Fatigue is caused by many factors, but it usually doesn’t represent a medical problem. Irregular sleep patterns commonly cause fatigue among college students.
The human body requires eight hours of sleep per night, and more importantly, the body prefers a set routine. So even if you average eight hours of sleep per day, if you sleep five hours one night and 11 the next night, your body will not feel as rested.
Ever wonder why that “power nap” didn’t give you more pep? When a body is chronically sleep deprived, it maximizes the deepest stage of sleep. When you nap, the sleep cycle quickly accelerates to a deep stage of sleep. You may awaken from this deep sleep still feeling groggy. But you protest, “I can’t fall asleep before 2 a.m. and then I have to get up for an 8 a.m. class.”
Unfortunately, this common scenario is largely due to a factor you can’t control – your age. People in their teens and early 20s typically run on a “night owl” schedule. It’s physiological and will change as you age.
Evaluate your sleep patterns and determine if good sleep hygiene – going to bed at a set time and arising at a set time – will alleviate your symptoms.
In the meantime, you can tell your parents it’s normal to sleep until noon during the semester break.
Other factors that can influence your energy levels include diet and exercise. Excessive calorie restriction and skipping meals contribute to fatigue. Food is fuel for the body and depriving your body of the right fuel can cause your energy to wane. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, oatmeal, and bran are good choices, combined with lean protein sources like skim milk, yogurt, lower-fat cheeses, poultry, legumes, and beans. And don’t forget fruits and vegetables for vitamins and fiber. Caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages can also cause fatigue. A balanced diet is especially important to keep you fit for exercise. Moderate exercise on a regular basis will give you more energy; training too hard may wipe you out.
Medical conditions that may present with fatigue include infections such as mononucleosis, strep throat, influenza and colds. Chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, anemia, and underactive thyroid disease can cause fatigue. Depression and substance abuse may disrupt sleep and also cause fatigue. Warning signs that should prompt you to see a health care provider include:
Chronic nasal congestion/postnasal drip
Significant weight changes (greater than 10 percent)
Loss of interest in recreational activities
Fatigue impairing your daily functioning in school, work and social life