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What causes fatigue?


The causes of fatigue are many and the symptoms can be debilitating and dangerous. In the workplace people suffering from fatigue are more likely to have accidents, often perform at lower levels than their peers and have higher rates of absenteeism. For these reasons it is important that employers and employees understand what causes fatigue and act to remedy the causes.

Fatigue occurs when the body does not get enough quality or quantity of sleep and rest. This could be the result of simply not spending enough time in an environment where the body is able to rest or it could be due to a medical condition which requires the body to have more than the usual amount of sleep time. What causes fatigue is not always immediately apparent but is usually social, environmental or medical in origin.


Social factors that cause fatigue

Social factors are common non-medical causes of fatigue. High stress situations such as moving house,  divorce or other problems with children or relationships, pregnancy, bereavement or workplace issues can all lead to lower quality or quantity of sleep being obtained.  People suffering from fatigue brought on by social factors are often aware of the cause but may not recognise it as the reason for their tiredness.


Environmental factors that cause fatigue

Good quality sleep will only occur when the environment is conducive to sleep. In order to obtain good quality sleep we need an environment which is:

  • comfortable;
  • quiet;
  • at a temperature that is suitable.


Medical factors that cause fatigue

Fatigue can be a symptom of many medical conditions and the fatigue related to medical conditions can be debilitating.

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea have become much more prevalent in western societies where there is an increasing tendency for people to be over-weight or obese. Anyone who snores and suffers from fatigue should be assessed as sleep apnoea can be life threatening.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a well documented condition that causes fatigue. It affects multiple systems in the body and manifests in a range of neurological, immunological, and endocrine system abnormalities. CFS is much rarer than most people believe. CFS sufferers often report other conditions such as muscle weakness, hypersensitivity, digestive disturbances and depression in addition to fatigue.

Many other diseases can result in fatigue and it is not the purpose of this page to attempt to list them all. It is however important that you consult professional medical advice in the event that you experience any of the following:

  • fatigue that comes on suddenly;
  • fatigue that is not relieved by adequate rest, sleep and removal of stressors;
  • fatigue that is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms;
  • feeling as if you are going to faint;
  • unexpected changes in weight;
  • menstrual irregularities;
  • any new masses, lumps, bumps or bruises;
  • unexplained pain in the chest, head or abdomen.


If you would like to know more about what causes fatigue or fatigue management, Australian Online College has Nationally Recognised training courses for the aviation and road transport industries. You can find more information about these courses on our aviation fatigue risk management training information page and our road transport industry basic fatigue management page.


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This page is about what causes fatigue.

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