Diabetes Fatigue: Causes and Management

We all feel tired from time to time. 

Feeling tired is a normal part of life and often doesn’t signify any problem. 

But there are times when you should look into persistent feelings of fatigue, especially when you have other chronic health conditions like diabetes.

What is diabetes fatigue?

Diabetes fatigue syndrome is a term when someone with diabetes feels fatigued often. It can impact people with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes

Some of the reasons for diabetes fatigue are physiological, such as blood sugar fluctuations and diabetes burnout, while others are related to mental health.

Like other types of chronic fatigue, it might be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason that’s causing the fatigue. You should consider a visit with your healthcare provider to rule out other potential causes of chronic fatigue to be on the safe side, especially if the fatigue persists even after you’ve made some positive changes to your lifestyle.

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Why does diabetes cause fatigue?

High blood sugar

Blood glucose fluctuations can cause fatigue, especially with high blood sugar. When your blood glucose level is high, the sugar can’t get into your cells where it’s needed to provide energy. Insulin is the hormone responsible for allowing glucose to enter your cells.

If you have insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes) or insulin deficiency (type 1 diabetes), your body can’t get the sugar out of your blood into your cells. When your blood sugar level rises, you may feel fatigued since your cells are starved of energy from glucose.

Recurrent low blood sugar

Just like high blood sugar can give you fatigue, so can low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar is low or below 70 mg/dL. 

One of the symptoms of low blood sugar is fatigue, which can occur along with common symptoms like dizziness, sweating, and hunger. Frequent low blood glucose levels can be a source of diabetes fatigue.

Poor sleep hygiene

People with diabetes tend to have worse quality sleep than those without diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you’re more likely to be overweight or obese compared to nondiabetics. Being overweight increases your risk of sleep apnea, a condition that causes disrupted breathing and disjointed sleep.

You may also experience poorer sleep quality because you have diabetes. It becomes a vicious and cyclical cycle with poor sleep feeding poor blood sugar control, which then feeds poor sleep, and so on.

Sleep disturbances and poor sleep may increase insulin resistance, the key cause of type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep quality is linked with developing type 2 diabetes, which further strengthens the connection between sleep and blood sugar.

Diabetes complications

If your diabetes is poorly controlled for a long time, you might develop complications. Heart disease, kidney disease, neuropathy, and poorly-healing wounds are possible diabetes complications from long-term high blood sugar.

Chronic diseases from diabetes complications can cause fatigue in their own ways. For example, kidney disease can cause toxins to build up in your bloodstream, making you feel tired. Neuropathy (nerve damage) can make you feel very tired as well.

Statin use

Having diabetes increases the likelihood of having high cholesterol. Your healthcare provider might recommend that you take a statin drug to lower your cholesterol to help reduce your heart disease risk. Statin drugs might increase fatigue, especially after physical exertion. 

If you’re taking a statin and believe it might be contributing to your tiredness, you should consult with your healthcare provider to discuss your options.

RELATED: Statins: How They Work, Side Effects, and Interactions.

Mental burnout

Managing diabetes is a lifelong task. It can become overwhelming to think of managing your diabetes for the rest of your life while trying to avoid complications. 

Diabetes burnout is a term to describe a “state of disillusion, frustration and somewhat submission to the condition of diabetes.” In other words, you might become frustrated and feel like giving up when it comes to managing your diabetes.

Just like other times you’ve felt burned out, diabetes burnout can result in tiredness and other mental health symptoms. Seeking counseling, joining a support group, and mixing up your routine are all ways to help break through the feeling of diabetes burnout.

RELATED: How To Cope With Diabetes Burnout.

Depression

As someone with diabetes, you’re more likely to suffer from depression than someone without diabetes. People who are depressed are more likely to develop diabetes, so it’s another cyclical relationship.

Feelings of depression often include fatigue or a lack of interest in doing things that you usually enjoy, as well as changes in sleep (either sleeping a lot or too little), changes in appetite, energy level fluctuations, or changes in your self-esteem.

If you’re feeling depressed and have thoughts of harming yourself, you can talk to someone who wants to help by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency dial 911.

How to manage diabetes fatigue

Keep up with regular check-ups.

Even if you feel like things are going well with managing your diabetes, it’s always a good idea to keep up with regular visits with your healthcare provider. Screening your blood sugar, kidney functioning, and other aspects of your health can help identify any potential problems earlier which could help improve your energy level.

Practice good sleep hygiene.

While it might seem obvious, good sleep hygiene is something many of us don’t practice. The Sleep Foundation recommends things like:

  • Having a set sleep and wake-up time.
  • Not looking at screens in bed.
  • Make gradual changes to your sleep schedule.
  • Follow a nightly routine.
  • Don’t stay in bed if you can’t fall asleep for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom on the cooler side.

Set realistic goals.

You might have ambitious goals to cut out sugar or lose 50 pounds to help improve your blood glucose control. Having goals is good, but they should be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can increase your feelings of burnout and fatigue in the long run.

Try to set small, realistic goals that you can see yourself sticking with long-term. Your progress might be slower, but it’ll likely stick as a permanent lifestyle habit which is much more important.

Get regular exercise.

Being physically sedentary can contribute to diabetes fatigue. Exercise is not only great for diabetes, but it can boost your mood and energy levels as well. Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week for your overall health and energy level.

RELATED: The Best Exercises For Diabetes Management.

When to see a doctor

You should visit your healthcare provider if you have new-onset fatigue that isn’t usual for you. While fatigue isn’t usually a cause for concern on its own, it can more rarely be a sign of something more serious. 

If you’re struggling with managing your diabetes, whether burnout or dealing with high blood sugars, it warrants a visit with your diabetes care team. 

Know that you’re never on your own when it comes to managing your diabetes and that you have help and support in your care team. 

If you don’t already have a mental health care provider, today is a great time to look into finding one. Everyone’s mental health should be as much of a priority as their physical health, and there is never any shame in seeking help. We all can benefit from mental health support!

Conclusion

Diabetes fatigue occurs as a result of the physiological effects of high blood sugar but can also be related to your mental health. Experiencing diabetes fatigue is a sign that you need to adjust your care plan to better optimize your health and energy levels. 

Diabetes is a complex disease that impacts many areas of your life. Because of this, regularly working with your healthcare and mental health providers is a good idea regardless of whether you’re feeling fatigued or not.

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Sources

  1. Surani S, Brito V, Surani A, Ghamande S. Effect of diabetes mellitus on sleep quality. World J Diabetes. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4478581/
  2. Lou P, Chen P, Zhang L, et al. Relation of sleep quality and sleep duration to type 2 diabetes: a population-based cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open 2012. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/4/e000956

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