*YAWN* Are You Tired Because of Your Thyroid?
People are tired. Really tired. In fact, Occupational Health and Safety reports that just under half of people say they are so fatigued they don’t feel confident avoiding “critical risks that can jeopardize safety at work and on the roads.”
That’s serious and dangerous fatigue – and it’s not even touching on the millions who are simply sleepy with low energy most of the time. Walking around like they’re in a daze.
Many factors play into our society-wide fatigue. Overworked. Under-rested. Too much caffeine and sugar. Mental health issues.
…or a thyroid disorder?
Over 12% of the people in the U.S. will develop a thyroid disorder in their lives. Most of these people are going to be unaware that they have a thyroid problem.
It’s quite possible, then, that your thyroid is making you fatigued without you even knowing about it. Let’s be proactive and learn why, how, and what to do about it.
Energy: All About Your Metabolism
The thyroid has a specific job: produce the hormones T3 and T4. What do these hormones do? They essentially drive your metabolism “car.”
- When there is the perfect amount of T3 and T4, you are cruising along and obeying the metabolism speed limit.
- When there is too much T3 and T4, your metabolism goes full throttle and speeds you through life.
- When there is too little T3 and T4, your metabolism is simply not getting enough “gas” to carry you through to your next destination.
When we think of metabolism, we normally think of weight gain or weight loss. But metabolism is so much more than that.
Metabolism is the process where your body turns calories (say a crisp apple) into energy for your body to use.
Every single part of your body needs that energy to do its job. Your heart needs energy to pump. Your lungs need energy to breathe. Your skin needs energy to heal.
When your thyroid isn’t producing the right amount of T3 and T4, your entire body works on too much energy or too little energy and gives us quite a few polar opposite symptoms:
- Hypothyroidism = constipation; hyperthyroidism = diarrhea
- Hypothyroidism = depression; hyperthyroidism = anxiety
- Hypothyroidism = sensitive to cold; hyperthyroidism = sensitive to heat
- Hypothyroidism = slow heart beat; hyperthyroidism = rapid heart beat
This makes perfect sense for what we understand about the thyroid, metabolism, and energy.
Yet both conditions have a similar and common symptom: fatigue.
The hypothyroidism and fatigue connection makes total sense. If your metabolism is too slow, thanks to low thyroid hormones, that full-body slowdown is quite obviously going to leave you exhausted.
Which is why hypothyroidism – the condition in which your body underproduces T3 and T4 – makes you fatigued.
And the other symptoms of hypothyroidism only exacerbate that fatigue, such as:
- Muscle aches, weakness, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain
- Weight gain
While some hypothyroid patients may feel a little extra sleepy, others are wiped out and struggle to make it through the day. One hypothyroid patient recalls her first noticeable symptom:
“The constant exhaustion. My legs felt like bricks I had to drag around. Just walking was exhausting. I kept forgetting things too, and I struggled to talk a lot. I’d trip over words like my body and mind we’re both half asleep.”
Don’t Forget About Hyperthyroidism
While it makes perfect sense that hypothyroidism leaves you sleepy, don’t believe that hyperthyroidism makes you the most energetic person around.
Unfortunately, the opposite happens thanks to the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
- Insomnia: When your body is in overdrive due to a fast metabolism, you often struggle with insomnia. You’re too wired to get a proper night’s rest. Anybody with insomnia knows just how fatigued they are the next day.
- Anxiety: The constant racing and worrying of your mind can leave you tired and foggy.
- Heart Palpitations: If your heart is beating more quickly or out of proper rhythm, you may feel excess fatigue
- Increased sensitivity to heat: Thanks to the speed in which your body is now working, you can feel more overheated and exhausted on warmer days or in warmer rooms than a person with a healthy thyroid.
In the video below, one woman shares her experience with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease (the No. 1 cause of the thyroid disorder).
At one point, she was sleeping 16 hours a night, at another point only sleeping 1 or 2 hours a night. She was absolutely exhausted and unable to maintain her work/social schedule:
Is Your Thyroid Making You Tired? Or Do You Need a Nap? Or Both?
Finding out if your fatigue is related to your thyroid is quite simple. Just call your general practitioner for an appointment
Your doctor will run a blood test and check your levels of T3, T4, and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone – the messenger that tells your thyroid to do its job).
- If the blood test numbers are too low = hypothyroidism
- If the blood test numbers are too high = hyperthyroidism
- If they are just right = Still check out fatigue tips #2 – #5 below!
What You Can Do Today Improve Thyroid-Related Fatigue
The fatigue brought on by thyroid problems does not have to be your story forever. There are steps you can take to boost your energy and drop the exhaustion.
1. Thyroid Medication/Treatments
The #1 way to combat a thyroid disorder – and thyroid disorder symptoms – is to get on the proper medication. Not only should you get some of your energy back, you should also be feeling better in lots of other ways.
Here’s a look at typical treatment plans (everyone varies, so listen to your doctor!):
- Hypothyroid: These patients need to take synthetic or animal T3 and T4 that will fill in the gaps of missing natural thyroid hormones.
- Hyperthyroid: Your doctor may give you an anti-thyroid medication or potentially radioactive iodine which can shrink the thyroid. In more extreme cases, part or all of your thyroid may be removed through surgery.
Balancing hormones is not cut and dried. It may take your doctor a few months to find the right treatment for you. That means your fatigue may not let up right away.
Be patient with the treatment process and keep your doctor informed if you feel the current treatment plan isn’t working or making the situation worse. In time, you should get on track!
2. B12 & D
Want to know why the B vitamins are so often called the energy vitamins? When you are deficient in B12, one of the main symptoms is fatigue.
Interestingly enough, those with thyroid disorders can be more likely to have low B12. This means a fatigue-producing disease is leading to a fatigue-producing deficiency. Double whammy.
Similarly, one of the common symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency is tiredness. This deficiency is one plaguing most adults these days (thanks to office cubicles and fear of the sun!). Chances are, you are low too!
Luckily, consuming more B12 and D will fix the problem. You can take a supplement (when it comes to D, choose D3) and/or you can make sure you are getting plenty from the food you eat.
- Top B12 foods: clams, trout, salmon, tuna, beef, Greek yogurt, eggs, nutritional yeast
- Top D foods: salmon, trout, fish oil, mackerel, mushrooms, milk, yogurt, eggs
See some commonalities there? Sounds like yogurt for breakfast and salmon for dinner it is!
There’s a reason this adaptogen (herbs that help calm the body and mind) is talked about so regularly – it’s the queen of the herbs! While Ashwagandha’s benefits are numerous, let me focus on a relevant few:
- May help hypothyroidism: studies have shown it can increase the levels of T3 and T4 hormones in those with too little thyroid hormone
- May help insomnia: studies have shown “triethylene glycol is an active sleep-inducing component of Ashwagandha leaves and could potentially be useful for insomnia therapy”
- May help energy: researchers point to its ability to not only calm anxiety, but to also boost energy levels thanks to its effect on mitochondrial health (the organelle where energy is produced)
You can find this in powdered and pill form.
Important note: always get your doctor’s approval before trying ashwagandha – especially if you land on the hyperthyroid side of the spectrum!
Truth: nobody who is struggling with chronic fatigue wants to go to the gym. But regular low intensity exercise may be the ticket to more long-term energy.
In fact, one study showed that people who regularly feel fatigued, yet lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, can decrease their feelings of fatigue by 65%. How? Doing low-intensity exercise consistently.
That low intensity suggestion is right on the money – especially for those with thyroid problems. While you are in the process of balancing out your thyroid meds, go to the gym, but take it easy. You don’t want to overdo it and exacerbate symptoms like muscle weakness or joint pain.
While getting to the gym to work out on the elliptical or treadmill can be helpful, feel free to try other workouts that you may enjoy even more, including:
- Hatha yoga
- Walking around the park or your neighborhood
- Biking for fun (stay under 10 mph for low intensity)
- Ballroom dancing
- Golfing (especially when you leisurely walk the course)
How do you know its staying at low intensity? If you can still talk or sing without feeling like you are running out of breath, you’re doing a good job!
5. Sleep and Self-Care Habits
Finally, now is a great time to do an inventory of your sleep and self-care habits. Your thyroid is putting you at a fatigue disadvantage. Make sure none of your habits are adding to that. Ask yourself these 4 important questions:
- Am I going to bed the same time each night and cutting out any caffeine after lunch?
- Am I setting aside time each day to mediate, pray, read, bathe, or practice any other calming activity?
- Am I saying no to anything that overfills my schedule?
- Am I talking to a therapist if I need help processing or dealing with my mental health?
Taking a natural sleep aid can also be extremely helpful if insomnia is making your fatigue worse. Look for ingredients like magnesium and valerian extract.
Bye-Bye Fatigue, Hello Energy!
Let’s start with the bad news: not everybody who gets a thyroid disorder diagnosis and starts treatment finds perfect levels of energy in the end.
But here’s the good news: finding thyroid treatment and taking the other fatigue-fighting steps listed above can certainly improve your sleepy factor and bring some much-needed energy to your days. Some may find their treatment plan makes them feel great and back to normal.
Either way, if you have unexplained fatigue – it’s time to get your thyroid checked!