Why Does Depression Make You Feel Tired? The Reason for Your Fatigue (and How to Stop It)

Depression impacts the lives of millions of Americans. It’s a common cause of disability in the United States, causing such severe emotional distress that people are unable to work.

There are many devastating symptoms of depression that make each day especially challenging. But one of the most common health issues — fatigue — can often be the most frustrating.

Are the possible causes of depression and the reasons behind its symptoms connected? Is it possible to restore energy when it feels like you can barely get out of bed? Here’s what experts suggest.

What causes depression?

Depression

Depression | iStock.com/lolostock

It’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly why someone develops depression.

For some people, the condition is triggered by a stressful event, such as losing a loved one, getting laid off, or receiving a stressful medical diagnosis.

In many cases, genetics play a role. Some people are more likely to develop depression simply due to uncontrollable biological factors.

A wide range of medications — from those that treat high blood pressure to certain steroids — can also lead to chemical changes in the brain that trigger depression symptoms.

Depression symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. But the majority of people with major depressive disorder report that they struggle with fatigue. What’s the connection?

Why does depression make you tired?

While depression is the result of a complex combination of hormone and other brain changes, it can also develop due to factors such as stress or sleep disorders.

It’s therefore possible that the factors contributing to your fatigue aren’t related to your depression specifically, but instead to other things you’re dealing with because of it. Some people living with depression struggle to follow a healthy diet, for example, which can result in low energy levels.

Here are are a few “side effects” that could be contributing to your fatigue with depression.

  • Stress. Stressful life events don’t just increase your risk of experiencing depression symptoms: They can also make already existing symptoms worse. Some research suggests stress causes inflammation, which leads to fatigue.
  • Depression medications. Even though antidepressants help people with depression regulate their mood, some can cause fatigue.
  • Poor-quality diet. Junk foods and other processed items don’t provide the best energy to sustain daily functioning. Some evidence points to the idea that diets high in processed foods increase the risk of depression, and some people with depression either eat too much or too little.
  • Lack of physical activity. Many people with depression find it hard to get out of bed. Finding the mental and physical strength to exercise is just too far of a reach for many individuals.
  • Sleep issues. Some people living with depression sleep more than usual. Others sleep far less than they need to. It’s also common to experience poor-quality sleep even when you do sleep what’s considered a “normal” amount (six to eight hours).

Just because depression doesn’t always “cause” fatigue directly doesn’t mean you’re imagining things. Most people with depression feel frustratingly worn out. Research suggests that over 90% of people living with depression also deal with feelings of fatigue.

But you’re not powerless. There are things you can do to feel more energized.

How to cope with depression fatigue

Exercise

Exercise | Fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Because the above factors might all contribute to your exhaustion, working on improving each one individually can increase your energy levels and improve your overall quality of life.

  • If your medication is causing your fatigue, your doctor can put you on a different antidepressant.
  • Exercise starts with baby steps. Make an effort to move, even if it starts with a short walk.
  • Practice good “sleep hygiene.” Don’t eat or drink before bed, stick to a schedule, and keep gadgets like phones out of the bedroom.
  • Talk with your therapist about developing healthy stress management techniques.
  • Follow a healthy diet as best you can. It’s a form of self-care that will benefit you in a dozen ways in the long-term.

If your depression is making you feel exhausted, you’re not alone. Seeking professional help can assist you in not only beginning treatment options that help relieve symptoms, but also in developing mental and emotional strategies for coping with remaining symptoms.