A child who is feeling overly tired could be reacting to a simple sleep deficit or may be experiencing fatigue as the side effect of a variety of health conditions. Sometimes fatigue can be temporary, such as during a stressful event, but when it lasts longer than a few weeks, it may be time to seek treatment. When in doubt, always consult a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.
Causes of Fatigue
While fatigue can have many causes, the following are some of the most common culprits.
Mental Health Issues: Anxiety and depression can occur at almost any age and can contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue. Treatment can improve these symptoms in most cases.
Sleep Disorders: Pediatric sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or sleepwalking can affect both sleep quality and daytime energy levels. If you suspect your child may have one of these conditions, an overnight sleep study at a doctor’s office can help determine if there are any issues.
Narcolepsy: If your child is also experiencing brief episodes of falling asleep that seem sudden and uncontrollable, they could be suffering the effects of narcolepsy. Although rare, symptoms of narcolepsy can begin as early as age five or six, and it is commonly diagnosed during adolescence.
Medication Side Effects: Many medications, including allergy treatments, anti-depressants, and anxiety medications list drowsiness and fatigue as potential side effects. If the symptoms began shortly after starting a new medication or changing the dosage, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.
Diabetes: Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause fatigue and lack of energy in children as young as infancy (type 1) or age 10 (type 2). Other signs of diabetes in children include increased urination and thirst, vision changes, appetite changes, and weight loss. Early diagnosis of diabetes is critical in order to begin proper treatment.
Thyroid: Both elevated and lowered thyroid function (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism) can cause fatigue. The thyroid regulates many systems of the body, including the way it uses energy. A simple blood test can check for thyroid dysfunction.
Anemia: Anemia occurs when there is a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin found in the body’s red blood cells. A lack of iron, B12, or folic acid can cause anemia. Other symptoms may include weakness and pale skin. Anemia is usually easily treated with supplementation.
Asthma: Shortness of breath (whether chronic or acute) can feel like exhaustion and can cause fatigue due to the body working extra hard to get air. A dip in oxygen levels can even occur with asthma, which also contributes to feeling tired. Thankfully, treatment to prevent flare-ups should be helpful in reducing feelings of fatigue and tiredness.
Heart Conditions: Fatigue can be a symptom of various heart problems in adolescents and young children. Typically, a child will present other symptoms such as chest pain upon exertion, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Treatment depends on the condition or defect, but in most cases, the issue can be solved with medication or surgery.
Weight: Children who are obese are much more likely to experience extreme fatigue and tiredness. Understandably, when the body is working harder to do daily activities, it leads to a greater amount of fatigue. Relief from these symptoms should come with weight loss.
Poor Diet and Sedentary Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle, especially when combined with a lack of a nutritious diet, can lead to fatigue and even muscle weakness. Following the advice below can help reverse these effects.
Prevention of Fatigue
In addition to the treatment of any underlying medical conditions, these natural, healthy habits will help your child fight off feelings of fatigue and boost their energy.
Proper Sleep: It goes without saying that establishing proper sleep habits will go a long way toward helping your child overcome their fatigue.
Active Lifestyle: By encouraging your child to lead an active lifestyle, you can help them ward off fatigue and increase their energy levels. With as little as 30 minutes of exercise or other physical activity per day, the body responds by boosting endorphins and raising oxygen levels in the blood.
Proper Nutrition: A healthy diet with plenty of energy-boosting nutrients may just do the trick in fighting fatigue naturally. Be sure that your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the day to maintain proper functioning and avoid foods that contribute to short-term energy spikes such as sugar, food dyes, simple carbs, and caffeine.