It’s perfectly normal for kids to be exhausted sometimes. But if you’re dealing with a consistently tired child, it might be time to investigate why.
If you’re not sure, it’s always best to have your child checked by a doctor. But I find that often the cause of fatigue is found in a child’s diet and lifestyle. That’s why small changes to diet and lifestyle can be a great solution for low energy.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more about the underlying causes of fatigue in a tired child.
Underlying Causes Of Fatigue In A Tired Child
There can be many causes of low energy in kids. Let’s look at some of the most common factors that lead to fatigue.
If my kids are tired, the first thing I tell them is to go and have a glass of water!
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue. Our body cells don’t function properly without the optimal amount of water. The problem is that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So if you’ve got a tired child, have a think about whether they’ve had plenty of water recently.
The best way to support their hydration habits is to be a good role model! Drink water regularly, and offer them a glass whenever you have one. There are different tools and apps you can use to remind you to drink water throughout the day.
We need sleep to have enough energy for the next day. So if your child has problems falling asleep, irregular sleeping patterns or just aren’t getting enough, they will get tired. Every kid is different when it comes to the amount of sleep they need. But a basic rule of thumb is:
1-3 years – 12-14 hours
3-6 years – 10-12 hours
7-12 years – 10-11 hours
12-18 years – 8-9 hours
If you’re dealing with a tired child, have a think about the last couple of weeks. What time are they going to bed, what time do they actually fall asleep, and when are they waking up? It’s fine to have activities that lead to later nights sometimes, but you want to balance those out with some early nights.
Other factors that disrupt or reduce the quality of their sleep can also affect energy levels. This includes restless legs, growing pains, nightmares and night terrors. You can learn more about causes of sleep issues and supporting a good night sleep here.
Mood and mental health conditions
Any mental health or mood-related condition can affect energy. The two most common are anxiety and depression.
With anxiety, the body systems go into overdrive, and everything is heightened. So it’s common for kids to have a sudden crash in energy levels after a period of anxiety. This can be a short-term source of anxiety, or a full-blown anxiety condition. In this case, it’s essential to address the anxiety itself to correct their fatigue.
With depression, the imbalance in brain chemicals can lead to feeling sluggish and fatigued. It can be a vicious cycle, as these imbalances can affect sleep, and poor sleep can worsen the imbalances. If your tired child is experiencing symptoms of depression, you want to address that root cause to support their energy levels.
A busy schedule
We live busy lives, and so do our kids. But it can be easy to overschedule kids with activities. Just like us, kids need regular downtime at home. Yes, they will complain and get bored, especially if you give them screen-free time. But boredom is actually good for their creativity!
Every child is different when it comes to coping with a busy schedule. One can thrive when they are doing something most nights, but another might get overwhelmed with more than 1-2 activities each week. This feeling of overwhelm can lead to them feeling exhausted.
Any child can be overstimulated by a big weekend. But it’s also common for kids with sensory issues to be overstimulated. This can be a stand-alone condition, or it can be part of conditions like ADHD and autism. A sensitive child can be exhausted just from a full day of school because so much is happening.
If your tired child tends towards overstimulation, try winding back their schedule. My rule of thumb at home is to have at least a couple of weeknights free, as well as keeping the weekends mostly free. Find the schedule that works for your child.
Gut health and digestive function
The production of energy that happens in our cells requires nutrients. The gut is where food is broken down to release those nutrients. So if food is not being processed properly, it can lead to low energy levels.
In this case, there will usually be other symptoms of gut issues such as bloating, tummy pain, wind, constipation or diarrhoea. In my clinic, I often see kids that perk up when we work on their gut health – even if fatigue wasn’t a reported symptom!
Digestive issues can include specific digestive conditions that cause inflammation in the gut, such as Coeliac disease. So if your tired child has any gut-related symptoms, it can indicate inflammation that can then lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Food allergies and intolerances
Another aspect of gut health that can affect fatigue is food intolerances and allergies. In this case, a tired child often won’t just feel tired – they’ll look it. Dark circles under the eyes and a fatigued look can be an indicator of underlying allergies or intolerances. But these can also cause physical tiredness, especially for kids.
A variety of nutrient deficiencies can lead to low energy levels, including vitamin B12, omega-3s and magnesium. But the most common nutrient deficiency is iron. Even iron insufficiency – when the iron is on the lower end of normal – can cause fatigue.
Low iron is often caused by fussy eating, including not eating red meat or simply not eating a range of nutrient-dense wholefoods. Children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can also have low iron if care isn’t taken to maintain adequate levels.
Other signs and symptoms of low iron include:
- Low appetite
- Tiring easily after exertion and exercise
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Frequent infections
Iron-deficiency anaemia has been linked to dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation – we’re not sure which comes first. It may depend on the case.
Too much sugar!
When kids have too much sugar, it leads to blood sugar fluctuations. They feel great first, but will crash soon afterwards. If your child’s energy is up and down throughout the day, have a look at how much sugar they are eating.
Different kids handle sugar differently. Some can cope with a normal amount in their diet, but others are very sensitive to it. A high sugar intake can also deplete nutrients. Since we now know that nutrients are essential for energy, we want to focus on nutrient-rich foods wherever possible.
Not enough exercise
Kids who don’t move regularly are more prone to fatigue. Regular exercise stimulates the mitochondria – the powerhouse of your cells – to produce more energy. A tired child might be inside on their screens over the weekend, then sitting most of the day at school.
Infection and illness
A child’s energy will often go downhill before you realise that they are sick. Fatigue is a common symptom in the early stages of an infection or illness. It can be hard because we don’t know, so we often push them to keep going. But it takes resources and energy to fight a bug off. So if your child becomes fatigued all of a sudden, the best thing to do is let them rest for a day or two.
In many cases, a tired child will have more than one cause contributing to their energy issues. If your child is showing any of the symptoms listed, or is at risk of more than one cause, it’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.
If you’re worried about your tired child, boosting their intake of nutrient-rich wholefoods is the first step to boost their energy levels. To get you started, grab my 8 Essential Wholefoods For Kids Guide here.