’s just 30 minutes. And try to incorporate exercise and meditation into your daily routine, which can naturally boost energy and increase positivity.

(Video) Why Am I Always Tired? Top 7 Reasons!

Doing these things should help you feel more rested and better able to tackle whatever your day throws at you.

FAQs

Why do I get tired at work so easily? ›

Poor diet, lack of exercise, and deprived sleep undeniably contribute to your daily energy levels and productivity at work. Not getting enough sleep heightens the risk of dehydration, which has a direct impact on your performance. When your body isn't hydrated enough, you can feel weak and tired.

How do you survive work when you're exhausted? ›

Here's how to work when you're tired:
  1. Be Clear About What You Want to Accomplish. It's always a good idea to have a clear goal in mind, but especially when you're feeling tired or otherwise sub-par. ...
  2. Get Ruthless About Distractions. ...
  3. Drink Plenty of Water. ...
  4. Keep Moving Around. ...
  5. Take a Shower. ...
  6. Perform Easier Tasks.
Mar 1, 2010

Why do I only feel tired at work? ›

Why Does Work Make Me So Tired? Some people report they only feel sleepy whilst at work, which raises the question of whether their work or office environment is creating a psychosomatic dip in energy levels. Some people who experience prolonged stress at work may experience fatigue as a result of burnout.

What vitamin is best for tiredness? ›

The 5 Best Vitamins for Energy & Tiredness
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) ...
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) ...
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin) ...
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) ...
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Why am I always tired and have no energy? ›

You may be too exhausted even to manage your daily affairs. In most cases, there's a reason for the fatigue. It might be allergic rhinitis, anemia, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease (COPD), a bacterial or viral infection, or some other health condition.

How can I get energy at work? ›

Here are a few straightforward steps, which could help you enjoy the exceptional energy levels you require.
  1. Prioritise. Before you do anything in the day, take a few moments to plan. ...
  2. Exercise. Immediately after exercise you probably feel tired. ...
  3. Rest. ...
  4. Eat well. ...
  5. Change tasks. ...
  6. Focus on the outcome. ...
  7. Sleep. ...
  8. Choose a job you enjoy.

How do I not let work affect my life? ›

By Alexandra Mondalek and Max Nisen
  1. Put family time in your diary.
  2. Listen to your body.
  3. Don't work on aeroplanes.
  4. Put buffers in your schedule.
  5. Don't have bad meetings.
  6. Exercise during the work day.
  7. Learn to say no.
  8. Work less, think more.
Jul 20, 2013

Why do I have no energy to do anything? ›

Fatigue is a common symptom of many illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, anemia, thyroid disease, and sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor if you feel unusually tired. Many medications can contribute to fatigue. These include some blood pressure medicines, antihistamines, diuretics, and other drugs.

When are you too tired to work? ›

Move around regularly. Getting away from your computer screen and moving around will keep you going throughout the day. Taking a break from your screen every 30 minutes — whether it's a trip to the watercooler, the kitchen or to a colleague's cubicle — will help prevent drowsiness and boost your drive.

What does burnout feel like? ›

Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.

What happens to your body when you overwork? ›

If you're overworked, your cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) increase which can lead to brain fog, high blood pressure and a host of other health problems. “It's like a car trying to run with a very limited amount of gas in the tank,” says Dr. Borland.

Can you be fired for burnout? ›

Unfortunately, while you can't be fired for burnout, you can be fired for poor job performance. It may feel nerve-wracking, but protecting your job may mean speaking to a manager or human resources professional.

Should I quit stressful job? ›

If your job is causing you so much stress that it's starting to affect your health, then it may be time to consider quitting or perhaps even asking for fewer responsibilities. You may need to take a simple break from work if stress is impacting you from outside your job.

What home remedy can I use to get rid of tiredness? ›

Natural home remedies for fatigue and weakness
  1. exercising regularly.
  2. establishing a good sleep hygiene routine.
  3. reducing or eliminating alcohol, especially at night.
  4. eating nutritious foods.
  5. staying hydrated.
  6. reducing stress through meditation or yoga.

What are the 3 types of fatigue? ›

There are three types of fatigue: transient, cumulative, and circadian: Transient fatigue is acute fatigue brought on by extreme sleep restriction or extended hours awake within 1 or 2 days.

How can I get more energy and motivation? ›

If you want to learn how to increase your energy and motivation, there are gentler, more effective ways.
...
Physical
  1. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will do wonders for your energy. ...
  2. Meet with a nutritionist. ...
  3. Take a walk. ...
  4. Get some sleep. ...
  5. Watch your caffeine intake.
Jul 23, 2021

When should you worry about fatigue? ›

Call for an appointment with your doctor if your fatigue has persisted for two or more weeks despite making an effort to rest, reduce stress, choose a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids.

Which drink gives instant energy? ›

Energy drinks that contain ingredients like green tea, coffee, and guarana can help provide a quick boost of energy when you're feeling fatigued. Sipping on an energy drink can help you feel more alert and may even improve your mood ( 4 ).

What are the 3 foods that cause fatigue? ›

This article lists seven foods that have the potential to drain your energy.
  • White Bread, Pasta and Rice. Grains are rich in carbs, which provide the body with a good source of energy. ...
  • Breakfast Cereals, Yogurts and Other Foods With Added Sugars. ...
  • Alcohol. ...
  • Coffee. ...
  • Energy Drinks. ...
  • Fried and Fast Foods. ...
  • Low-Calorie Foods.
Sep 21, 2018

What Vitamin gives most energy? ›

The majority of research indicates that vitamin B is the most powerful vitamin for energy. The energy-boosting properties of B vitamins are frequently found in various energy drinks and supplements. Vitamins work to help your body maintain its energy levels, particularly brain function and alertness.

When should I move on from work? ›

Relocation is when someone moves to a new area for work. It could be an employer's decision (e.g. if their company was moving) to ask their team to relocate, or the employee could choose to relocate on their own – whether it's to work at another part of the business, or to find a new job somewhere else.

How do I leave work mentally? ›

  1. 5 ways to leave work at work. ...
  2. Remove the expectation of dealing with emails outside of work hours. ...
  3. Set hard deadlines for the end of your workday. ...
  4. Use your commute to clear the mental clutter of the day. ...
  5. Write tomorrow's to-dos today. ...
  6. Set aside time for hobbies, interests, and things that you truly care about.
Feb 19, 2019

How do I stop caring about so much at work? ›

35 Ways to Care Less About Work
  1. Take It For What It Is: A means to an end. ...
  2. Make a Clean Break Between Work & Personal Life: Don't take work home with you. ...
  3. What Do You Want? ...
  4. Avoid pointless meetings and conference calls: Those meetings where you have no input and gain nothing from them.

What is mental exhaustion like? ›

What Is Mental Exhaustion? It's kind of like physical tiredness, except it's your mind instead of your muscles. It tends to show up when you focus on a mentally tough task for a while. You might also feel this kind of brain drain if you're always on alert or stressed out.

What does burnout feel like? ›

Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.

Videos

1. When Being Tired Is More than Being Tired
(Pfizer)
2. Burn Out to Brilliance. Recovery from Chronic Fatigue | Linda Jones | TEDxBirminghamCityUniversity
(TEDx Talks)
3. How Job Stress Affects Your Health | WSJ
(Wall Street Journal)
4. Here's How To Stop Feeling Exhausted After Work Every Day
(Business Insider)
5. Burnout and Work Fatigue
(University of Texas Learning and Development)
6. Q: Why Am I So Exhausted All the Time? ADHD Brains Working from Home with Stress
(ADDitude Magazine)

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