It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and you still have a few more hours at work, but you’re beginning to drag, feeling drowsy and you grab your loose change and head down the hallway to the office vending machine. Stop! There are healthier ways to fight fatigue and put energy back into your day.
Too little sleep, too little exercise and too much stress provide the perfect recipe for fatigue. So, if you spend most of your waking hours feeling lifeless and mentally or physically exhausted, there are a few lifestyle and dietary changes you can make that will help fend off fatigue. Let’s start with the obvious.
1. Get enough sleep each night. Adults need eight hours of shut-eye in order for their minds and bodies to reenergize and to counter the stress of the day. If you are plagued by needless worry that keeps you up at night, and suffer from insomnia, try imagining a restful scene while lying in bed or focus on your breath or silently repeat a personal mantra. Don’t exercise late at night – and, if you’re sensitive to caffeine and it acts as an eye-opener, avoid it after dinner. If you’re in the habit of having a ‘night cap’ before bed, stop. The alcohol may relax you and allow you to fall asleep, but it prevents you from getting a deep, restful night’s sleep. Remember, it’s not just the quantity of sleep, but the quality as well. And, instead of popping sleeping pills, try to get to the root cause of your insomnia (worry, stress) and make positive changes in your sleep rituals to ensure a restful night.
2. Start your day with a good breakfast. Mom was right. Studies have shown that individuals who eat breakfast report being in a better mood and have more energy throughout the day. Breakfast gives you an energy jolt that sets the tone for the entire day. After all, your brain uses up about 30 percent of your daily calories – so be sure to feed it first thing in the morning. It’s important to include healthy, whole grain carbs and protein. A whole grain muffin with peanut butter, along with a piece of fruit and a glass of skim milk will get your day off to a great start.
3. Put together a protein-and-carb lunch combo. Protein contains tryptophan which can produce a calm, relaxed feeling that fights off emotional fatigue. Protein also contains tyrosine which promotes alertness. Instead of that wimpy salad at lunchtime, opt for lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates to elevate your energy level and mood throughout the afternoon hours.
4. Eat six smaller meals. Keep your afternoon meal satisfying, but remember that a heavy meal at lunchtime not only piles on extra calories, but is also is guaranteed to make you drowsy. Why? Well, the body automatically sends blood away from your brain and extremities to the stomach to assist with digestion. As a result, you end up feeling sleepy just when you need to be your most alert. Instead of two or three big meals, try five or six smaller meals. This has two benefits. One, you won’t have that full sluggish feeling and you’ll keep blood sugar and insulin levels constant throughout the day which will keep your mood and energy levels on a more even keel. That’s why it’s important not to skip meals. And, eat healthy. Reduce the amount of high fat, high sugar and high salt foods you eat and instead incorporate fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grain foods and lean meats into your daily meals.
5. Drink caffeine in moderation. Caffeine does, in fact, fight fatigue. It increases alertness, speeds reaction time and clears your head for productive thinking, but too much of a good thing can make you jittery and irritable. So, go ahead and have a mug of java in the morning and at midday, but eliminate that cup after dinner that may cause insomnia.
6. Snack smart. Stay away from sugar. While it provides us with quick energy, this energy boost is short lived. That swift spike in energy is followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar which leaves us feeling washed out. Save your quarters – stay away from sweet treats and enjoy healthy snacks from home. For a long-lasting energy snack, try to combine protein, a little fat and fiber. Healthy snack choices include: nuts, cheese, yogurt, raw vegetables and whole wheat crackers or celery with peanut butter. Once you’re in the habit of snacking healthy, you can drop those quarters in a jar instead of the vending machine and treat yourself to a new blouse, skirt or pair of slacks at the end of every month.
7. Make sure your brain is getting enough oxygen. One way to ensure this is to eat plenty of iron-rich foods. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout the body and to the brain. When the brain doesn’t get sufficient amounts of oxygen, it can’t function optimally. Your mental acuity lessens and feelings of fatigue take over. Women, in particular, are at risk for low iron levels. Try to eat more lean red meat, liver, spinach and apricots to boost your iron intake. Also, quit smoking. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen available in the blood. Deep breathing exercises are another great antidote to fatigue.
8. Overcome psychological drains. Depression, stress and anxiety can leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Studies show that between 50 and 80 percent of fatigue cases are due in large part to psychological factors. To put an end to these energy zappers:
- Seek professional counseling to work out family, workplace and personal problems
- Try relaxation training, yoga and meditation to lessen anxiety
- Kick back and enjoy life more by setting aside a few hours each week to just relax and hang out
- Laugh more – it’s one of the best energy boosters
9. Drink lots of water. Dehydration can leave you feeling lethargic. The solution to your problem may be as simple as sipping a tall, refreshing glass of water. Lack of good hydration reduces the blood flow to organs and slows down your brain. To stay energized, it’s important to drink the recommended eight glasses of water daily. Also, what many of us perceive as hunger is often simply thirst.
10. Get moving! Inactivity can actually rob your of energy. When we’re not in motion, everything slows down including your circulatory system and metabolism. So, increase your physical activity. Even small steps taken toward a more active lifestyle (a brisk, daily walk) have been shown to reduce blood pressure and can help maintain a healthy weight, lessen depression and anxiety, lead to a better night’s sleep and energize you. Send fatigue packing: take the dog for a walk, do jumping jacks or take the long way around to the water cooler – movement gets your blood circulating, sends oxygen to the brain and gets you feeling more energetic and mentally alert in a matter of minutes.
Here are two more energy boosting ideas.
- Increase your intake of the mineral magnesium which helps break convert glucose to energy – it can be found in almonds, hazelnuts and cashews, bran and fish like halibut
- Go to your car and take a 20-minute power nap at midday to reverse the mind-numbing effects of information overload
Consult Your Doctor
Be sure to visit one of our doctors to rule out any underlying medical condition that might be causing fatigue. Get a complete physical exam, including a blood test for thyroid dysfunction and one for anemia. Make these simple lifestyle and dietary changes and you’ll be on your way to feeling healthier, happier and much more alive.