Do you struggle to get out of bed, feel constantly drained and rely on pick-me-ups such as protein bars, coffee and sugary treats to get you through the day?
If so, you’re far from alone. Recent research reveals that one in three of us admit we’re permanently worn out because of the pace of modern life. As a result, sales of supplements such as ginseng, energy drinks and power bars have shot up more than 5% in the last year alone as part of our desperate bid to battle exhaustion.
Here, experts share some of the causes – and how to deal with them. The best part is that you can be less tired just by making basic lifestyle changes. Good luck.
1. You’re not exercising enough
It might be the last thing you feel like, but avoiding exercise because you’re tired actually makes you feel worse.
In a University of Georgia study, sedentary but otherwise healthy adults who began exercising lightly three days a week for just 20 minutes reported feeling less fatigued and more energized after six weeks.
This is because regular exercise makes your heart and lungs work more efficiently, delivering oxygen and vital nutrients around the body.
Reboot your energy: Next time you’re tempted to flop on the sofa, force yourself up for a brisk 10-minute walk – you’ll feel more alert for it.
2. You don’t sleep as well as you think
Recent research shows many of us survive on so-called ‘junk sleep’ – the kind when we wake up frequently throughout the night. It doesn’t replenish our energy levels as well as long stretches of continuous sleep.
Junk sleep can be caused by stress, but also by over-stimulating the brain too close to bedtime. For example, by checking emails or using tablets and smartphones that emit a blue light found to disrupt sleep by tricking the brain into producing ‘wake-up’ hormones right when you need to wind down.
Reboot your energy: To avoid junk sleep, you need to develop good sleep hygiene – which means going to bed at a set time, banning screens for an hour beforehand and developing a wind-down routine that prepares your body for sleep, such as a warm bath, followed by a milky drink and half-an-hour reading something easy-going.
3. You coffee addition is draining your energy
Although we think of caffeine as a pick-me-up, it actually makes us feel more tired once the initial surge wears off. This is because our brain chemistry doesn’t like being interfered with by stimulants, so it releases chemicals to dampen down the alert response.
Coffee is also a serious sleep disrupter, with one study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealing that drinking it even six hours prior to bedtime meant poorer quality kip.
Reboot your energy: Avoiding caffeine will increase energy levels in the long run – but cut down gradually, cup by cup, to avoid headaches and irritability.
4. You have iron deficiency
Figures show that around a third of women are low in iron often due to heavy periods.
Some have low enough iron levels to be anaemic. If you pull down your bottom eyelids and the inner rim looks pale rather than pink, it’s an indicator.
Reboot your energy: A blood test will pick up any iron problems and you’ll be prescribed tablets to boost levels. If iron levels are at the lower end of normal, but not anaemic, include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet, such as lean meats, dark green vegetables, pulses and dried fruits, and pair them with foods like citrus fruit high in vitamin C.
5. You’re missing out on vital nutrient rich B-vitamins
We all have increasingly busy lives, so it’s essential to provide the body with enough calories and vitamins to get through the day. B vitamins are particularly vital as they’re required by the body to convert the food you eat into energy.
Reboot your energy: You can find this group of vitamins in grains such as brown rice, barley and oats, as well as lean proteins such as oily fish and turkey.
6. You are dehydrated
Losing as little as 2% of your body’s normal water content can take its toll on your energy levels. And it’s surprisingly easy to become dehydrated, especially as we tend to lose our thirst reflex as we get older.
Working in an air-conditioned office, going for a long walk or simply forgetting to drink regularly can quickly lead to depleted fluid levels. This causes blood pressure to drop and means not enough blood gets to the brain or muscles. This can cause headaches, fatigue and loss of concentration.
Reboot your energy: Try to drink every two hours. If you’re not peeing regularly or your urine is very dark, it’s a sign you need to drink more. Water is best, but if you find it boring, add mint, basil, lemon or cucumber to liven up the flavour.
7. You’re overdosing on sugar
What many people don’t realize is that they can actually be made more tired by the very foods supposed to give them energy.
Sugary energy drinks and snack foods such as biscuits, chocolate and chips cause sharp spikes then dips in blood sugar that can leave you flagging, irritable and desperate for a mid-afternoon nap.
Reboot your energy: Swap to low-sugar foods – and this includes avoiding white carbs such as bread and pasta which quickly convert to sugar in the body. Instead choose wholegrain carbs such as granary bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice which release energy more slowly. And eat them little and often to keep your blood sugar stable.
8. You’re not eating enough protein
Surviving on fruit and salad might feel worthy, but avoiding protein in the form of meat, dairy and nuts will leave you exhausted, as it’s a vital energy giver. It also takes more time for protein to be broken down in the body, so the energy is released more slowly and it fills you up for longer.
Reboot your energy: Snack on protein to keep energy levels stable. Eating a minimum of a palm-sized amount of protein with meals, and eating seeds and nuts or nut butters can prevent tiredness. Good protein sources are meat, fish, cheese, tofu, beans, lentils, yogurt, nuts and seeds.
9. You are stressed about EVERYTHING
While a little stress helps to keep us on our toes, long-term stress – for example from work or relationship problems – can exhaust the body, as well as being emotionally draining.
Reboot your energy: It’s our response to stress that’s much more damaging to our health than the stress itself. So by learning how to diffuse stressful situations, we can reduce their impact. When stress strikes, instead of going frantic to fix things, try to slow down and take a break instead. Call a friend, walk the dog or do some yoga.
10. Your thyroid is sluggish
Having an under-active thyroid – which means it’s not making enough of the hormone thyroxine – is a surprisingly common cause of unexplained fatigue, especially in middle-aged women.
Other symptoms of a thyroid condition include excessive thirst, weight gain and feeling cold.
Reboot your energy: See your GP who can give you a blood test. If an underactive thyroid is diagnosed, a simple once-a-day tablet can correct the problem – and most people get their normal energy levels back soon after starting treatment.