Registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC, dipNCFED) and naturopath Lauren Windas shares her top tips for fighting fatigue. As someone who has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome she has immersed herself in nutrition and wellness to fight her own chronic disease and has much expertise to share.
Living in our modern world, its more common for people to experience symptoms of tiredness than ever before, but it really shouldn’t be this way.
Did you know that there are simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve your energy levels naturally?
Here are 5 simple tips you can implement to start feeling more energised and able to make the most out of each day.
Calorie restriction or an unhealthy diet can disrupt our energy levels throughout the day, so it is crucial that we make sure that we are eating properly in order to sustain our energy.
The first step is maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Did you know that pairing carbohydrate foods with protein, fibre and healthy fats can help to prevent those blood sugar peaks and troughs throughout the day?
Whenever we eat sugary foods or carbohydrates, our blood glucose levels start to rise, triggering the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin that helps the body’s cells utilise this sugar for energy.
The foods that can generate the biggest spike in our blood sugar include highly processed carbohydrates, such as:
- Cookies, cakes and biscuits
- White bread or refined flour products such as pasta
- Sugary drinks or anything with added sugar
When our blood sugar levels get too high, we tend to experience a rapid surge of energy which is soon followed by a crash in energy when our blood sugar starts to decline. This is known as the ‘blood sugar rolleroaster’ that many of us seek to get out of when we experience those dreaded feelings of fatigue during the day.
In order to balance your blood sugar, try and make wise choices with your nutrition by pairing any carbohydrate foods with protein, fibre or healthy fats to slow down the sugar’s digestion. Think of a handful of pumpkin seeds or nuts with fruit, rather than a packet of Haribo sour mix.
2. Limit or reduce your alcohol intake
Contrary to popular belief, those little nightcaps that people think will help them sleep soundly will actually interfere with sleep quality.
Despite alcohol possessing sedative qualities that can make you feel drowsy, alcohol can severely affect your sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies make to maintain our circadian rhythm (also known as our ‘biological clock’).
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and levels tend to rise during the evening and are lowest in the morning. When melatonin levels rise we tend to become less alert and sleep becomes more inviting, which is why melatonin is known to prepare our bodies for sleep.
Studies have now shown how a moderate evening dose of alcohol up to an hour before bedtime can suppress melatonin production by almost 20% (Rupp et al. 2007).
This can increase our risk of sleep disruption, which can incite next-day tiredness and fatigue.
Save your drinking for 2 times per week, such as the weekend. This provides enough room to enjoy an occasional glass of wine but will ensure that you leave the rest of the week with plenty of time to sleep soundly.
3. Reduce your stress levels
Stress is the body’s innate response to any kind of demand or threat, whether this is real or imagined.
Whenever we sense a threat, be it physical or mental, our body kicks into high gear. Our autonomic nervous system switches into a ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, also known as the sympathetic nervous system response.
When fight-or-flight kicks in, our heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten and our blood pressure rises. It is the body’s programmed way of protecting itself.
In prehistoric times this is when we would need to physically run away from danger, whether that was a bear or a saber tooth tiger ready to hunt and kill us, it is a natural survival mechanism.
Nowadays we do not face the threat of being eaten, but we do face other stressors such as meeting deadlines or taking exams. This triggers the same bodily response and what tends to happen is that we are prone to living in a constant state of ‘fight-or-flight’. This is known as chronic stress.
Researchers are now investigating the role of chronic stress on the body. Many studies are now highlighting the possible link between chronic stress and cortisol levels which can result in symptoms of fatigue and tiredness (Eedeet al. 2006) (Wilson, 2014) (Rosmond et al. 2000).
So make sure you take some time out and give yourself that well-deserved ‘me’ time.
Whether that involves a relaxing candle-lit bath, reading a book or signing up for a yoga class, do what makes you feel chilled out and relaxed after a long day at work. You deserve it!
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4. Focus on quality sleep
Getting quality sleep is super important if you want to improve your energy levels.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. If you suffer with fatigue, it is likely that your normal circadian rhythm is lost.
If your internal body clock has become disrupted, it is a good idea to make appropriate lifestyle changes to set it back on track so that you can enjoy a good night’s sleep again.
Things that can disrupt our circadian rhythm include excessive exposure to light during the night-time or evening hours, so try to avoid electronics and bright lights for at least 2 hours leading up to bedtime. Use blue lighting on your devices and buy blackout curtains if you need to.
Another way to achieve quality sleep is to establish a regular sleep time and try and stick to it. Our circadian rhythm requires consistency, so going to sleep at the same time each night can help to maintain the body’s sleep/wake cycle.
If your night is disturbed by the need to take bathroom breaks, avoid drinking fluids before bed.
Finally, develop a sleep ritual, which involves sensible activities such as reading 15 minutes before you go to sleep. These habits can help us to unwind and mentally prepare before going to sleep, and if we sleep well during the night, we are likely to feel more energised during the day!
5. Avoid caffeine or stimulants
Caffeine is one of the world’s most commonly used drugs. We rely on it so heavily as a ‘pick-me-up’ to keep us going throughout the day, particularly when it comes to our energy levels.
Caffeine increases activity in certain parts of the brain and central nervous system. When we drink caffeine, it stimulates our adrenal glands to trigger adrenaline and cortisol (our two major stress hormones), causing the physical effects (such as a surge of energy) that are involved in the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system response.
Whilst this is fine when we drink caffeine in moderation, too much of it can really deplete our energy levels due to its effects on one of our brain chemicals called adenosine.
In a nutshell, adenosine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel tired and sleepy (at night it starts to build up in our brain so that we are ready to sleep).
Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors and as a result stops the fatiguing effect of adenosine, arousing an energising stimulant effect instead.
The more caffeine we drink, the more adenosine receptors our brain starts to produce because it sees an adenosine shortage. As a result of having so many adenosine receptors, people can start to become caffeine tolerant, which is when more caffeine is needed to block the adenosine receptors in order to keep a person’s energy levels up.
However, chronic caffeine consumption can actually lower our baseline level of energy from what it was originally. This is because when the caffeine starts to wear off, our brain now responds as though there is a lot more adenosine than before.
The brain is now ultra-sensitive to any adenosine as a result of the higher number of adenosine receptors, causing an increase of fatigue.
This is where people start to enter a cycle of chronic caffeine consumption that can wreak havoc on their energy levels as they start to become caffeine dependent, where they need more and more caffeine just to function normally.
You don’t have to quit caffeine completely but try to stay mindful of how much you are drinking so that you can be aware of how it may be impacting your energy levels throughout the day. Knowledge is power!
And remember, caffeine is not just found in coffee but also in chocolate, energy drinks like cola and certain herbal teas such as green tea. Always check the label before you buy something.
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I hope that my tips help you to get your lifestyle in tip-top shape for enhancing your energy so that you can make the most of each day in a healthy and happy way!
Evoke the glow!