Why Being Fatigued Is NOT The Same As Being Tired

I regularly hear the word “fatigue” being used interchangeably with the phrase “being tired”. It is a common misconception that the 2 words are the same. 

Being fatigued and being tired are 2 very different symptoms.

Being fatigued and being tired are 2 very different symptoms. In this article I’ll attempt to explain my view of the difference between fatigue and tiredness related to conditions that have “fatigue” as a key symptom. 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and what I write should not be taken as medical advice. 

Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) is one of those conditions where fatigue is a key symptom. The word “fatigue” is in the title after all. However, please don’t be fooled that fatigue is the only symptom, there are many, many others. 

Related: Mummying and M.E. – What is M.E./CFS?

Let me explain in this article the difference between the terms fatigue and tiredness and what each one might look like. 

What is fatigue? 

Fatigue is an unrelenting, extreme level of “being tired”. It is a level of exhaustion that does not clear from rest or sleep. It is a symptom that is debilitating in its very nature.

Fatigue can destroy a person into a skeleton of who they once were. For that reason, the phrase “chronic fatigue syndrome” can seem almost insulting to those who suffer it, purely because the use of the word “fatigue” is so more complex than it seems. 

Related: Mummying and M.E. – My Crash First Aid Box

I no longer yawn with my fatigue. Yawning makes no difference. 

I deliberately knew this picture was perfect for this article: a mug with the caption “I woke up like this.”

Fatigue is an invisible symptom, with no specific evidence to demonstrate it. It therefore requires a trust in a person’s description of their symptoms and day to day life to understand it fully. 

Fatigue is needing to nap once, twice, or even all day just to get through from day to day. It’s the overwhelming weakness constantly, even if you’ve had your recommended amount of sleep every night. Fatigue is the extreme exhaustion that isn’t simply a case of having slept too much, too little, or not at all. 

What is “being tired”? 

Being tired is what we all are at the end of the day, a feeling that everyone is very much used to. 

Tiredness happens to everyone and is expected at the end of certain activities or a long day. 

However, tiredness is something that goes away. It relieves from a good night’s sleep, or a nap, or even some rest. Tiredness does affect concentration and attentiveness but will generally clear. Ever come home from a long day at work and said “I’m utterly exhausted”?  That’s being tired, not fatigued. 

You can still keep going despite tiredness. Tiredness does not severely affect your ability to complete the most basic of tasks like fatigue does. 

Tired or fatigued?

For me, prior to being diagnosed with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) I was going from doctor to doctor, trying to get them to understand what I was getting at when I said my ability to complete daily tasks at home was getting worse and worse. I remember seeing on my notes on the GP’s screen “tired all the time” and thinking no. No no no. I’m not “tired all the time”, I’m fatigued all the time! The 2 terms being very different. 

Related: Mummying and M.E. – My M.E. Story

Tired all the time was what I was when E was a tiny baby, sleepless nights, cluster feeding and all that. Fatigued all the time is what I am now, despite sleeping 8 hours a night, eating (relatively) well, getting fresh air daily. 

But unable to walk more than about 20 metres without the extreme exhaustion, and inevitable post-exertional malaise (basically feeling even worse than normal starting 12-24 hours after any kind of exertion) that follows. 

Related: Mummying and M.E. – The Spoon Theory Explained

Are you someone who suffers with fatigue either as part of ME or a different chronic illness? How would you describe the difference between fatigue and tiredness? Comment below and let me know your thoughts. 

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13 thoughts on “Why Being Fatigued Is NOT The Same As Being Tired

  1. Very informative post! It is nice to know what are the difference between “been fatigue” and “been tired”! Today I have learned something new! Thank you for sharing! ❤I hope to find the your cure and feel better soon!

  2. I avoid both terms because of the confusion it brings. I don’t even feel that sort of fatigue most of the time either. I have a wired brain and a severely disabled body. I am wide awake and don’t need much sleep or naps except during very bad flares. What I have is a lack of power to function normally. I don’t feel tired or fatigued, but when I exert, I feel drained of power to move or weak or faint. Exhausted physically and cognitively impaired, but not fatigued or tired. And I’m basically bedridden.

    It certainly is way more than tired and so much more complex than most people realise. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ll be featuring this post in this week’s news roundup. x

    1. Oh I totally get that “wired brain and severely disabled body” thing. When I’m most exhausted it feels like my mind is totally buzzing. It does my head in (no pun intended!) Thank you for including my posts in your round ups x

  3. Cuando fui al médico y me preguntó, estas muy cansada no?, yo le contesté: no, yo no estoy cansada, estoy devastada! Creo que fue la única palabra que describe lo que me pasa. Enfermedad difícil para nosotros los pacientes, y más difícil de entender para los otros que nos miran como si ya fuera un abuso y una excusa para todo de nuestra parte. En Argentina está enfermedad prácticamente no existe….. a veces pienso: Ojalá sólo fuera fatiga, pero no lo es, como se explica cuando quisiera ya no respirar porque hasta eso necesita energía que no tenes.?.

    1. (I confess I had to use Google Translate to work out what you’d written!) I’m so sorry that in Argentina the disease seems to not exist. It must make things so hard for you. I hope you find my posts useful and I wish you all the very best x

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