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Fatigue and Exhaustion Solutions
How to Deal With Tiredness Related to Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism

by Mary Shomon

Fatigue in Graves' Disease/Hyperthyroidism

While hyperthyroidism is often associated with increased energy and feeling "hyper," some people with hyperthyroidism find themselves completely exhausted. This can be due to the insomnia or difficulty sleeping that is a common hyperthyroidism symptom. It can also be due to the stress on the body of having a rapid pulse, higher blood pressure, diarrhea, tremors and other symptoms of hyperthyroidism. To help understand more about Graves' Disease symptoms, see my Graves' Disease/Hyperthyroidism Checklist of symptoms and risk factors.

For information on diagnosis and treatment, see my Frequently Asked Questions on Hyperthyroidism/Graves'Disease, which goes through most of the common questions regarding Graves' and hyperthyroidism.

Fatigue in Hashimoto's Disease and Hypothyroidism

For many patients such as myself, one noticeable sign that thyroid levels are getting too high and dosages may need to be adjusted is the onset of bone-numbing fatigue. This sign of hypothyroidism often comes on suddenly, and leaves you barely able to lift your head off the pillow in the morning. You may feel like you can't get through a day without a nap, or you sleep more than usual but still feel exhausted. This fatigue, frequently seen along with other symptoms you'll find on my Hypothyroidism Symptoms Checklist, can be a sign that your hypothyroidism is undertreated.

For some hypothyroid patients, even when levels are normal after treatment, exhaustion continues. I get hundreds of emails a week from readers who are complaining that they are just plain exhausted, despite being treated for their thyroid disease, asking WHEN will they get their energy back?

Many doctors will tell you that the fatigue will be relieved by thyroid hormone replacement, and for some people, it is. But when you're STILL exhuasted after you've given it enough time to get your levels back to normal, AND you've investigated whether you are undertreated, then it's time to look into the first line of attack -- are you getting enough sleep?

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

According to a survey released from the National Sleep Foundation, one in three people the United States sleeps for 6 hours or less per night, substantially less than the recommended 8 hours. The average person gets 7 hours of sleep a night, and 40% of adults say that they are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activities.

"The survey findings are a source of great concern," warned Thomas Roth, Ph.D., Health and Scientific Advisor of the National Sleep Foundation and director of the Sleep Disorders Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "People have no idea how important sleep is to their lives. Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep. Conversely, lack of sleep and sleep problems have serious, often life-threatening consequences. This is a case where what we don't know can harm us -- and harm those around us."

I am one of those people who does NOT do well on less than 7 1/2 to 8 hours. But just with the general business of living (and particularly, with a small child) getting that much sleep is a luxury I've rarely enjoyed in many years. I keep wanting to blame my thyroid, but after a few nights when I actually get 8 or more hours and feel much much better and more energetic, I've realized that, to a large extent, my problem is sleep deprivation, compounded by a slightly increased general need for more sleep due to the thyroid problem, even if it is treated. So if I usually needed 7 1/2 -8 hours, and my thyroid disease adds a bit more of a need, let's say a half hour to an hour a night, that's 8-8 1/2 hours, and if I'm getting 6-7, then I'm pretty sleep deprived.

Natural Energy Boosters

Among supplements, if you are suffering from flagging energy, you need to make sure that you are getting enough B vitamins. Vitamin B-12 in particular is one that is essential for energy. To ensure you're getting enough B vitamins, consider taking a B complex, plus a separate sublingual B-12.

Another type of supplement useful for fatigue is in the area of substances that the body naturally produces for energy production. Supplements in this category include:

  • Co-enzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, which supplies energy to muscles
  • L- Carnitine
  • NADH (Nicotinamide Adenine Finucleotide) which helps cells convert food into energy
In terms of herbal remedies, while you should avoid ephedra and ma huang stimulants, you can ask your practitionera about schizandra--a Chinese herb that is used for fatigue. Ginseng is also popular for energy. Before trying any herbs, supplements, or vitamins, you should of course consult with your practitioner to ensure they are safe for you. Ginseng, for example, is not recommended for someone with high blood pressure and many herbs and supplements are not recommended during pregnancy.

In the process of writing my book, Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to Know, I had the opportunity to interview herbal and aromatherapy expert Mindy Green of the Herbal Research Foundation. I asked her what, as a person with hypothyroidism, I should reach for when I'm just completely out of steam, and am ready for a giant double espresso in order to make it through the day. Mindy, said, unquestionably, mate tea. Mate, pronounced, "mah-tay," is an herbal tea native to South America. Mate is considered far more nutritious than black tea or coffee, and though it also has some caffeine, its effects are energizing, rather than making people jittery. On the scale of bad to good, coffee should be your last choice, followed by black tea, then green tea, with mate being the best option. I have to say, mate is quite good, and it does energize you, without a caffeine buzz. Another tea I've found quite good is Celestial Seasonings Ginseng Tea, which you can find at your local supermarket.

Body work and Energy Work , such as yoga, tai chi, qigong (pronounced chee-gung), and Reiki, can all help in adding and balancing energy. In qigong, tai chi, and yoga, gentle movements are used to move energy along the energy pathways of the body. In Reiki, a practitioner helps open up energy channels. (Personally, I've found yoga and Reiki to be most beneficial to my energy.)

Thyroid Disease and Sleep Apnea

There is also a relationship between an increased incidence of sleep apnea (brief periods when you stop breathing while sleeping) and hypothyroidism. Frequent apnea can also cause unrelieved exhaustion. Apnea is often also seen in conjunction with snoring.

When Fatigue is Chronic

If you suspect that your fatigue is more than just sleep deprivation, you might also want to explore more information about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2003. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.