Why am I still so tired? When will my post COVID-19 fatigue go way? These aren’t unusual questions from people recovering from COVID-19. Like many things related to the coronavirus, the answer isn’t completely clear.
While most people quickly bounce back, others take longer to heal. But there are ways to increase your energy and focus. Below, we review common COVID-19 fatigue symptoms, why you may be struggling, tips for overcoming your symptoms and when to see a doctor.
Who gets post-COVID-19 fatigue?
If you’re struggling with fatigue, know that you’re not alone – about 8 in 10 adults who get COVID-19 experience fatigue during their illness (and for kids, it occurs about half of the time). Fatigue is common whether you were hospitalized or if you treated mild COVID-19 symptoms at home.
Unfortunately, the fatigue you feel when you’re sick with COVID-19 can continue as one of the symptoms of post-COVID syndrome.
How long does fatigue last after COVID-19?
Your recovery from COVID-related fatigue will likely depend on how severe your illness was. After a mild case of COVID-19 your fatigue may clear up after about 2-3 weeks. But if you had a severe case, it’s possible to feel sluggish and tired for months.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19 fatigue?
So, what does COVID-19 fatigue feel like? Chances are you’ll feel very tired and find it hard to focus. But how you experience fatigue varies from person to person.
There’s the physical fatigue that comes with muscle weakness, body aches and pain. But there’s also mental fatigue that can make it hard to concentrate and find the motivation to do daily activities.
Physical fatigue: COVID-19 muscle weakness and joint pain
The physical fatigue you get from COVID-19 is generally more than being physically tired.
If you’ve spent a long time in bed due to COVID-19, you may have lost muscle strength, particularly in your core muscles and legs. Your joints, especially those in your back and shoulders, may be sore if you weren’t moving around much when you were sick – joints work better when they’re moved frequently.
Depending on how long you were in bed, you may have difficulty sitting, walking or even breathing comfortably at first. But it tends to become easier once you’ve regained strength through activity and exercise.
Symptoms of muscle fatigue
- Muscle symptoms – You may experience cramping, twitching or trembling.
- Localized pain – You could have pain in specific areas of your body, such as your shoulders or legs.
- Soreness – Body aches after COVID-19 are very common.
- Shortness of breath – If muscles in your neck or chest have weakened a bit, it can lead to breathing problems after COVID-19.
Are COVID-19 fatigue symptoms the same as chronic fatigue syndrome?
Experts don’t yet know if the lingering fatigue symptoms after COVID-19 are the same as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
CFS, also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a long-term condition that makes people experience extreme fatigue, particularly after exercise. It’s estimated that about half of CFS cases are the result of a previous viral infection.
People with CFS can have problems sleeping, muscle weakness and brain fog – symptoms that are often associated with post-COVID syndrome. But to be considered CFS, symptoms need to be present for six or more months.
The good news is there are effective treatments for the lingering fatigue you may be experiencing while recovering from COVID-19.
Treatment to manage post-COVID fatigue and improve strength and energy
Here are some of the best ways to improve energy and focus after COVID-19:
Know your triggers
If you know which situations make your fatigue worse, you can plan around them. Keeping a diary can help identify your triggers such as social events or grocery shopping. Things to track include:
- Your activities
- Your energy levels at different times of the day
- How you’re sleeping and if your medications are affecting your sleep
- How much you’re exercising
- Your mood
Stay well rested
It may not seem like sleep is doing much to help your fatigue, but it is. In fact, sleep is vital in recovering from COVID-19 fatigue. Tips for better sleep include:
- Stay on a sleep schedule – Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help improve the quality of your sleep.
- Keep a relaxing nighttime routine – Possible options to include in a bedtime routine are taking a warm bath, reading for a few minutes, listening to calming music or doing some simple stretches.
- Be smart about naps – If you have COVID-19 fatigue, short snoozes can be a great way to boost your energy. But if you’re taking long naps in the afternoon, there’s a chance they could be affecting your nighttime sleep. So, try to keep daytime naps to 30 minutes or less.
- Spend time outside during the day – Being in some sunlight can help to reset your sleep cycle.
- Limit technology use before bed – The blue light from devices like phones, tablets and computer monitors can make it hard to fall asleep. Installing apps to block blue light can help. But it’s still a good idea to have some screen-free time to help you settle down for the night.
- Watch your beverages – Caffeine can stay in your blood for up to 8 hours after you drink it. So, it’s best to have your last cup of coffee or tea before dinnertime. Also limit all beverages in the evening. It’s hard to feel well rested if you need to get up multiple times during the night to use the bathroom.
- Consider a melatonin supplement – If you’re having trouble falling asleep, ask your doctor if an over-the-counter sleep aid like melatonin could help.
You’ll likely have times during the day when you have more energy. But you’ll need to resist the urge to power through a long to-do list, which could wear you out even more. Here are things to think about when planning your activities:
- Be aware – Think about how much energy is needed for different activities. Did you feel like you still had lots of energy when you finished your walk around the block? Were you totally wiped out after the quick run to the mall? And how much rest did you need afterwards?
- Be realistic – As you plan your day, think about how much energy, rather than time, you have. While your Saturday may be completely open, you may not be able to run to the hardware store and spend all afternoon doing yardwork. Set achievable goals and increase your activity levels gradually.
- Be selective – Focus on the most important things and look for ways to spread them out. Instead of four hours of yardwork on one day, consider a half hour each day of the week. Also, consider taking advantage of services that can help lighten your load. For example, have your groceries delivered or use curbside pickup.
Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet
Drinking water throughout the day will help your body heal. It’s best to aim for about eight glasses of water each day.
There may be times you don’t have energy to cook a meal or throw together a salad. It’s fine to stock up on prepared foods and have a food delivery service on speed dial. Just try to choose nutrient-rich foods that will give your body an energy boost. Good food choices include fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, beans and cottage cheese. Try to steer clear of foods that are high in fat, sugar and preservatives.
While you shouldn’t run any marathons if you have post-COVID-19 fatigue, getting exercise can increase your energy and make you feel better. Exercise can also make it easier for you to sleep.
But it’s important not to push yourself too hard, especially if you have long COVID heart symptoms or lung symptoms after COVID-19. Pace yourself and take it easier if you start to cough, have breathing issues or feel a tightness in your chest.
If you have the warning signs of a heart attack – such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness – call 911 right away.
Pay attention to your mental health
Fatigue can be made worse by depression or anxiety – feelings experienced by up to 50% of people who recovered from COVID-19. So, make sure to take care of your mental health.
There are people who want help. Talk about what you’re going through with friends, join a support group or find a therapist that can help you work through your feelings.
Getting over long COVID takes time. It can be hard to find the energy to stay on track. So, lean on your friends and family for encouragement and support.
If your post-COVID-19 fatigue lasts more than a couple weeks, make an appointment with your primary care doctor, especially if your fatigue or other long-haul COVID-19 symptoms are getting worse instead of better.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend that you see one or more specialists such as an occupational therapist, physical therapist or a neurologist. We’ll coordinate care if you need to see more than one.
But above all, give yourself a break. Fatigue after COVID-19 is real. If you have it, it may take some time before you’re back to your typical energy levels.
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