Fatigue is a common complaint from people with diabetes, especially those with type 2 diabetes. Sure, some of it has to do with your disease, but making better lifestyle choices could greatly improve the way you feel. By routinely monitoring your blood sugar, eating well, getting enough of the right type of exercise, taking steps to reduce stress and maintain good mental health, staying hydrated, controlling inflammation in your body, and getting enough sleep, you can boost your energy levels much closer to normal.
High blood glucose levels interfere with circulation, and prevent your body from moving glucose out of your blood and into energy-making cells, resulting in fatigue. Low blood glucose levels also cause fatigue because you simply don’t have enough fuel for cells to use to make energy. Monitor your blood levels and always eat balanced meals that contain vegetables or fruit, whole grains and protein, to avoid extreme highs and lows.
Nothing sends your blood sugar skyrocketing like a piece of cake, a pastry or a candy bar. Avoid processed foods and junk foods that are pure sugar or mostly sugar. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sources of sugar, like apples, oranges and other fresh fruit, which also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Choose whole-grain muffins and other baked goods that are also high in fiber. The fiber in whole foods helps slow down digestion and absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
Dehydration is a major cause of fatigue, even for those who don’t have diabetes. Every cell in your body is made up of water that constantly needs to be replenished. Make sure you drink enough fluids, especially water, throughout the day. The best way to tell is to check your urine: if you’re getting enough fluids, it will be clear or very pale yellow. Avoid sweetened beverages that not only wreak havoc with your blood sugar but add excess calories to your diet. Watery foods, like unsweetened yogurt, soups, and fresh fruit also contribute fluids to your diet.
Exercise strengthens your muscles, boosts your energy levels, improves sleep, and makes further exercise easier. At the same time, lack of exercise weakens muscles, making it even harder to exercise and, eventually, harder to move at all. In addition to moderate aerobic exercise, such as swimming, bicycling or low-impact aerobics, the American Diabetes Association recommends strength training such as weight lifting, resistance bands, or calisthenics (such as push ups, pull ups, and sit ups) twice a week. It also helps to increase everyday activities like walking, gardening, climbing stairs, and taking the dog out.
Fatigue will arise if you are always on the move and don’t take enough time to relax. And given that those with diabetes may be more prone to fatigue, it won’t help your health to overdo it at work or at home or to try to keep up with everyone else. Find ways to disconnect: turn off your phone or computer; practice mindfulness which, in short, means staying focused in the present moment rather than worrying about the past or hurrying toward the future; find a relaxing hobby; and simply do less throughout the day.
Chronic psychological stress and depression not only cause mental fatigue but can contribute to insomnia and other problems that simply wear you out. Both exercise and relaxation therapies such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help. If your stress level is consistently high, or you feel relentless anxiety or sadness, speak with your health care provider; you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy or need some form of medical treatment to get these feelings under control.
High blood sugar is linked to inflammation in blood vessels, which in turn has been linked to diabetes-related fatigue. Although the connection is still unclear, researchers have found a link between diet, gut bacteria, inflammation and the development of type 2 diabetes. A low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics (“good bacteria” that help keep the intestinal tract balanced and healthy) may reduce inflammation and help prevent or lessen symptoms of diabetes, including fatigue. Speak with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator to see if an anti-inflammatory diet could work for you.
Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Make sure your bed is comfortable, your bedroom is dark, and the temperature is on the cool side. Maintain a routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, and avoid stimulating activities just before bedtime. If you still have trouble getting enough sleep, or if you feel tired and weak when you get up in the morning, regardless of how long you sleep, speak to your health care provider to try to get to the root of the problem and find a solution.