Our energy reserves need regular replenishing, experts say
Use light and build in some time for yourself to get going in the morning
Pay attention to what you eat and try to get in some sunshine
Late-night cravings can mean you're sleepy, not hungry
We’re a nation of can-do people: We work, we plan, we organize, we go, fueling ourselves on coffee and pure determination. Until, that is, we fall onto the sofa in a stupor.
More of us are struggling with energy issues, experts say; they point to the weak economy, which has us working harder and plugging in longer, and the belief that we can have it all (so what if we’re up till midnight making it happen?).
“I’m seeing so many women who think of themselves as machines that can run nonstop, and they’re living with this deep fatigue,” says psychologist Michelle Segar, associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan. “Just like houseplants need water, our energy reserves need regular replenishing.”
To the rescue: strategies that will keep you humming along – and, happily, don’t take much effort.
Stay energized all morning
What works against your a.m. mojo: “We’ve been essentially in a starvation state all night,” says Dr. Gregory Dodell, an endocrinologist in New York.
What’s working for you: “At the same time, we experience spikes in cortisol and testosterone, important hormones for energy that help get us moving,” Dodell adds. You want to fuel up and max out that hormone high. The plan: Lights! Action! Breakfast!
Don’t delay the day. It’s so tempting to hit snooze when your alarm goes off in the morning. Problem is, “by falling back asleep, you could be interrupting the hormone cycle, which can make it harder to get going,” Dodell says. Better to just set your alarm for 15 minutes later – and keep your clock across the room so you can’t reach out and silence it.
Let in light. “Artificial or natural, light helps optimize the body’s wake-up processes,” says Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.
Roll up the shades or, if it’s still dark outside, turn on lights. Terman recommends compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) labeled “cool white” or “daylight.” They’re not just good for Mother Earth, he says: “CFLs with these color temperatures emit a white light closer to outdoor light than the yellowish kind from incandescents.”
Ease into things. “Roll out of bed and into the frenetic pace of getting everybody ready and you’re exhausted right out of the gate,” says time-management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of the book “Never Check E-mail in the Morning.”
Get up 15 minutes before the kids so you can shower and get dressed. And, yes, avoid the siren call of e-mail: “Facing an onslaught of to-dos can be a big drain if you haven’t cleared your mind first.”
Get moving. Not an a.m. exerciser? Rethink your idea of a workout. In a University of Georgia study, people who did a low-intensity aerobic activity (think a leisurely walk) three times a week had a greater reduction in fatigue levels than folks who did higher intensity workouts (like a faster-paced walk with hills) for the same amount of time.
If you tend to drag in the morning or you’re overall exhausted, a tough workout can be more draining than invigorating. “And if you’re not in top shape, a high-intensity workout forces you to expend major energy, leaving your body tired,” says exercise physiologist Michael Bracko. Motivation to do some activity: The study found regular exercise generally increased energy levels by 20%.
Eat more breakfast. “If you have just a bagel and coffee, you get a quick stimulant from the caffeine and quick energy from the carbs – a recipe for a crash,” says Ashley Koff, co-author of the book “Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged.”
Instead, go for a mix of unrefined carbs (for fast energy) plus lean protein and healthy fat (which take longer to digest, giving you more staying power). Think a scrambled egg in a whole-grain tortilla or oatmeal topped with nuts.
Work in chunks. Don’t stay glued to your desk chair – your body needs occasional movement to change channels and get oxygen flowing (so you’re alert enough to address request No. 5,739 from the boss).
“Most of us can’t stay focused on one task for longer than 90 minutes, anyway,” says Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of the Energy Project, a group that boosts business productivity. Get up and talk with people instead of e-mailing – or at least stand while you’re on the phone.
Keep your pep up in the afternoon
If your energy level dips between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, it’s official: You’re human. “The spike of hormones that gets us moving in the morning is leveling off, and many people have a big lunch and then sit at a desk for the rest of the afternoon, all of which can cause a slump,” Dodell says. Strategic eating and a bit of movement will help.
Take your multivitamin at lunch. And consider adding a B-complex for extra pep. “We actually get an energy boost from vitamins but we usually don’t notice because most of us wash them down with coffee or tea,” Koff points out. This is not permission to have a multi and soda for lunch; you need some calories, preferably from a balanced meal, for all-afternoon energy.
Don’t fear carbs. Salad greens with chicken is lovely, but no carbs means no quick energy. Have a piece of fruit, too, or add black beans for carbs plus additional protein.
Avoid rich foods. You know the Cheeseburger Effect – the haze that sets in after a fatty lunch. Dr. Donald Hensrud, a specialist in preventive medicine and nutrition with the Mayo Clinic says, “When blood samples are analyzed after people eat heavy meals, they almost look creamy, and the fat in this blood may displace oxygen.” One word: ugh.
Head outdoors. If you’re one of the 34% of employees who eats lunch at her desk, digest this: Sunshine helps boost levels of vitamin D, and research suggests that adequate amounts may play a role in sustaining energy. Experts suspect D helps regulate metabolism and insulin secretion, which both have an impact on energy.
Stretch. “In the middle of the afternoon, stand and do arm circles,” Bracko says. “If you’re in a cubicle, even ankle circles will do something for circulation.”
Give in to the snack attack. Protein and fiber will help the blood sugar boost last longer. Try Koff’s DIY trail mix: nuts, high-fiber cereal, hemp seeds, coconut, and dark chocolate chips.
Beat evening burnout
You’re on your last reserves of energizing hormones. Meanwhile, melatonin – which regulates sleep – starts to rise. Thing is, you’ve got stuff to do! The goal: Stay revved without over-wiring yourself.
Have a work-to-home transition ritual. “It’ll give you energy to focus on and enjoy your evening,” Morgenstern says. Consider leaving work early once a week to do a run or an interval training class: “You’ll get a metabolism boost that will perk you up for 60 to 90 minutes afterward,” Bracko says. Other days, switch gears by listening to music as you commute or slipping into comfy clothes pre-dinner.
Down the relaxing glass of wine first. You want to avoid alcohol for two hours before bed: It causes restless sleep, translating to less pep and focus tomorrow.
Couch potato with a purpose. “Sitting on the sofa and channel-surfing can exacerbate inertia,” says Segar. Watch just a favorite show or two; stretch if you get sluggish.
Understand late-night cravings. “They usually mean you’re sleepy, not hungry – you’ve kept your brain awake too long and it needs a glucose hit to stay up!” explains Koff.
Go for something light and easy to digest, like half a plain Greek yogurt with berries or hot chocolate made with almond milk and dark chocolate at least an hour before bed. Experts agree that banking a good night’s sleep is the best way to have another energy-tastic day tomorrow.