The Difference Between Feeling Tired & Fatigue

5 Min Read | By Jessica Kadel

Last Modified 17 January 2024   First Added 24 February 2017

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

The word ‘exhausted’ is often thrown around these days after a long hard day at work. However, being exhausted can sometimes be a symptom of fatigue or even Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which is a serious medical condition that is significantly worse than not achieving your full 8 hours of sleep. Here is how to tell the difference between tiredness and fatigue – if you have any concerns or think you may be suffering from this illness, consult your GP.

What is the difference between tired and fatigued?

The difference between tired and fatigue is more substantial than you may first realise. Tiredness is the way we feel when we don’t get enough sleep. Fatigue is a daily lack of energy that can’t be solved through greater sleep alone. Fatigue, therefore, is caused by more than just our sleeping pattern, including but not limited to: allergies; diet, kidney, liver and lung disease; bacterial and viral infections; a range of other health conditions.

If you believe you are suffering from fatigue, whether chronic or not, it’s advised that you speak to your GP or a medical professional. It’s also worth checking the NHS guide to Chronic Fatigue. Here’s their introduction to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS):

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms. The most common symptom is extreme tiredness.

CFS is also known as ME, which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. Many people refer to the condition as CFS/ME.

CFS/ME can affect anyone, including children. It’s more common in women, and tends to develop between your mid-20s and mid-40s.

1. Tiredness

As you already know, tiredness is generally caused by a lack of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends having around 7-9 hours of sleep when aged 18-64, if the amount of sleep you achieve is significantly less than that, then you are likely to be feeling tired. Tiredness can also be a symptom of a medical condition, for example, anaemia, glandular fever or diabetes. So, if you’re getting your 8 hours, but still feeling sleepy throughout the day, it may be worth going to your GP.

How to get rid of tiredness

To tackle tiredness the answer is simple; schedule more sleep. If you find you get to bed and struggle to drift off, there are several things you can try:

  • Avoid caffeine for roughly six hours before bed. This is because, once in the body, only one-half of your caffeine intake is eliminated after 6 hours.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed, as it takes roughly an hour for a unit of alcohol to be processed.
  • Avoid using technology for at least 2 hours before bed. This is because phones, television, laptops and tablets emit blue light and exposure to this blue light results in a delay of melatonin production, which is the sleep-inducing hormone.
  • Keep your bedding clean and invest in a comfortable mattress. Use the Dreams Personal Comfort Guide to find the best kind of mattress for your sleeping position.
  • Reduce stress levels before bed by exercising or trying various breathing techniques.

Related: How to Use Yoga to Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

An image showing a woman practising yoga

If you have a super hectic lifestyle or a stressful job, tiredness can be a sign that you need to take a break. Relaxing and taking time to do things that make you feel calm are almost as important as sleeping to reduce feelings of tiredness. Book a week off and give yourself a well-deserved rest!

2. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Unlike tiredness, fatigue is a type of tiredness that is not so easily cured. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is also known as ME, which stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. This condition is long-term and causes persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep. Depending on the severity of an individual’s CFS, it can affect everyday life. Mild cases may involve taking days off work, whereas severe cases can inhibit even the smallest daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth.

According to the NHS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects around 250,00 people in the UK and is more common in women than in men. Although the exact cause of CFS is not known, theories point to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

Chronic Fatigue symptoms:

People who suffer from fatigue feel they lack motivation and energy. The main symptom of CFS is extreme exhaustion that surpasses simply feeling tired. If your exhaustion lasts more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise, then it is likely to be Chronic Fatigue. According to Mayo Clinic, other symptoms of CFS include:

  • A sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • A loss of memory
  • A lack of concentration
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep

An image of a tired woman demonstrating chronic fatigue

Treating Chronic Fatigue

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says a diagnosis of CFS should be considered if you suffer from several symptoms and if your fatigue can’t be explained by other factors, such as a lack of sleep. There is currently no known cure for the illness.

If you think you may have CFS, visit your GP to get a professional opinion. Treatments will depend entirely on the severity of your symptoms.

We hope this helps you tell the difference between tiredness and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 

About the author