The quick answer to why you’re tired is that you don’t get enough sleep.
That’s sometimes not the case, however; some habits and routine circumstances can lead to fatigue and sluggishness even if you’re sleeping the required 7-9 hours a night.
Others disrupt your sleep without you being aware of them.
Knowing these and taking positive steps to mitigate their effects will help you get the most from your sleep and allow you feel more alert and be more active.
1. Alcohol Before Bed
Drinking alcohol within four hours of bedtime can disrupt your sleep. After imbibing a glass of wine, you may feel tired and go to sleep but chances are you’ll wake up a few hours later due to the energy and chemicals released to metabolize the alcohol (which is mostly sugar). Not to mention the fact that alcohol also disrupts the natural release of melatonin (sleeping hormone).
Up to three cups of coffee a day is good for you but any caffeine within six hours of bedtime is a bad idea because it can interfere with sleep. Energy regulators called adenosine are responsible for telling your body you’re becoming tired–caffeine works by blocking adenosine. That’s great at noon but not so great at midnight. Caffeine is found in more than just coffee and tea; sodas, candies, energy and sports drinks, and other foods can contain this stimulant.
3. Drinking Enough Water
We lose water just by breathing. If you move at all–even to bat an eyelash–water is conducting the signals to make it happen. It gets used constantly. If you don’t drink enough (excluding soft drinks, alcoholic and caffeinated beverages), your brain cells shrink and make it harder to think or perform even the simplest task. Dehydration slows enzyme activity, which drives every metabolic function. The result is fatigue.
How much water you should drink depends on your age, weight, activity level, and environmental temperature. A hydration calculator can help you target the right amount for you. A rule of thumb is two liters (about half a gallon) per day.
4. Email Before Bed
Many of us are very attached to electronic devices that connect us with the rest of the world. There are two main issues around using these that relate directly to feeling tired:
1) if you watch television or check your email/social media/weather, etc. right before bed, there is a tendency to get caught up in it, losing track of time–and sleep;
2) the radiant light is a strain on the eyes and causes fatigue at any time of day.
Additionally, staring at the light can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that tells your body to go to sleep, messing up your circadian rhythm. Turn off any electric appliances at least an hour before hitting the hay.
5. Junk Food
Don’t do it. Processed food makes us fat and lazy. There’s nothing good about them. Most people eat way too much sugar, which causes energy spikes and valleys, leaving you pooped. Replace the sugar with protein and healthy fat and you’ll feel better. Lean meats and fish, organic fruits and vegetables, fruit oils (olive, coconut, sesame), and fermented foods will give your body what it needs and you’re less likely to crave the quick fix of junk food.
6. Messy Office
If you work in an office, coming in to a cluttered desk in the morning can easily take the wind out of your sails. A messy desk is distracting and affects your brain’s ability to process individual tasks due to simultaneous stimuli acting on the visual cortex. Before you leave work for the day, tidy up–even if it’s in organized piles–to leave a clear, neat map of the next day’s work. Put what you can in drawers so that the first thing you see is a clean slate.
7. Molehills into Mountains
It’s a vicious circle: you’re tired, you overreact, you stress, physiological and psychological processes are set in motion to handle the stress, and you feel tired. Catastrophizing is the tendency to always look for the worst-case scenario and is self-defeating. It can leave you exhausted and stressed.
Take a walk, talk with a friend, read a book, write in a journal, or meditate to take your mind temporarily off of a stressful situation and ask yourself seriously what is the worst that could reasonably happen–it’s not nearly as bad as you originally spun it to be.
Take a deep breath and face your challenge with renewed energy and positivity. There’s no harm in taking a step back and giving yourself a chance to breathe and think calmly.
8. No to “No”
If you’re one of those people who can’t say no, you’re setting yourself up for chronic fatigue. Being all things to all people is impossible. Doing everything well that others ask of you is impossible. Allow yourself to be human. Set reasonable expectations of yourself as if you were someone else. People-pleasers live a daily up-hill battle trying to do it all.
Ask yourself how you would view a friend who had everything on her plate that you do–what advice would you give? Cut yourself some slack. Saying no to something will not result in the end of the world (see “catastrophizing” above). Practice saying it in nice ways when you’re alone so that when the next person asks you to fit something into your schedule that there’s really no time for, you have a ready polite decline in your pocket. It’s okay.
9. Not Enough Iron
Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen around in your blood. Healthy cells need oxygen to survive. If you’re running low, your cells are suffocating and you’ll feel grouchy and unable to concentrate. Boost iron-rich foods like spinach, liver, kale, kidney beans, peas, eggs, and nuts. Eating iron-laden foods with vitamin C improves absorption; leafy greens have lots of both.
Aspiring for perfection is admirable in the abstract but only along with the expectation that it is literally unattainable. People who approach every endeavor with the goal of perfection have been found to experience chronic fatigue.
It’s hard work trying to being perfect; because it is an unreasonable expectation, we end up dissatisfied and feeling inadequate. Try to put things in perspective, set reasonable goals, don’t take on more than you can handle, and establish the best way to get there before you start. Striving for excellence is preferable to perfection.
11. Skipping Breakfast
When you wake up, hormones are released to get everything up and running. After an hour or so, all systems are go and your body needs fuel for them. Not eating breakfast within ninety minutes of waking can leave you feeling tired and unable to concentrate. Skip the doughnut or sugary cereal. A protein, a nutritious fat, and a fruit combine well for short-, medium-, and long-term energy availability. Eggs, oatmeal, nut butter, banana, grapefruit, berries, Greek yogurt, salmon, or a smoothie are all good choices to nourish your morning.
12. No Exercise
Sometimes you just have to plow through it. When we feel tired, we may be very tempted to skip a work-out. This is actually counter-productive: regular vigorous exercise–even twenty minutes, three times a week–will help blood circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrients around the body, improve muscle tone and efficiency, boost the immune system, and help you sleep better. If it’s time for a work-out, put on some energizing music and start moving; after a couple of minutes, you’ll start to feel better–really.
13. Staying Up Late on Weekends
Much as we would like to remain party animals for life, having a different schedule on weekends than during the week can disrupt sleep so that you start off tired Monday morning and never quite catch up. Something to try: after a late night, get up at your regular weekday time, then take a twenty- to thirty-minute nap in the afternoon. It may be enough to allow a bit of rest and make you feel re-energized without preventing you from falling asleep at the regular time later that night.
14. Working Through Vacation
Vacation is vacation, work is work, and never should the twain meet. But so very often they do, sometimes to the point that they are almost indistinguishable. You need down-time–it’s not a luxury. Your work is of better quality and you are more productive if you’re rested and not stressed.
Make conscious efforts to really leave work behind while on vacation–even if that’s puttering around the house: limit carrying or checking electronic media to once a day (at most), put obstacles in your own way if that’s what it takes to force you to relax. (Sounds strange, but these are the mind games we sometimes have to play with ourselves to do what’s best.) If you find that you are bombarded with work-related issues while on vacation, you’ll have to address how to delegate to others before your next day off.