A very common complaint that we acupuncturists hear from our patients is that they constantly feel tired. Sometimes this fatigue is related to lack of sleep; sometimes, however, no amount of rest seems to alleviate the sleepiness.
From an acupuncture and Chinese Medicine perspective, there are numerous imbalances in our bodies that can cause the constant fatigue. Here are some of the most common imbalances that can lead to fatigue, lethargy, lack of energy/motivation, and tiredness.
Your energy is weakened or struggling
Simply put, when systems in our body are compromised (through illness, heredity, stress, or lifestyle choices), they can’t produce the abundance of good, positive energy our body (and mind) needs to function. Many different systems in our body can produce a feeling of fatigue when they are weakened. When the Qi of our Spleen and Lung organ systems is compromised, we often feel like we don’t have enough energy to get through the day. This sort of fatigue often improves with good sleep, hygiene and a healthy diet. When our Liver Blood energy is weakened (through overwork, poor sleep, poor diet, illness, or excessive bleeding), the fatigue we experience is hard to shake; we may feel restless, and have a hard time falling asleep even though we are tired. This type of fatigue is improved by eating more dark leafy greens and more organ meats, to nourish the blood energy. A deficiency of either Kidney yin or Kidney yang energy– our two most fundamental energies – can also result in fatigue. This kind of fatigue manifests as true exhaustion. It is very important to give yourself ample time to rest, to recover from this type of tiredness; dietary changes, as well as herbal medicine, can also be very helpful.
Your energy is stuck
Fatigue does not always stem from a weakness in your body’s energy; sometimes fatigue comes from energy not moving properly. Health, in Chinese Medicine, is all about the smooth flow of energy through the body. When something alters that smooth flow, such as illness, injury, trauma, stress, poor lifestyle choices, etc – fatigue can be a result.
When your body’s energy is not flowing the way it should be, your body actually has to exert a lot more energy to keep you running well. The kind of fatigue that comes from Qi Stagnation (energy not flowing well) can present as a fatigue that is actually better with exercise or movement. It is the kind of fatigue that makes it really hard to get to the gym, but can disappear once you complete your work-out. Qi stagnation fatigue can make us feel ‘tired but wired’, and can also be closely related to feeling overwhelmed or run down by stress.
This sort of fatigue is helped by exercise, movement, and stress-reduction techniques.
You are damp
‘Dampness’ is a concept somewhat unique to Chinese Medicine – it refers to an abnormal processing of fluids in the body. Dampness can ‘lodge’ itself in many different areas, and as such, can lead to numerous symptoms. When dampness is pervasive throughout the whole body, usually one experiences a kind of constant fatigue – this can be both physical and mental. Patients who are tired from dampness describe feeling “sluggish”, “heavy”, or “fuzzy”. This kind of fatigue is greatly improved by making dietary changes, such as reducing the intake of dairy, cold temperature or raw foods, and greasy or fried foods. Dampness is also helped by regular exercise – which helps to break through that sluggishness; also trying to remove yourself from damp environments (ie. Seattle!) can be helpful.
In all of these situations, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be a huge help. Acupuncture and herbs focus on creating balance in the body to restore energy and vitality, rather than giving you false energy like coffee or an energy drink. You don’t deserve to be tired all the time – the combination of diet, lifestyle changes, and Chinese Medicine can get you back on the road to health, vitality, and feeling great!