5 Signs You're Exhausted - Even if You Think You're Not

5 Signs You're Exhausted - Even if You Think You're Not

It's important to look for signs that signal that your body is exhausted as a result of stress, and make lifestyle changes to start feeling better.

We’ve all been there. Staying up late to catch up on some emails, tuck the kids into bed one last time, or even finish the Netflix show we’ve been binge watching. We all know what it’s like to hit the snooze button one more time. Being tired is completely normal, and to some degree, a natural part of life. When we’re tired, a good night’s sleep or a weekend to recuperate can usually bring our normal energy levels back.

So how do you know if you're body is exhausted? Ironically, feeling physically tired may not even be the top sign. There are many signs of exhaustion, and feeling sleepy isn't always one of them.

Our bodies take on a lot of stress on a daily basis. Between work, relationships, lack of sleep, and exercise, life's challenges can take a toll on our minds and bodies and lead to exhaustion or burnout.

Cortisol is the hormone, produced by your adrenal glands, that helps your body respond to stress. It’s sometimes called the “stress hormone.” That’s because levels of cortisol in the body spike during times of high stress. (1) Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that it doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress. (1)

It's important to look for signs that signal that your body is exhausted as a result of stress, and make lifestyle changes to start feeling better.

Are you exhausting your body?

You might want to take a look at our 5 signs of exhaustion if you answer yes to most of these questions:

  • Do you rely on caffeine to make it through the day?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep?
  • Do you have trouble taking time out of your day for relaxation?
  • Do you work long hours and weekends?
  • Is your job stressful?
  • Do you usually get less than eight hours of sleep?

We live in a sleep deprived society, but unless we are falling asleep at our desk at work, we don't usually think we are affected. The signs and symptoms of exhaustion are far more serious and sneaky.

1. Fatigue

If you feel fatigued even after getting eight hours of sleep, it could be a sign of exhaustion.

Many of us have a toxic relationship with caffeine where we use it to make up for sleeping poorly. However, cutting your sleep short will usually catch up with you eventually.

If you lose 15 minutes of sleep per night for a year, you’ll lose more than 91 hours of sleep over 365 days. That’s essentially like pulling 11 all-nighters in a year.

Research has linked sleep deprivation to suboptimal metabolism, circulation, body composition and blood sugar levels. (2)

Your hormone TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) is responsible for regulating your metabolic rate and has an opposite relationship with cortisol. When cortisol levels increase due to stress, too much caffeine, or too little sleep, TSH drops, leading to fatigue and a slower metabolism. (3)

2. Unexpected Weight Loss

None of your hormones act in isolation. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone which means that it breaks down stored energy in the form of fat, blood sugar, and proteins. (4)

When your cortisol levels remain elevated chronically from stress, your body breaks its tissues down. In the short term, this can cause weight loss.

You might be thinking that weight-loss sounds like a benefit, but unfortunately, you don’t get to choose what type of weight you lose. High cortisol causes your body to break down protein in your muscles and bones.

Weight-loss isn’t necessarily a symptom of exhaustion. If you’re stressed or busy, you might have changed your eating habits without realizing it. Suddenly increasing the amount of walking or exercise in your life can also lead to weight-loss.

3. Loss of Hair

Your body has a limited amount of energy to support all of its biological functions. Your body first protects the parts of your body imperative for your survival like your organs and brain. When you become stressed, the first biological processes to break down are those that aren’t necessary like hair production.

According to an article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, elevated cortisol levels can disrupt hair growth cycles. (5) Cortisol has an inverse relationship with other hormones that can increase hair production like testosterone.

You probably associate testosterone as a hormone for men. However, it’s critical for both men and women’s health. The most noticeable effects of testosterone include increased body hair growth, muscle mass, and bone density. (6)

4. Irritability

There are many possible causes of irritability. However, if you’ve noticed your mood change recently without an obvious cause, it could possibly be due to exhaustion.

As we mentioned in the hair loss section, testosterone drops when your cortisol levels rise. Testosterone may play a key role in preserving muscle and bone mass, but it also plays an important role in your mental health.

Testosterone can bind to androgen receptors in your muscles. When this happens, a message is sent to your muscles to grow. There are also androgen receptors in your brain that can affect your mood. (6) When testosterone levels are low, feelings of sadness, low sex drive, and irritability can occur.

5. Light-Headedness

Cortisol isn’t the only hormone produced by your kidneys. Aldosterone is another hormone that’s among the most important in your body. Cortisol’s main function is to manage stress, but aldosterone manages your body’s fluid balance.

When your body detects low blood pressure, it releases more aldosterone to retain sodium and excrete potassium. If your body detects high blood pressure, it produces less aldosterone and your body expels more sodium and retains potassium. (7)

It’s thought that when your body is overly exhausted, your aldosterone production may be negatively affected. The dysfunction of this essential hormone can lead to occasional dizziness and light-headedness from imbalanced electrolytes.

Final Thoughts

Unmanaged cortisol levels could negatively affect your health. If you are experiencing any of these signs, we recommend that you reach out to your health practitioner about what steps you can take.

A healthier diet, adding in some light exercise to your day, and taking short breaks at work can all be healthy ways to begin the process of managing your stress and cortisol levels.

We have a helpful diet guide that can get you started.



This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.



1. Normal values of cortisol and ACTH. (2013, October 24).


2. Cauter, E. V., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine,9. doi:10.1016/s1389-9457(08)70013-3


3. Helmreich, D. L., Parfitt, D., Lu, X., Akil, H., & Watson, S. (2005). Relation between the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) Axis and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis during Repeated Stress. Neuroendocrinology,81(3), 183-192. doi:10.1159/000087001


4. Christiansen, J. J., Djurhuus, C. B., Gravholt, C. H., Iversen, P., Christiansen, J. S., Schmitz, O., . . . Møller, N. (2007). Effects of Cortisol on Carbohydrate, Lipid, and Protein Metabolism: Studies of Acute Cortisol Withdrawal in Adrenocortical Failure. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism,92(9), 3553-3559. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-0445


5. Thom, Erling. (2016). Stress and the Hair Growth Cycle: Cortisol-Induced Hair Growth Disruption. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD. 15. 1001-1004.


6. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Testosterone - What It Does And Doesn't Do. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/drugs-and-medications/testosterone--what-it-does-and-doesnt-do


7. Aldosterone. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/aldosterone

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