Are you feeling tired even after a seemingly decent night’s sleep? Is fatigue hitting you like a truck mid-afternoon? Or perhaps you’ve got to the point where the tiredness is all-pervading and you can’t remember what it’s like to feel vital again?
These are all signs that something isn’t quite right. We are in the age of a chronic energy deficit, where we are constantly being pulled in so many directions, and even though we feel tired, we simply can’t seem to switch off.
According to the Sleep Council, more than a third (35%) of Brits have suffered from sleeping problems for more than five years and more than 27% sleep for just 5-6 hours a night, which isn’t enough for optimal health. With that in mind, as well as our poor dietary habits, the ever-increasing amount of time spent on technology such as phones, computers and television and little exposure to sunlight, it’s not surprise we’re burnt out.
However, there are simple and practical steps you can take to help bring you body and mind back into balance:
- Switch to Decaf
It may seem counterintuitive, but caffeine is the arch nemesis of our body’s own energy reservoir. If you struggle to get through your day without coffee, the chances are that you’re slowly burning yourself out. Caffeine stimulates our adrenals (little almond-shaped glands that sit atop our kidneys) to produce cortisol and adrenaline.
These are two hormones (as well as a neurotransmitter) that are responsible for our stress response. They help us wake up in the morning, as well as cope with daily life demands such as work and exercise. Cortisol in particular, is supposed to peak in the morning and gradually taper down from late afternoon onwards, so that we are able to get to sleep easily and rest.
Over time, stimulating this stress response by having too much caffeine can interfere with cortisol’s circadian rhythm and have negative side effects on the body. The perkiness that caffeine offers is often followed by an energy trough, where not surprisingly, we often have another caffeine containing drink. So we can actually end up feeling more tired due to the constant energy highs and lows.
Word of caution: don’t go cold turkey on caffeine. The withdrawal symptoms can be pretty brutal, which can leave you vulnerable to giving in. If you’re having a lot of caffeine, switch a half to a quarter of the intake to decaf initially, and then gradually switch all intake to decaf over a period of a few weeks.
- Rule out Food Intolerance
As Hippocrates once said “all disease begins in the gut”. Thousands of years later science is finally validating this quote. Optimal digestion is paramount to physical, as well as mental health. When we aren’t digesting food properly, the chances are that we’re not absorbing nutrients that help us create energy, regenerate cells and tissues, as well as many other things.
One of the biggest culprits of fatigue is suboptimal digestion and one thing that can drive this is food intolerance. These aren’t to be confused with allergies, which are immediate reactions that can often be life threatening. Food intolerances are mediated by a different immune response and can sometimes take days to show up in symptoms, which don’t have to be related to digestion such as bloating, diarrhoea or indigestion. When we eat foods that our gut doesn’t quite agree with, our immune system reacts by sending warning signals that can over time lead to inflammation, which affects how we digest and absorb nutrients in our food.
If you’re suffering with persistent fatigue this may, therefore, be an area worth addressing. There are plenty of test providers, however, one that we would recommend is York Test. If this is the approach you’d like to take, it’s always worth investing in a nutrition professional that can guide you through the process of eliminating trigger foods, whilst making sure you’re not missing out on any essential nutrients.
- Sort your Sleep Hygiene Out
Sleep Hygiene isn’t making sure you’re changing your sheets regularly – although this might also help you sleep better! The phrase has been used for some time now in the health and wellbeing industry to address pre-bedtime rituals that can help us get a better night’s sleep.
Are you prone to checking through emails and social media before bed? Or do you find it difficult to fall asleep without the T.V on? If so, these are the worst activities you can do before going to bed. The main reason for this is because screens such as laptops, phones, iPads and T.V.s emit ‘blue light’, a type of light that mimics sunlight and interferes with our melatonin production. Melatonin is our sleep hormone, without it we simply won’t get a proper night’s sleep.
Aim to avoid digital devices 2 hours before bed and take up some other, more restful, activities like reading, having a bath or journaling. It may take some time getting used to, but by doing this you’d be giving your body a chance to attune to its natural, circadian rhythm and encourage deeper, more regenerating sleep.
- Quit the Booze
The dopamine rush that having a glass of wine or beer to wind down and mark the end of a long working day helps us switch off, relax, and generally feel great. However, when these initial sensations wear off, alcohol can induce feelings of tiredness, lethargy and sometimes depression. This is because it inhibits the activity of another neurotransmitter called glutamate, which stimulates brain activity and energy levels and enhances GABA, a neurotransmitter that has slight sedative effects.
Our brain has a way of regulating itself so that when we drink alcohol or other types of mood-altering substances, it isn’t overwhelmed by a flood of neurotransmitters. It does this by dampening down its capacity to react to them, it’s almost like the neurotransmitters are knocking on the brain cells’ doors, but they’re ignoring them. This is why over time, we have to have more and more of the substance to have the same effect, resulting in long term changes to brain chemistry.
When it comes to sleep, alcohol has particularly negative side effects. The old tradition of having a nightcap to help induce restful sleep is starting to be proved wrong by science. Researchers have found that whilst alcohol can help us nod off quicker, it actually prevents us from staying asleep, and more importantly, entering our deepest state of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement sleep) – and we need a significant amount of REM to feel rested and rejuvenated in the morning.
In a study reviewing alcohol’s effects on sleep, the director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, Chris Idzikowski, said “alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”
So instead of reaching for the wine, why not switch over to a herbal tea that will help the body’s nervous system calm down, without the long term negative side effects? Herbs such as chamomile, passion flower and hops are particularly good for sleep. This way you would allow your body to regenerate more effectively, which should lead to more energy throughout the day.
- Try Cordyceps
This strange sounding mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to help promote energy and vitality. It grows in the Tibetan high plateau and has adapted to an altitude of roughly 4,500 metres, meaning that it is highly efficient in uptaking oxygen. This is where cordyceps has been shown to be most therapeutic; helping the body use oxygen more efficiently, which leads to a higher production of ATP – the body’s energy currency.
Cordyceps has been particularly popular with athletes as a way to support blood circulation, enhance performance and reduce oxidative stress. Laura Colledge, the current National Masters Bikini Champion (2018), used Cordyceps in the run up to the competitive season. Laura’s feedback was that she was able to train longer with more energy and recover faster, she said “The first noticeable improvement for me was that a long-time lingering cold disappeared within the first week of supplementation. I felt re-energised and was able to push harder throughout my workouts, and – despite over five months of heavy and demanding weight lifting – I rarely burnt out”.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Cordyceps and its therapeutic properties read our blog post on ’10 Vital Points about Cordyceps Sinensis’.
Your brain is made up of about 75% water, so it’s no wonder that when we’re dehydrated we feel a little foggy. Our brain cells depend on water to function properly and research has shown that dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory. So not only you feel lethargic, but also slightly cloudy.
Dehydration may also prevent the brain from getting optimal blood circulation, which slows down the delivery of important nutrients, like amino acids, that the brain needs to function well.
A good way to make sure you’re properly hydrated throughout the day is to, first of all, have a pint of water by your bed ready to be drunk in the morning after waking, and then to invest in a reusable water bottle to keep refilling throughout the day. We all need different amounts of water depending on our weight – a good rule of thumb to go by is to drink half an ounce to an ounce of water per pound of weight. However, if you’re active, this needs to increase as muscles use up water during exercise.
One step at a time…
It is our birthright to feel good, to make the most of life and ultimately, be happy. If taking all of these steps is overwhelming, start with one and make it your project to just follow that step for a week. Remember to record any changes in sleeping patterns, energy levels and mental wellbeing, and see if you can start integrating some of these tips into your everyday life.