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We’ve all been there: we walk into our kiddo’s room to find they’ve fallen asleep mid-play. This is unusual and now that you think about it, it seems like the tiredness has been going on for a little while. We immediately wonder if they’re getting sick and of course, with our insanely accurate Mom Radar, we’re correct.

Or maybe it’s ourselves who suddenly fall asleep during our favorite Friends re-run or we just bow out of the day early, apologizing for being unexplainably exhausted but we just HAVE to go to bed immediately.

Most of us know that when we or our kids are sick, we need extra sleep. Our body demands extra sleep. But why? And what about when the illness is seemingly over – why am I so tired?

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is when our bodies (and sometimes even our minds) are overly tired. The only thing we want to do is sleep and we struggle to carry on with our normal duties and responsibilities. Fatigue causes: it can occur after traveling, illness, large meals, with aging, etc.

When we are sick, everything in our body shifts to fight the virus. Our immune system is essentially pulling everything together for ‘fight mode,’ making our normal daily activities more challenging. The more we rest, the more energy we’re giving to our immune system. And most of us are actually starting each day behind the curve in terms of sleep deprivation, so it takes even longer to truly feel caught up.

Symptoms that may accompany fatigue:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unexplained muscle or joint pain

Even though there’s a certain point in the illness where we declare ourselves “all better!” our bodies are still working to fully heal and recover. It can take a couple of weeks to feel back to normal after the flu or even just a cold. That said, if it seems like you aren’t feeling better after that timeframe, it’s normal to question it. There are so many things that can cause chronic fatigue, and as I always say – follow your gut! If things don’t feel right, see your doctor.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

I’d like to cover this briefly because I’m sure you’ll stumble across it if you start wondering why you’re feeling tired all the time. Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn’t seem to go away after sleep or rest and yet, no other medical condition can be found. This can be very tricky to diagnose because you essentially need to rule out all other possibilities, so you need to be very patient during the process. Again, I’d just like to emphasize that if you are feeling fatigued for more than 2-4 weeks and it doesn’t feel “right,” call your doctor. This can take a toll on your mental health as well – it can feel very isolating and depressing when something feels wrong but it’s hard to pinpoint, so make sure you communicate with your loved ones and maintain a strong support system.

Fatigue treatment

  • Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep each night.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • If you’re tired after eating, try eating smaller meals more frequently. Some people feel sleepy after eating because their blood sugar levels are fluctuating so much. Eating more frequently will help keep them balanced.
  • Increase your exercise.
  • Mamas, you may feel some period fatigue during that time of the month or pregnancy fatigue due to fluctuating hormone levels. This is normal and should pass as the period ends or as hormones balance out after the first trimester of pregnancy.

To sum this up, MOST of us will experience fatigue while we’re sick, and fatigue after an illness. Expect a couple of weeks to pass before you perk up and your appetite returns to normal. If it extends past those two weeks, it’s time to see your doctor to check if something else is going on.

Blake Wageman

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 14 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.