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More Than a Feeling: Tired vs COPD Tired

Last updated: November 2022

Sometimes the word tired just doesn’t cut it when it comes to COPD. Although symptoms can vary from person to person, many people affected by COPD have one symptom in common - fatigue. In fact, our 2016 COPD In America survey revealed that fatigue was the second most common symptom experienced by respondents! When dealing with COPD, fatigue is more than “feeling tired”- it’s a powerful symptom that can have a large impact on your daily life.

Tired vs. COPD tired

Recently, we asked you in the COPD community to explain the difference between ‘tired’ and ‘COPD tired’, and they came back with many common experiences of COPD fatigue:

“Can't stay awake and tired”
“Nothing is left”
“Bone tired”

For many of you, “COPD tired” feels like complete and indisputable exhaustion. While maintaining an exercise routine and staying active can actually counter your COPD fatigue, for many of our community members, even “simple tasks” (like household cleaning) can seem overwhelming. The COPD cycle of tiredness” (avoiding physical activity due to fatigue, and therefore becoming more fatigued), can lead to a snowball effect of low energy and lethargy.

While every person’s management plan is different, many of our community members have shared success with pulmonary rehab, physical activity, and/or maintaining a daily schedule to combat the cycle of fatigue.

Fatigue frustration

“You cannot talk yourself out of it”
“It takes a couple of days to build energy back up”
“There is nothing I can do to change it”

For people who do not have COPD, ‘feeling tired’ can usually be solved with a quick nap or even just a large cup of coffee. In describing their symptoms, many of you shared that there isn’t usually a “quick fix” for being COPD tired. Unlike typical fatigue, COPD fatigue can feel out of your control, leaving many community members feeling frustrated or “lazy” when they can’t do the things that they need to get done.

For many of you, coming to terms with your COPD diagnosis has taken time, including accepting your changing energy levels. Although chronic fatigue can be frustrating, many community members have had success in pacing themselves and learning to rest when necessary. To read these experiences from fellow COPD patients, visit our Community Stories pages (and submit your own!)

Trouble sleeping

“It seems all I can get are cat naps”
“I get tired during the day but I don't fall asleep till 4 or 5”
“I can't remember when I slept a whole 8 hours”

In describing their COPD, many patients say that despite how tired they are, they still have problems sleeping. For COPD patients, trouble sleeping can be caused by coughing, breathlessness, certain types of COPD medications, feeling anxious or depressed, and not absorbing enough oxygen. No matter the cause, if you have trouble sleeping, you may feel more fatigued during the day.

Many of you have shared your experiences of sleeping difficulties, citing a variety of causes, and many others have shared your successful strategies for better sleep. For some, daytime naps help alleviate some of the fatigue, while others sleep better at night if they do not nap and rest frequently instead. To manage your fatigue, try keeping a journal to determine what sleep strategies work best for you, and then apply those strategies to (hopefully!) get a better night’s rest.

The importance of mental health

“I am so tired of COPD”
“It's so depressing”
“It drains a person to deal with this disease”

When managing a chronic illness, protecting your mental health can be just as important as confronting your physical symptoms. Although not every person affected by COPD experiences depression, for many of our community members, COPD fatigue is tied to feelings of frustration, sadness, and depression. While COPD fatigue can feel overwhelming, it is also possible to have a fulfilling, satisfying life with COPD! Confront and discuss your COPD difficulties, and don't be afraid to rely on your friends and family for support.

“Water, water, water”
“Listen to your body”
“Follow a daily schedule”

You are not alone

Like many people struggling with COPD fatigue, over time you learn what works best for you! To combat their fluctuating energy levels, our community members have tried and suggested a variety of self-care techniques, including oxygen therapy, natural remedies, hydration, and many more. COPD fatigue can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone! Connect with other community members and test out one of these methods, and as always, we're always here!

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