How To Fight Fatigue Fog When You Have An Autoimmune Disorder

What’s causing it, and what you can do.

Someone asks you if it’s tiring living with an autoimmune disorder, and you say yes – but you’re not tired. You’re fatigued. 

Autoimmunity has changed certain aspects of your life – there is new pain, inflammation, swelling, and sometimes you just don’t feel like yourself. You might also spend a lot of nights staring at the clock. But even when you do sleep, you don’t really feel well-rested the next day.

Everyone needs rest – but people with autoimmunity especially need it. 

Sleep is when our brains and bodies have a chance to hit “reset”. Getting enough of it is vital to regenerative functions, as well as tidying up our neural networks. In order for everything to work in proper order, a full 8 -9 hours, if not more, is necessary.(1)

Lack of sleep negatively affects your mood, energy levels, relationships, and daily life. Long nights spent awake, or days spent stuck with brain fog are just a few of the many stressors experienced by those with autoimmunity. But if you can pinpoint some of the contributing factors, there are ways to beat the fatigue fog.

Is my autoimmune disorder causing fatigue?

Well, it more than likely is contributing. 

Fatigue is usually caused by a number of things added up. It can be a conglomerate of built-up stress, and emotional or physical health issues – autoimmune diseases included. Many of the symptoms of autoimmunity are directly associated with fatigue, so you’ll notice a correlation. 

Inflammation is widely known to cause fatigue, as your body’s working overtime sending blood to different parts of the body in an effort to heal. That’s why autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, or diabetes are commonly associated with fatigue.(2)

On top of that, anemia, which happens often because of a lack of iron/red blood cells, has been linked to multiple autoimmune diseases. It can be a side-effect of anti-inflammatory medications and can cause low energy and fatigue. If you are on an NSAID or DMARD, consult your care provider about the possibility of fatigue as a side-effect.(3,4)

A few other reasons might include:

  • Allergies, such as food intolerances/sensitivities  and hay fever
  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Pain 
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Heart disease
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Low vitamin B and D levels

Manage fatigue physically

Start by talking with your doctor

Most of the time it is fairly evident that you are experiencing fatigue, but double-checking with your health care provider is always a good idea. They will help you discern where symptoms could be stemming from, making it easier to treat. They may even suggest running a blood test to narrow down potential causes.(5)

There is no specific drug or blanket treatment. That’s why it’s important to evaluate what the causes are, and by addressing them you are cutting back factors.

Examine your diet

When you’re tired, it’s normal to grab a cup of coffee to help you through the day. But fatigue isn’t the same thing as being tired and requires a different approach.

You’ll want to watch out for processed foods, as they are known to be energy zappers. Many autoimmune disorders are intolerant of certain grains, gluten, dairy and sugars, too.  Generally speaking, you want to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and anything overly sugary or processed – both for the sake of your autoimmunity, and fatigue.(6,7) 

It seems like a no-brainer, but you want to focus your diet around nutrient and vitamin-rich foods. Giving your brain and body some extra support from the inside makes all the difference. Here’s a list of foods proven to help you feel rejuvenated. 

  • Bananas 
  • Kale
  • Eggs
  • Spinach
  • Oats
  • Chia seeds 
  • Watermelon

Be sure to talk with your doctor about changes to your diet that are specifically right for your health and possibly have tests to determine what foods you might be sensitive to before making any changes.

Change your setting

Sometimes you don’t realize that you’ve fallen into a routine that could potentially be contributing to extreme lethargy. Something as small as staring at your phone or watching tv before bed can throw off your entire night. Curating an intentional nightly routine can raise the chances of getting a full night’s sleep.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Start in the morning. Going on a walk in the morning and letting the sun hit your eyes helps to reset circadian rhythms and boost immunity. 

Turn your electronics to blue light blocking mode one to two hours before bed. Blue light is known to throw off our circadian rhythms and disrupt sleep. While you’re at it, turn your phone to airplane mode. This stops potential EMF radiation from happening and stops you from late-night scrolling.(8,9)

Journal. A lot of people find that their mind races at night. Putting all those thoughts onto paper is a way to release them so they don’t run around your brain. 

Try a sleep meditation. Hop on youtube, or download a sleep meditation app that sets the ambiance for a restful night.

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Managing fatigue mentally

The mental adjustments we make to manage our autoimmunity and fatigue are just as important as the physical adjustments. An autoimmune disease can alter relationships, employment, and simple pleasures you’re used to experiencing. Adding severe mental fog to that mix is nothing short of stressful. 

Categorizing your stressors is a good place to start fighting back. Take some time to thoughtfully address what is causing stress, and approach each item thoughtfully. Start with these 3 steps:

  1. Prioritize your peace of mind. Take time to thoughtfully examine what activities and responsibilities are worth the extra stress – and what can fall by the wayside. Meditate on each item, decide where your energy is most valued and productive, and center on those. 

    We don’t want to fear the existence of stress, as it will build upon itself. Stress is likely to pop up, but finding the pieces of it that are unnecessary and letting them go helps declutter the mind.
  2. Delegate responsibilities. One way to let go of less pertinent but necessary stressors is by passing them off and doing so without guilt. There are always a few items on the to-do list that need to get done one way or another. But if they cause substantial mental or physical stress, they could induce a flare-up and contribute to your fatigue. 

    Delegating certain responsibilities away will help reduce mental clutter. Things like laundry day, or walking the dog, etc. are all things that should be delegated away when necessary. 
  3. Designate time for you. Spending intentional time on self-care is beneficial for so many reasons. It supports your mental health and gives you a chance to feel grounded. Those two things are valuable when illness and fatigue feel like they are taking over.  Recognize self-care and down time as productive, because if you give yourself this time to rejuvenate and gain energy, you will be better at work and relationships.

    Adding sources of joy to lean onto throughout the day can be exhilarating and freeing. Find activities that encourage you to be present and authentic. Whether that is meditation, painting, gardening, or something else entirely – making space for you amid the stress gives your brain and body a chance to take a break.

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Living with fatigue and autoimmunity can make you feel like you aren’t fully yourself. But the more you come to understand your illness, you can identify where you need to spend your energy and where you can regain it, the more you can fight back. Partner with your health care providers, family, friends, and your team here at CARE – together we’ll work until you feel like yourself again. 


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CARE is devoted to offering a nurturing community and a treasure trove of resources tailored for those with autoimmune diseases.

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