Dear Lifehacker, I get a good 7–8 hours of sleep every night and exercise at least three times a week, but somehow I still feel tired every day. What’s sapping my energy. and what can I do about it? Signed, Surprisingly Sluggish
It’s pretty common for people to feel dead-tired occasionally, despite following the general formula for sleep and exercise. The most common energy-zapping culprits are poor-quality sleep, high stress, a bad diet,and children under the age of two. Fortunately, these are mostly temporary, fixable problems. Tiredness or fatigue, however, could also be a symptom of a more serious issue. Let’s take a look at the possible causes for your tiredness.
What Is your Sleep Really Like?
The first thing to do is make sure you’re actually sleeping both soundly and long enough. The oft-recommended eight hours of sleep is just a loose guideline, and the perfect amount of sleep varies from person to person. (In fact, too much sleep can lead to tiredness and other problems just as too little sleep might). Your ideal amount of sleep also changes as you get older.
To find out how much sleep you personally need, conduct an experiment, moving your bedtime around until you wake up naturally just before your morning alarm. You can also use an app like Sleepyti.me to calculate the best time to fall asleep based on your sleep cycles. The theory is if you wake up in between deep sleep cycles instead of in the middle of one, you’ll feel more refreshed and alert instead of groggy and cranky.
Finally, it’s not just how much shut-eye you get but also the quality of your sleep that matters. If you constantly toss and turn in the night, your sleep is sabotaged no matter how many hours you get. People who have sleep apnea sleep poorly because of breathing issues, but many people with the condition don’t even know they have it. Here are a few things you can do about the quality of your sleep:
- Use sleep-tracking technology to help you find out how well you’re really sleeping.
- You can also practise essential sleep hygiene (ditch the electronics after dark, avoid caffeine and alcohol, etc) to ensure a better night’s sleep.
- Also, maintain your sleep schedule every day (yes, even on the weekends).
Don’t Let Your Diet Sabotage Your Energy
If poor sleep isn’t your problem, the next thing to look at is your diet. The foods you eat make you more or less productive and energised, since they’re really the fuel for your brain.
Some snacks and meals keep you satiated for hours, while others are more likely to cause sugar crashes in a short period of time. Eggs and oranges, for example, are more likely to sustain you than crackers and croissants. So if you’re feeling tired primarily at certain times of the day (afternoon crashes, for example), rather than throughout the day, better snack and meal planning can help create a more high-energy day.
Recent research suggests that diets high in fat can lead to daytime sleepiness and less alertness, so a more balanced diet is highly recommended. Citing a study in the journal SLEEP, Science Daily reports:
Results show that higher fat consumption was associated with increased objective daytime sleepiness, while higher carbohydrate intake was associated with increased alertness. There was no relationship between protein consumption and sleepiness or alertness. These findings were independent of the subjects' gender, age, and body mass index as well as the total amount of sleep they were getting and their total caloric intake.
Similarly, other studies suggest you should eat more natural, unprocessed carbs, even at breakfast.
Finally, don't forget to drink enough water every day (and aren’t dehydrating yourself or wrecking your sleep with alcohol and caffeine)!
Make Sure Nothing Is Mentally Draining You
If you’re burnt out, stressed, anxious, depressed or bored, your energy level can drop. Have you experienced a major event recently, such as moving, a breakup or a new job? That can also drain you both physically and mentally.
The cure for this depends on the cause, of course. We’ve tackled these issues before, but if you don’t feel right for an extended period of time (like two weeks or so), you should probably consult a mental health professional.
Get a Physical
Going to the doctor is a good idea if the above sleep, nutrition and psychological causes of fatigue don’t apply to you. Besides lifestyle factors, fatigue can be a sign of a medical issue.
The Mayo Clinic lists several medical conditions that could be behind your exaustion including: anaemia (iron deficiency), heart disease, diabetes and thyroid problems. Even allergies, vitamin D deficiency or the medications you’re taking could be making you tired.
A full checkup and bloodwork from your doctor can help identify why lacking in energy and what you can do about it. The NIH says:
The pattern of fatigue may help your doctor determine its cause. For example, if you wake up in the morning rested but quickly develop fatigue with activity, you may have a condition such as an underactive thyroid. On the other hand, if you wake up with a low level of energy and have fatigue that lasts throughout the day, you may be depressed.
If all of this has you worried, don't fret. The institute also says that fatigue is a common symptom and usually not due to a serious disease. Just remember to get your checkup and tweak your sleep, exercise, relaxation and nutrition habits.
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