Our lives are so busy these days most of us feel exhausted when bedtime comes. But if you feel constantly fatigued during the day for no obvious reason, the cause could be a medical condition such as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea or undiagnosed diabetes. If your doctor clears you of those afflictions and you still feel tired all the time, the choices you make during the day may be the culprit. Being tired all day doesn’t just affect your energy level—it’s a common cause of overeating, which can work against your weight loss goals. Are any of these choices sapping your energy?
1. Skipping breakfast. You may not feel hungry when you first wake up, but a morning meal powers up your body when it has not been refueled for 10 hours or more. If you start your day with just a cup of coffee, you can be in an energy deficit for hours afterward. Solution: Eat a small meal or at least a snack each morning. An energizing breakfast includes whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. If eating doesn’t appeal to you early in the day, sip a smoothie made with low-fat milk, peanut butter and fruit.
2. Eating simple carbohydrates. Refined sugars, processed grains and other simple carbs can produce rapid spikes in your blood sugar, which invariably are followed by steep drops. Low blood sugar feels a lot like exhaustion. Solution: Keep your blood sugar levels steady by eating whole (unprocessed) foods, especially when snacking. Fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, or plain yogurt are smart options when hunger strikes between meals.
3. Lack of iron. Your body relies on iron to help carry oxygen in your blood to your organs and muscles. A persistent lack of iron in your blood is known as “anemia,” a condition that your doctor can treat. But anyone not getting enough iron may feel tired, sluggish, or just unable to focus. Solution: Be sure to include iron-rich foods in your daily diet. Eggs, lean beef, kidney beans and dark leafy green vegetables are all healthy sources of the mineral.
4. Dehydration. When your body doesn’t have enough water, your metabolism slows down, your blood thickens (reducing the oxygen and nutrients that are supplied to your organs and muscles), and your energy level declines. Even before you start feeling thirsty, your body’s water supply may be below the optimum you need to stay alert and active.
Solution: Drink water and other fluids continually throughout your day. The recommended daily intake for women, according to the Mayo Clinic, is about nine cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day, for men it’s about 13 cups (3 liters).
5. Caffeine and alcohol. If you rely on coffee or soda to perk you up during the day or if you drink a nightcap to help you fall asleep, you may find that they have the opposite effect than you expect. While caffeine acts as a stimulant for most of us, an article published in the journal US Pharmacist reports that too much actually causes fatigue in some people. Alcohol, on the other hand, does act as a sedative, but it creates a “rebound effect” as it’s metabolized, stimulating a surge in adrenaline. That’s why you may wake up during the night after you’ve been drinking. Solution: If you’re feeling fatigued during the day, try drinking a glass of water rather than a second or third cup of coffee. And stop drinking alcohol at least three hours before bedtime.
6. Insufficient sleep. The average person needs around eight hours of sleep each night, but many of us are not getting it. According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans get slightly fewer than seven hours. Up to 26 percent of us get no more than six hours. Studies show that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight than those who get seven hours of slumber. Sleep-deprived people often have reduced levels of leptin (the compound that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone). Solution: Keep your bedtime as consistent as possible to be sure you get no less than seven hours of sleep. By the way, use of electronic devices (such as smart phones and tablets) just before bed stimulates your brain and can keep you from falling asleep. Set aside the distractions before you settle in so you can easily drift off to a healthy, refreshing snooze.