Tiredness versus fatigue

Tiredness versus fatigue, what’s the difference? Are they different? Well actually, yes, yes they are. Very different.

When I tell people a bit about what CFS/ME is, some nod and ask questions. They may comment they they feel tired too at times not fully understanding that tiredness and fatigue are different. I’ve had conversations with close friends and family explaining what fatigue means. I’ve also had conversations with others suffering from invisible illnesses of which fatigue is a symptom. The conversations are completely different; the former, me talking and the listener possibly interjecting with a question or two. The latter is more a discussion about what fatigue means to us and what fatigues us.

You can only truly understand fatigue if you suffer from it yourself. But I’ll try to explain the difference here, now.


Everyone gets tired throughout the day. It’s feeling sleepy, perhaps feeling so tired that you want to take a nap. We all feel more tired if we haven’t slept well or we’ve done a super long walk perhaps. A sit down or distracting your mind by doing something else might help you feel less tired or forget you’re tired altogether. A nap or sleep helps you feel better, ready to face a new day.


Fatigue on the other hand is very different. Interestingly, fatigué in French actually means tired but the English word means something different altogether.

Imagine you’ve run a half marathon or longer, or walked 10 miles along a hilly route. You return home and your muscles start to ache, a bit like a dull leg ache but all over. You sit down but don’t have the energy to get up. You try to process what you’re watching on TV, trying to remember the names of the characters on screen of a series you’ve nearly finished but keep forgetting who is who. Or you’ve thought of something you need to do but when you go to write it down immediately after the thought, you’ve forgotten what you wanted to write it down or even that you wanted to write something down at all. Or you’ve just asked someone near you a question, they’ve answered but 30 seconds later you have either forgotten the answer or worse, that you even asked something in the first place. You then need to get up to cook dinner or simply get the remote control but don’t have the energy to move. Someone has to push or pull you off the sofa.

Fast forward to the next morning. Despite having a really good night’s sleep, perhaps the best one you’ve had in a long time, you don’t feel any better. In fact as you lay in bed, you feel that ache all over, still, and don’t have the energy to get out of bed. You lie there until you cannot delay any longer. Sleep hasn’t helped either. On the contrary, you may in fact feel worse. Fatigue is closely linked to energy levels.

Fatigue can worsen at any point during the day. It can creap up on you slowly and before you know it you’re really struggling. Or it can hit in a big crashing wave that surprises you with its force. For someone like myself suffering with an invisible illness for which fatigue is a major symptom, it is a constant. It can be exacerbated simply by reading for a few minutes too long, not eating regularly or well or spending time in a crowded room.

Mine worsens with all the above alongside other symptoms such as ear ache, headache, joint pain…

Fatigue is an all body experience that is not pleasant. But you learn to live with it through the peaks and troughs, doing your utmost to lessen the fatigue levels experienced throughout each and every day.

So there it is, tiredness versus fatigue. Any questions or comments, I’m happy to answer.

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