Top 10 reasons a child or teen is tired

I see many kids each month who complain of being too tired. Parents often fear the worse, such as low iron or even cancer. There are many things to consider, but there are a few very common reasons that could explain why a child or teen is tired. I’m also including some less common things that make kids feel tired, but are common worries of parents. Always remember that common is common. Serious causes of being tired will not happen with fatigue as the only complaint.

Here are 10 reasons a child or teen is tired:

1. Not enough exercise

top 10 reasons a child is always tiredStrenuous aerobic exercise helps our bodies get healthy, quality sleep. Better quality sleep improves our performance, both physical and mental.

If you lay around, you tend to feel more relaxed, lazy and tired. Getting up and moving can help.

Many kids sit all day at school, then come home to sit more doing homework, watching tv, or playing video games.

Limit time on screens, especially before bedtime. We need to encourage kids to get up and move, ideally outside.

Make it fun!

  • Take a walk to a park, then play
  • Play catch
  • Go on a bike ride
  • Swim
  • Join a sports team
  • Play frisbee
  • Golf
  • Go bowling
  • Dance
  • Try yoga — there are many online videos to get you started

Several of these ideas you can do with your kids. Make it a family goal to be active together! It models the healthy habits you want your kids to live.

2. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which people can’t eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) because it will damage their small intestine. This can lead to malnutrition and anemia (low red blood cell counts). Symptoms vary, but often include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and bloating. In kids it can affect puberty and growth. Celiac disease can run in families.

There are a lot of people who say they feel healthier when they avoid gluten for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people have symptoms that are found in celiac disease, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet, but do not test positive for celiac disease. It is not clear what the etiology of this is, but removing gluten seems to improve symptoms.

It’s uncommon for kids to have fatigue as the only symptom of celiac disease, but if you are worried about their symptoms, schedule a visit with their physician to discuss it as a possibility.

A quick warning…

Do not remove gluten from their diet without talking to your doctor. Gluten in the diet is needed for testing, which is needed to confirm celiac disease.

Celiac disease is important to diagnose and treat due to chronic issues that can occur from long-term damage to the intestines. If a child doesn’t have a true diagnosis, it is more likely they will not remain compliant with the diet changes that are required.

3. Depression

We often think we would recognize a depressed child or teen. We picture them crying often or appearing sad, but this is not necessarily how they appear. Yes, they can cry and appear sad, but sometimes they don’t.

Depression doesn’t always look like you’d think.

Sometimes parents think their child is angry. Or parents are mad because a teen stops trying at school. The child might get into fights.

Common symptoms of depression:

  1. Sadness, crying and tears
  2. Losing interest in things they usually enjoy
  3. Appearing angry or irritable
  4. Boredom and apathy
  5. Isolation from friends and family
  6. Extreme sensitivity
  7. Headaches, stomach aches, and other ill type symptoms
  8. Low self-esteem or guilt
  9. Poor concentration
  10. Change in eating patterns – either more or less
  11. Low energy
  12. Falling grades
  13. Change in sleeping patterns – either more or less
  14. Self harm (cutting or other behaviors)
  15. Talks of suicidal thoughts or intent

If you think your child is depressed, please get professional help. Sadly, depression is a fairly common underlying reason for kids to be tired.

4. Thyroid problems

Thyroid problems are relatively common and can be present at birth or develop later in life.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. About 5% of people over 12 years of age has hypothyroidism.

People with hypothyroidism might feel depressed, be tired, have poor focus, and become forgetful. They might gain weight or have slowed growth. They might feel colder than others or have constipation. Sometimes they’ll develop a swelling in their neck called a goiter.

Most of these are very common symptoms that are not specific to thyroid problems. Having some of them does not necessarily mean that there is a problem with the thyroid. If there are several of these symptoms, it’s relatively easy to screen for thyroid problems with a blood test.

Schedule an appointment to talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about a thyroid problem.

5. Too much sugar

Although the body needs sugar for energy, eating too much refined sugar can cause weight gain, chronic disease and sugar crashes. Excess weight can make it harder to exercise and sleep, both of which help us not feel tired.

Encourage kids to eat a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

Limit the juices, candies, and other high-sugar / low nutrition foods. I know this is easier said than done when kids beg and cry for candy. It’s even harder to limit when kids grab their own snacks.

Keep easy to eat healthy snacks available as much as possible. Don’t buy the junk. Kids will get plenty of it outside the home. If it’s not at home, they won’t grab it.

6. Caffeine

Most adults have grabbed a caffeinated beverage to help ward off fatigue, but caffeine can lead to poor sleep and more tiredness. It can become part of an unhealthy cycle.

Kids don’t need caffeine. If they do have it, it should be before noon. Caffeine can stay in your body for about 8 hours and keep you from sleeping.

Children under 10 years of age should not have caffeine due to jitteriness, irritability, and other side effects. It’s recommend that kids who are 10 – 12 should get no more than 85 mg per day. Teens should have 100 mg or less. Up to 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults.

Mixing caffeine with certain medicines or alcohol can increase its problems.

7. Anemia

Anemia is a low red blood cell count.

Our red blood cells bring oxygen to the cells of our body, and when the levels are low we can feel tired. Other symptoms are irritability and pale skin coloring. Often there are no symptoms with mild anemia.

There are many causes of anemia. Blood work can help to identify anemia and its causes. Treatment depends on the cause.

If you’re worried about anemia, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. A history and exam will be needed to determine if labs are indicated.

8. Insomnia

It makes sense that if you don’t sleep enough, you’ll be tired. When people have insomnia, they do not sleep enough hours.

There are many causes of insomnia, but all can lead to insufficient sleep. Addressing the underlying cause is important.

  1. Anxiety and depression (see above)
  2. Screens (see below)
  3. Circadian rhythm changes
  4. Allergies or other causes of nasal congestion
  5. Pain
  6. Gastroesophageal reflux
  7. Restless leg syndrome
  8. Some medications and caffeine
  9. Exercise too late in the evening
  10. Nicotine (growing in popularity among kids due to vaping)

If your child is struggling to sleep, schedule an appointment to discuss potential reasons and treatments.

9. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea happens when a person stops breathing during sleep. It’s usually caused by something blocking the upper airway. You might hear snoring followed by pauses in the breathing pattern, gasps, or choking sounds.

Because the airway is obstructed, oxygenation levels can fall briefly. This triggers the brain to wake up to open the airway. When this happens repeatedly throughout the night, sleep quality is affected. A person wakes feeling tired.

Enlarged tonsils or adenoids and obesity are common causes of sleep apnea. If you think your child has sleep apnea, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

10. Screen time

The light emitted from televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones trick our brains into staying awake.

When kids are on a screen up until bedtime, their brain is not yet ready to go to sleep. This leads them to stay up too late, which makes them too tired the following day.

Dr. Craig Canapari discusses the problems with screens and sleep in Prevent Sleep Problems in Kids: Keep Technology Out of The Bedroom.

Not enough sleep is the common thread to many of these.

Not enough sleep is the #1 reason I find for kids being tired. They need more sleep.

Studies show that many of us just don’t sleep enough. It’s important for kids to get adequate amounts of sleep. If your child is tired and is not able to sleep sufficiently, talk to your pediatrician about ways to improve sleep and decrease fatigue.

 

Supplements for ADHD: Do Vitamins, Herbs, and Fatty Acids Work?

Parents often ask if they can treat their child’s ADHD without prescription medication. There are many alternative treatments in addition to prescription medications – some of which are more effective than others.  I will cover ADHD treatment with supplements today.

Supplements for ADHD – general

If you’re giving your kids supplements for any reason, be sure to tell their physician and pharmacist to avoid any known complications or interactions with other treatments.

Supplement use in general is gaining popularity. All you have to do is visit a pharmacy or specialty store and you will see various products marketed to treat ADHD.

There are some studies that show people with ADHD have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals. More studies are being done to determine if supplementing helps symptoms. There is growing evidence for vitamin supplementation, but there are no standard recommendations yet.

Should you use high dose vitamins?

Clinical trials using various combinations of high dose vitamins such as vitamin C, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine show no effect on ADHD.

I don’t recommend high dose vitamin supplements unless a specific deficiency is identified. I don’t routinely screen for deficiencies at this time because there are no standard recommendations for this. We still have a long way to go before we know enough to make recommendations.

For children without a known vitamin deficiency, a standard pediatric multivitamin can be used, but effectiveness is not proven. I have no problems with anyone taking a multivitamin daily. However, I cannot recommend any specific brand since none of them are regulated by the FDA and there are many reports that show the label often misrepresents levels of what is really in the bottle. There have been instances of higher or lower than listed amounts of ingredients as well as unlisted ingredients in supplements.

My advice is to buy a brand that allows independent lab testing of their products if you choose to buy any vitamin or supplement.

Vitamins & minerals

The following is adapted from the University of Maryland Medical Center with the help of ADDitude Magazine and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

Magnesium

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include irritability, decreased attention span, and mental confusion.

Some experts believe that children with ADHD may be showing the effects of mild magnesium deficiency. In one preliminary study of 75 magnesium-deficient children with ADHD, those who received magnesium supplements showed an improvement in behavior compared to those who did not receive the supplements.

Too much magnesium can be dangerous and magnesium can interfere with certain medications, including antibiotics and blood pressure medications.

Talk to your doctor before supplementing with magnesium.

Vitamin B6

Adequate levels of vitamin B6 are needed for the body to make and use brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the chemicals affected in children with ADHD.

One preliminary study found that B6 pyridoxine was slightly more effective than Ritalin in improving behavior among hyperactive children – but other studies failed to show a benefit. The study that did show benefit used a high dose of B6, which could cause nerve damage, so more studies need to be done to confirm that it helps.

If B6 is found to help, we need to learn how to monitor levels and dose the vitamin before this can be used safely.

Because high doses can be dangerous, do not give your child B6 without your doctor’s supervision.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C can help modulate the dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.

Vitamin C can affect the way your body absorbs medications (especially stimulants for ADHD) so it is suggested to avoid vitamin C supplements and citrus fruits that are high in vitamin C within the hour of taking medicines.

Preliminary evidence suggests that a low dose of vitamin C in combination with flaxseed oil twice per day might improve some measures of attention, impulsivity, restlessness, and self-control in some children with ADHD. More evidence is needed before this combination can be recommended.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the one vitamin that is recommended to take as a supplement by many experts.

As we have gotten smarter about sun exposure, our vitamin D levels have decreased. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many problems, including ADHD.

Zinc

Zinc regulates the activity of brain chemicals, fatty acids, and melatonin. All of these are related to behavior.

Several studies show that zinc may help improve behavior.

Higher doses of zinc can be dangerous, so talk to your doctor before giving zinc to a child or taking it yourself.

Iron

Iron deficiencies commonly occur in children due to inadequate dietary sources since kids are so picky. Other causes include blood loss or excessive milk intake.

Iron is needed for the synthesis of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin- all neurotransmitters in the brain.

Low iron has been linked to learning and behavior problems.

Too much iron can be dangerous, so talk with your doctor if you want to start high dose supplements. (Regular multivitamins with iron should not cause overdose if used according to package directions.)

If you’re using high doses of iron, it is important to follow labs to be sure the iron dose is not too high.

Essential fatty acids

Fatty acids, such as those found in fish, fish oil, flax seed (omega-3 fatty acids) and evening primrose oil (omega-6 fatty acids) are “good fats” that play a key role in normal brain function.

In a large review, Omega-3/6 supplementation made no difference in ADHD symptoms, but there are other benefits to this supplement and it carries little risk.

If you want to try fish oil to see if it reduces ADHD symptoms, talk to your doctor about the best dose. Some experts recommend that young school aged kids take 1,000-1,500 mg a day, and kids over 8 years get 2,000-2,500 mg daily.

For ADHD symptom control it is often recommended to get twice the amount of EPA to DHA.

L-carnitine

L-carnitine is formed from an amino acid and helps cells in the body produce energy.

One study found that 54% of a group of boys with ADHD showed improvement in behavior when taking L-carnitine. More research is needed to confirm any benefit.

Because L-carnitine has not been studied for safety in children, talk to your doctor before giving a child L-carnitine.

L-carnitine may make symptoms of hypothyroid worse and may increase the risk of seizures in people who have had seizures before. It can also interact with some medications. L-carnitine should not be given until you talk to your child’s doctor.

 

Proteins

Proteins are great for maintaining a healthy blood sugar and for keeping the brain focused.

They are best eaten as foods: lean meats, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, legumes, and fish are high protein foods. Most people in our country eat more protein than is needed.

If your child does not eat these foods in good quantity, there are supplements available. Talk with your doctor to see if they are appropriate for your child. Many of the supplements are high in sugar and other additives. Some have too much protein for children to safely eat on a regular basis.

Herbs

There are some studies supporting nutritional supplements or herbal medicines for ADHD, but many reported treatments have not been found effective.

Pinus marinus (French maritime pine bark), and a Chinese herbal formula (Ningdong) showed some support.

Current data suggest that Ginkgo biloba (ginkgo) and Hypercium perforatum (St. John’s wort) are ineffective in treating ADHD.

Summary

In general I think we all should eat a healthy diet that is made up primarily of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

If children are on a restricted diet due to allergy or sensitivities to foods or additives (or extreme pickiness), discuss their diet with your doctor. Consider working with a nutritionist to be sure your child is getting all the nutrition needed for proper growth.

If supplements are being considered, they should be discussed with your doctor. Talking about risks and benefits can help decide which are right for your child.


Looking for more?

Many parents benefit from support groups to learn from others who have gone through or are currently going through similar situations, fears, failures, and successes. Find one in your area that might help you go through the process with others who share your concerns. If you know of a support group that deserves mention, please share!

ADHD

CHADD is the nationwide support group that offers a lot online and has many local chapters, such as ADHDKC. I am a volunteer board member of ADHDKC and have been impressed with the impact they have made in our community in the short time they have existed (established in 2012). I encourage parents to attend their free informational meetings. The speakers have all been fantastic and there are many more great topics coming up!

Anxiety

Many parents are surprised to learn how much anxiety can affect behavior and learning. To look for local support groups, check out the tool on Psychology Today.

Autism

The Autism Society has an extensive list of resources.

Dyslexia 

Dyslexia Help is designed to help dyslexics, parents, and professionals find the resources they need, from scholarly articles and reviewed books to online forums and support groups.

Learning Disabilities 

Learning Disabilities Association of America offers support groups as well as information to help understand learning disabilities, negotiating the special education process, and helping your child and yourself.

Tourette’s Syndrome and Tic Disorders 

Tourette’s Syndrome Association is a great resource for people with tic disorders.

General Support Group List 

For a list of many support groups in Kansas: Support Groups in Kansas .

School information

Choosing schools for kids with ADHD and learning differences isn’t always possible, but look to the linked articles on ways to decide what might work best for your child. When choosing colleges, look specifically for programs they offer for students who learn differently and plan ahead to get your teen ready for this challenge.

Midwest ADHD Conference – April 2018

Check out the Midwest ADHD Conference coming to the KC area in April, 2018. I’m involved in the planning stages and it will be a FANTASTIC conference for parents, adults with ADHD, and educators/teachers.

Midwest ADHD Conference
The Midwest ADHD Conference will be held in April 2018, in Overland Park, Kansas.


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