Suffering end of year burnout? How to fight fatigue

Published: 25 Jun 2019

Have you ever noticed how you can feel more tired on holidays than at work?

For many of us, the festive break is a chance to indulge in good quality, satisfying sleep with the obligatory lie-in. But even with the extra sleep and relaxation time, you can be left feeling surprisingly sluggish and low on energy. You might even find it hard to keep your eyes open.

It can be incredibly frustrating. After all, how can being on holidays leave you feeling more tired than when you’re at work?

The mysterious phenomenon we’re talking about here is end of year burnout, or fatigue.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of constant tiredness or weakness. It can be physical, mental or both, and it can affect anyone. In fact, around 1.5 million Australians see their doctor about fatigue each year.

It’s important to realise that fatigue is a symptom, not a condition. It’s about more than just lack of sleep, though that can also be a cause. Fatigue can be caused by a whole range of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues, or perhaps even an underlying medical condition.

Here’s how you can fight fatigue and enjoy better health and wellbeing:

Get more sleep

Start by focusing on getting more good quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can quickly take its toll on your overall brain and body health. Research shows staying awake for 17-19 hours affects your concentration in a similar way to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%, and staying awake for even longer periods is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1%. In other words, if you haven’t slept, you shouldn’t be driving.

Sleep loss and sleep disorders can put you at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. They can impact your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses, and there is also a proven link between sleep deprivation and depression.

So, do your body and mind a favour and aim to get 6-8 hours of good sleep each night. This provides more benefits than you might realise:

  1. Boosts your brain. Memory, reaction time and concentration all improved with a good night’s sleep. Certain parts of the brain use more oxygen and glucose when we’re asleep than when we’re awake, because it’s when our brains make new connections and flush out toxins. Healthy sleep means your brain can work more efficiently, helping you focus, respond quickly, and make faster decisions.
  2. Lowers stress. Have you ever noticed that you feel moodier and short-tempered after lack of sleep? Sleep deprivation affects you mood and can make you feel more stressed and anxious.
  3. Gives you more energy. It’s no secret that you have less energy after a bad night’s sleep. That’s because your body loses the ability to store glycogen, which gives you energy.

Watch the caffeine

Caffeine might be the easy way to kick-start your day, but it only increases alertness for a short time. And if you’re a regular coffee drinker, the less likely it is to have any effect at all. Caffeine can also interfere with restful sleep by delaying a rise in the level of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. Try cutting down on your caffeine intake gradually, avoid it for at least four hours before sleeping, and see how your fatigue reduces.

…and the alcohol

People tend to drink more alcohol over the holidays, but it might help to know that booze can have a detrimental effect on your sleepfor some time after you've consumed it. While a few bevvies might help you get to sleep quickly, the second half of the night’s sleep will be more fragmented. You can still enjoy a responsible drink or two, but ideally keep a few hours between your final alcoholic drink and bedtime.

Limit your naps

There’s nothing like an afternoon siesta to make you feel like you’re on holidays. In fact, some stealthy shut-eye could be just what you need to boost alertness. Researchers say the perfect naptime is around 20 minutes, generally between the hours of 1pm and 3pm. Any longer and you could be left feeling worse than when you started. Any later and it could interfere with the night’s sleep.

Diet counts

Your diet is hugely important when it comes to fighting fatigue. Sugary foods and drinks can have the same affect as caffeine in the short run, thanks to a swift rise in blood glucose, but this is followed by a rapid dip as your body releases insulin to normalise levels. This leaves you feeling tiredness, irritable and hungry. For longer lasting energy, choose wholegrain over refined white flour foods and eat regularly to avoid a drop in blood glucose.

One of the major signs of iron deficiency anaemia is fatigue, so consider topping up your iron levels. Good sources of iron include oily fish, pulses, wholegrains and lean meat. Eating veggies (tomatoes, capsicum) or fruits (kiwifruit) that are rich in Vitamin C will increase the amount of iron your body absorbs.

Finally, even mild dehydration can trigger tiredness, so make sure you’re drinking enough water – especially during the hotter months.

Exercise more

It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but exercise is regular, low-intensity exercise is proven to help boost energy levels in people suffering from fatigue. Moving more helps you sleep more restfully, not to mention feel more positive and energised.

Address emotional concerns and stress

Psychological factors are responsible for a massive 50-80% of cases of fatigueWhether it’s depression, grief, or something else, professional counselling can help you to work it out. Also, in some cases, fatigue is the symptom of an underlying medical problem, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease or diabetes. So, if you’ve tried all the tips above and still feel excessively tired, speak with your GP.