Why Does My Type 2 Diabetes Make Me So Tired?

Find out how to better manage fatigue that can be caused by Type 2 diabetes.

February, 2021

Tags

Everyone feels tired sometimes, but fatigue, or feeling extremely tired, is common in Type 2 diabetes.
Lots of different things can cause it. Sometimes, it is related to blood glucose levels or other symptoms of the condition. It could be a medication side effect, or it might be a sign of a complication.

Whatever the cause, fatigue can have a huge impact on your quality of life. It can get in the way of work and family commitments and stop you from doing the things you love.

The good news is that there are things you can do to manage fatigue.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion and lethargy that can sometimes be overwhelming.

People say they are tired all the time, but anyone who has experienced fatigue knows it is much more than that. When someone is tired, they will usually feel better after they have rested, but fatigue might not go away after a nap or a good night’s sleep.

Fatigue is common in lots of long-term healthcare conditions, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Some people describe it as feeling weighted down, like walking through quicksand or like having the flu.

Why does type 2 diabetes cause fatigue?

Fatigue is very common in Type 2 diabetes. A study published by the American Diabetes Association found that it affected 61 per cent of newly diagnosed people.

There are lots of different reasons for this:

Hypoglycaemia

When we eat carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down into sugar. Experts call this sugar glucose, and it is the body’s main source of energy. It travels to every part of the body in the blood.

Insulin is a hormone. It makes sure there is never too much, or too little glucose in the blood, so that the body has the energy it needs. But when people develop Type 2 diabetes, they stop making insulin properly and the regulation system breaks down.

Hypoglycaemia means that there is not enough sugar in the blood. Sometimes, people call this “having a hypo”. Fatigue is a common symptom of low blood sugar.

It is different for everyone, but other symptoms might include:

  • feeling shaky
  • feeling confused or disorientated
  • difficulty concentrating
  • headache
  • sweating
  • feeling anxious or irritable
  • pale skin
  • heart palpitations
  • quick pulse
  • blurry vision
  • tingly lips

If you think you might be having a hypo, you should treat it right away. Low blood sugar levels can be very dangerous.

Diabetes symptoms

Lots of the common symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.

Things like needing to urinate a lot, feeling really thirsty, and feeling really hungry can all make you feel tired.

They can also interrupt sleep patterns, adding to fatigue. People with Type 2 diabetes might have to get up in the night to use the toilet or get a drink, for example. Or sometimes, pain or discomfort in the feet might stop people from getting to sleep or wake them up.

People with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population.

Poor mental health and wellbeing can also add to fatigue. It can impact on how well someone is able to manage their blood sugar levels. It can also change sleep patterns and leave people feeling low.

Medication side effects

People with Type 2 diabetes often take several different medications. Some of them can contribute to feelings of extreme tiredness.

Medications that might cause fatigue include:

  • corticosteroids
  • diuretics
  • statins
  • beta-blockers
Diabetes complications

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and organs. This can lead to complications. Fatigue can be a symptom of complications such as:

  • infections
  • nerve damage
  • kidney issues
  • heart disease

It is important to remember that uncontrolled blood sugar levels cause these complications, not Type 2 diabetes itself. You can help avoid complications by managing your condition through good lifestyle choices.

How to manage fatigue

Fatigue can have a huge impact on your life, but there are things you can do to manage the feeling.

If low blood sugar was the cause of the problem, it should usually get better after treatment. According to Diabetes UK, you should eat or drink 15-20g of fast-acting carbohydrate as soon as you realise you have low blood sugar. That might be:

  • three glucose or dextrose tablets
  • five jelly babies
  • a small glass of sugar drinks, such as fizzy pop or fruit juice
  • two tubes of glucose gel
Sleep

Getting enough sleep is the first step to managing fatigue. Most people need between six and nine hours of sleep.

Of course, this is not always easy, especially when the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes get in the way.

The NHS offers the following advice on getting to, and staying, asleep:

  • sleep at regular times. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day – even at weekends – helps the body get into a good sleep routine
  • wind down before bed. You could try having a warm bath, reading a book, or doing breathing exercises to get the body ready to sleep
  • a sleep-friendly bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool, with no electronic devices
  • only use the bed for sleep and sex – avoid watching TV, working, or studying in bed
Exercise

When you feel really tired, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. But it can help – it will boost your energy levels.

Regular physical activity is also really important for controlling blood sugar levels. It will help reduce some of the symptoms that can lead to fatigue. It will also help people to live well with diabetes and avoid some of the long-term complications that can cause extreme tiredness.

Health and wellbeing website Healthline offers the following advice for finding the motivation to exercise:

  • start small: why not try walking for 10 minutes a day, three times a week, for a few weeks? After that, build up slowly until you reach 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day
  • buddy up: it’s much harder to skip an exercise session if you have planned to do it with a friend
  • make it fun: not everyone is a “gym bunny” or a road runner. Find something you enjoy, whether it is dancing, swimming, or even gardening. You are more likely to stick with it if it is fun

When to speak to your healthcare team about fatigue

If you are experiencing regular fatigue you should speak to your healthcare team. They may want to look at your medications and they will usually have some tips on how to cope.

The team will also be able to offer medical advice on whether the extreme tiredness is a sign of something more serious, such as diabetes complications.