Juggling the demands of life with a busy caring schedule isn’t easy. With so much to do, feeling exhausted from time to time is nothing new.
If we’re feeling wiped out all the time though, it may require further investigation. Unresolved tiredness is a really common issue for many adults - with 13% of people existing in a state of constant exhaustion.
Although it’s high-energy work, it’s important that we don’t assume our caring role is the sole reason why we’re craving a midday coffee.
Instead, we might want to look into some of these less obvious reasons why we may be feeling more drained than usual. Here, we’ve also shared some suggestions of what might help us feel a little better.
Some common causes of tiredness:
1. We’re low on iron
Without enough iron, our bodies can't produce good amounts of haemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cell which carry oxygen.
Meaning iron deficiency anaemia may leave us feeling tired and dizzy. Even if we’ve had lots of sleep. Around four million people in the UK are estimated to suffer from it. With women most at risk of a deficiency.
A simple blood test can be carried out by a GP to detect anaemia. Typically, iron supplements are prescribed. The doctor may also encourage a diet of iron-rich foods. Such as leafy vegetables, or red meat, nuts and beans.
We could try an at-home finger-prick blood test subscription like Thriva (from £35, thriva.co). This is a good way to spot for nutrient deficiencies ourselves. The test works by collecting a small blood sample at home. Then posted to a laboratory for analysis. The results are uploaded to an accompanying app. 48 hours later, a qualified GP follows up with healthcare advice.
Normally, we hope to get all the nutrients we need from food. This isn’t always possible when we’re on-the-go carers. This is why it’s advisable to take a good quality multivitamin as a daily insurance policy.
“I have Iron deficiency anaemia. I have low ferritin levels so I need blood tests every three months, ferrous fumarate and vitamin D. Every now and then, I have to have folate too. I can tell when it's getting bad as I nod off as soon as I sit down.”
2. We’re deficient in Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps us maintain a high energy level. It also regulates our mood, keeps our bones healthy and prevents us from getting sick in the winter.
The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight. The sun’s rays enable us to produce it in our bodies. During the winter, when the days are darker, we often struggle to manufacture enough of it. In fact, around one in five adults in the UK are thought to have low levels.
Think about taking a supplement. The NHS urges that everyone should supplement vitamin D during the autumn and winter months. These are the months when there’s less sunlight in the UK. It usually takes around three to six weeks to feel a difference.
Some supermarket foods like dairy products and cereals are fortified in vitamin D too.
A GP can also diagnose any vitamin deficiencies with a simple blood test and give us advice on treatment.
“I found out I have an underactive thyroid. I had untraceable vitamin D levels too. It’s worth getting your blood checked.”
3. We’re really stressed
Stress is something that can take its toll on all of us.
During periods of prolonged stress, our bodies are overloaded with the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This can make us feel more anxious and worried than usual.
There are many reasons why we might struggle to switch off at the end of a long day. From worrying about financial pressures to juggling a busy schedule. Ongoing stress is important to address though, as it can cause sleep issues like insomnia. If we’re not careful, we can also burnout in our caring role.
High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
Instead of raiding the treat cupboard, we’ll feel better fueling our body with wholesome foods that provide all-day energy. Think, plenty of plant-based fibre and complex carbohydrates.
Batch cooking some healthy meals, is also one of many ways carers are helping themselves to reach for healthy meals that can just go in the microwave.
If we need a moment to pause and breathe, we could take a mindful walk and plug into an energising, uplifting podcast. For a wellbeing boost, how about listening to Happy Place by Fearne Cotton, Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee and On Purpose with Jay Shetty.
Ultimately, what we probably need is a thorough good rest. This can be incredibly challenging when we're caring.
We've pulled together some ideas that might help:
4. We’re dealing with anxiety and depression
Supporting someone else can have an effect on our mental health. At times it can be difficult, upsetting and overwhelming. Especially if someone’s health is declining. Many of us worry all the time about the person we care for. We can also feel a dip in our energy when caring becomes challenging.
Tiredness is a really common symptom of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious circle too as feeling low on energy can also make depression and anxiety worse.
Journaling is a therapeutic way to tune in to our wellbeing. Many of us in the caring community find it a helpful tool to organise our thoughts. Our guide to journaling has some useful tips for getting started.
For those of us who struggle to find time for ourselves, the Five Minute Journal (£6.99 on, amazon.com) is a quick, daily exercise that uses proven principles of positive psychology to help us feel happier. Understanding what’s making us feel low or anxious can help us to look at ways we can tackle the issue.
Feeling energised can be as simple as setting the tone of the day with a healthy routine. Try making the bed, drinking a glass of water and taking a moment to pause and breathe in the morning. Atomic Habits by James Clear is an informative book for anyone looking to learn more about the importance of habits and how to stick to them.
Studies have also linked nature with happiness. Getting out into some greenery for two hours each week has been found to decrease feelings of anxiety and worry in adults. Try going for a walk or taking a break to do some gardening when we have a moment.
And for those of us who can’t get out, here are some ideas on how we can bring some greenery into our home.
If we’re really struggling with difficult feelings, we can speak to a GP about our treatment options as support is available.
5. We’re not drinking enough water
Our bodies are composed of roughly 60% water. Research has shown that even mild dehydration can have strong effects on our mental health. In fact, feeling tired is one of the five key symptoms of dehydration.
Many of us forget to drink enough water. Waiting until we’re feeling parched to fill up our glass. Thirst is a major sign that we’re already dehydrated though. So we should be taking regular sips throughout the day.
We should all aim to drink the NHS-recommend two-litres of water a day. This is the equivalent of six to eight glasses.
Buying a bottle with litred measurements can be helpful for tracking intake, especially if we’re likely to forget what we’ve consumed
As a handy rule of thumb, our urine should be a pale yellow. If it’s darker than that, we’re probably already dehydrated.
6. We’re not doing enough exercise
When we’re feeling tired, rolling out our exercise mat can feel like the last thing we want to do. Regular exercise is vital though, as it can help us to feel more energised in the long run. Exercise boosts our metabolism, which is the rate at which we burn food and gain energy.
It can also reduce our risk of major illnesses. These include coronary heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and cancer.
The NHS-recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. To feel the health benefits, we need to prioritise movement that is quick enough to raise our heart rate.
One of the easiest ways to get moving is to make exercise part of our daily routine. This could be cycling to the shops or running to the Post Office.
For those of us that are motivated by goals, we could sign up to a fitness challenge. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Couch to 5K is a good tool for beginners to build up running endurance. The free Strava app also has lots of more advanced challenges we can take at our own pace.
7. We’re drinking too much tea or coffee
When we’re tired, the coffee machine can feel like our best friend. That midday foamy latte is often the energy boost we need to get through a hectic afternoon.
All those hot drink breaks may be doing us more harm than good. Caffeine (the key ingredient in coffee and tea) interferes with the processes in the brain that regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
If we’re not careful, too many caffeinated drinks can keep us awake at night. Coffee and tea are also diuretics. This means they take water from the body, which can leave us feeling dehydrated and tired.
Often it’s the soothing ritual of a tea break that we crave, rather than the caffeine itself.
Stock the kitchen counter with decaffeinated options so you can still take a break between caring duties.
It takes a while for caffeine to wear off. For optimal sleep, limit coffee to the morning and have your last cuppa at lunchtime, so you’re not feeling the effects late at night.
“Once you go down the caffeine route, [you] need it more and more and more, but occasionally, when [you’re] absolutely desperate to keep going, ProPlus can do the trick.
“Really though, a natural approach is the best, to avoid becoming reliant on these substances.”
8. Our diet needs tweaking
Our diet can be the main culprit of fatigue. We may feel more tired than usual because we’re not getting the right nutrition to fuel our day-to-day activities.
Too much refined sugar can be a big part of the problem. Although a sugary doughnut or chocolate bar may give us an initial energy boost, it quickly leads to a crash in our blood sugar levels. Causing us to feel more sluggish.
Ultra-processed foods can be full of preservatives and additives that make us feel sluggish. Diets that contain a variety of nutrient-rich foods can help us to feel awake and energised.
Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet. The fresher our food is, the more nutrients it will contain. Load up your trolley with lots of fruits, vegetables and wholefoods. Choosing whole grain foods like brown rice, bread and pasta ensures that your body gets the full benefits of the grain.
An easy tip to make sure you’re getting the right balance of macronutrients is to split your plate into four quarters: a quarter for protein (fish, meat, tofu), a quarter for carbs (rice, potatoes, pasta), and half for vegetables or salad.
For some quick easy inspiration, check out our blog filled with delicious recipes and minimal effort required.
“I’ve found that getting into a regular sleeping pattern, drinking enough water and staying off junk food and an overload of sugar is the best plan. It takes a bit of organising!”
9. Not getting enough quality sleep
Adults are advised to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. For many carers, this can be a pipe dream!
While one bad night of sleep won’t do us any lasting harm, it can leave us feeling groggy, irritable and unable to cope with the demands of the next day. When we’re regularly missing out on the rest we need, it can be bad for our health.
It’s not just the amount of sleep we get that’s important. The quality of deep sleep matters too. This is the most restorative type of rest we can get. During deep sleep, our body works hard to build and repair muscles. It also improves brain function and immunity.
When we’re caring for someone 24/7, getting sleep can be difficult. There can be practical obstacles to getting enough rest. For example, the person we care for may have a poor sleeping pattern or wake often. There can also be psychological reasons why we’re awake too. We might be worrying about money, feeling isolated or thinking that we don’t have enough time for ourselves.
We know that sleep isn’t always in our control. Getting eight(or even 7 or 6!) hours of quality sleep isn’t always possible if the person we care for needs assistance throughout the night..
When we’re feeling tired during the day, it can be refreshing to take a short nap. According to The Sleep Foundation, the best nap length for adults is about 20 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes. A bit of light sleep on the sofa can help to boost alertness without entering into a deep sleep, helping us to feel energised enough to make it through the afternoon. So if the person we care for takes a nap - let’s do the same - ignoring the temptation to squeeze in some more chores.
In the evenings, we can help to give ourselves the best night’s sleep we possibly can by avoiding looking at screens an hour before bed. The blue light from personal devices like smartphones and laptops can keep us awake. They block the production of melatonin, the hormone that gives us that ‘sleepy’ feeling at bedtime.
While it’s tempting to sleep in after a night of broken sleep, we should aim to keep a regular pattern of going to bed and rising at the same time - even when we’re disturbed during the night.
“I'm a carer to my husband and although I get around 5 hours of sleep it’s very disrupted by silly dreams. I do, however, manage to get a cat nap when my hubby nods off.”
When tiredness needs investigating
Since the symptoms of ongoing tiredness may be a result of a variety of medical conditions, (or natural cycles such as menopause), it can be difficult - but important - to identify the cause of it. We should always speak to a GP if tiredness is affecting day-to-day life.
We know that caring can be tiring work, but it’s reassuring to know that there are steps we can take to give our energy levels a boost in the background.
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