Does being constantly tired and lacking in energy sound familiar? Fatigue can be attributed to any number of factors, some of which may need medical treatment, so it's important to identify what might be causing you to feel tired. Our editor speaks to Inessa founder, Aliza Marogy, on the reasons we may be so tired and what we can do to help combat it.
What causes fatigue? Are there elements of our lifestyle that are unknowingly affecting energy levels?
Fatigue can be caused by many triggers - from a whole host of illnesses, to poor diet and lifestyle choices made regularly and over time. If an illness has been ruled out, and you’re still feeling lacklustre, then your lack of energy may be down to lifestyle, be that as a result of an unbalanced diet, regularly failing to get quality sleep, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol in excess, or being in a constant state of stress.
The good news is that fatigue that is down to these external factors can be improved upon, and once you’ve identified what they are, there are simple, practical steps you can start taking to lift your energy levels.
You also don’t need to pressure yourself to solve it all overnight - shifting behaviour and routine can be notoriously difficult. Aim to try and apply one change a week and stick to that, building up healthy habits over time.
How does what – and when – we eat affect our energy levels?
Diet is a key factor when it comes to optimising our energy, simply because our bodies acquire the majority of vitamins and minerals that it needs to produce energy, from the food that we eat. A balanced and varied diet should contain fats, carbohydrates, fibre and protein from a wide variety of food sources. If you’re following a restrictive diet, particularly one that cuts out entire food groups, your body may lack the nourishment it needs to function at its best and it’s possible, in time, to develop nutrient deficiencies. So if your diet is lacking in healthy protein sources, fresh fruit and vegetables, your preference is for white grains over brown, and you’d rather reach for a microwave meal than cook up a fresh stir fry, you may find yourself flagging.
But it’s not just what we eat that dictates how vibrant we feel - timing can make the difference. Eating at set mealtimes spaced throughout the day helps balance blood sugar which in turn keeps our energy on an even keel. Of course, it’s tempting to reach for sugary foods and white carbs for a quick boost when we feel exhausted, but that feeling of energy won’t last long when your blood sugar levels drop after a glucose-fuelled spike. Instead, you want to be balancing your levels by eating low GI foods that help keep your energy on a more even keel.
Fuel your body with nutrient-rich vegetables, fresh fruit, lean protein and complex carbohydrates, and avoid skipping meals - you’ll soon notice the difference.
If you wake up tired despite having had a decent amount of sleep, what’s wrong? How can you ensure you wake up feeling rested?
There are many reasons you may not wake feeling refreshed after a solid stretch of sleep. Maybe you're a shift worker - those who work a variety of day and night shifts are prone to circadian rhythm disturbances which can cause fatigue, even when getting in 7-8 hours of shut-eye, or perhaps your partner is a restless sleeper? Sometimes we might sleep for a decent stretch, but our sleep quality can be affected by our actions earlier in the day, or external sounds. Alcohol and caffeine are well-known sleep disruptors - even if you have no problems dozing off, these can still impact how deeply and how well you snooze. Try avoiding caffeinated beverages and food (foods containing cocoa, for example) late in the day, and see if that makes a difference. Caffeine can circulate in the body for 12 hours, so you want to be leaving a big gap between your last intake and bedtime. Consider setting a caffeine curfew for around 12pm to enjoy your last coffee of the day.
If you’re drinking, moderate your alcohol intake and make sure you have it with food - whilst a little booze may help some people to relax and fall asleep easily, too much can lead to a disruptive night.
Noise disruption can be more tricky. A snoring partner, living in a busy city, or near a train line can all prevent you from sleeping soundly and can be difficult to tackle. Help is available via your GP to help manage snoring, and earplugs can help with muffling external sounds.
If you’re very sleep deprived, is it okay to lie in for an hour or two?
Experts advise sticking to a routine as much as possible to help regulate sleep, however, if you’re feeling exhausted then you should listen to your body and take the opportunity you have to rest. For some people, snatching the odd lie in is the only chance they get to try and catch up on sleep, though accumulating a sleep debt during the week and making up for it at the weekend isn’t ideal, and doesn’t negate the impact of regularly having a poor sleep routine - although getting the extra hours is better than not.
It can be useful to focus on the time you go to bed instead of when you get up - in our house, we refer to it as a 'reverse lie-in'. As the mother to a toddler, I have found this approach helpful, as whilst I can't expect a young child to adjust his wake time to suit me, I can control the time I sleep. In this way you look to have your lie in the night before, by setting an alarm to get to bed an hour earlier. This takes time to adjust to, but if you persevere, it’s likely to have a much bigger impact on your energy and sleep quality.
Are there any simple choices we can make every day to help boost our energy?
Sunlight exposure, particularly in the morning, boosts mood and helps regulate our circadian rhythm, as well as the production of melatonin - a hormone that helps us to sleep. Regular exercise - whether it's a brisk walk, or a more intense workout - helps us to feel vibrant and energised, though regularly over-exercising and failing to give the body time to recover, can have the opposite effect. Eating well and making simple choices to select brown wholegrains over white foods, incorporating lots of fresh produce in your diet, being mindful of excess sugar intake and eating regular meals, can all help improve your energy levels.
Could tiredness be a sign of a nutrient deficiency?
Common nutrient deficiencies that can cause fatigue include a lack of iron, vitamin B12 or vitamin B6. Your doctor can arrange a blood test to check levels of the aforementioned, and it’s important to rule out a deficiency if fatigue is persistent. But there are so many nutrients involved in energy metabolism, that a chronic deficiency of any of them can cause you to feel exhausted, which is why a balanced diet is so important. Key nutrients for energy include B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, iodine, vitamins C and D, as well as a whole spectrum of micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, chromium, copper and many more, that are all involved in the body’s energy production processes. These trace minerals are found in unrefined whole foods - including grains - which is why cutting out whole food groups, such as carbs, isn’t a great idea. It’s also the reason that having a varied diet is so important - the more whole foods we eat, the wider our intake of nutrients.
It’s not just nutrient intake that has an effect on our energy - chronic stress can increase our susceptibility to nutrient deficiencies, with magnesium (a key mineral when it comes to maintaining healthy energy levels), and zinc status being particularly affected.
Are there any supplements that can help with fatigue? How long do you have to take these to see results?
If your diet isn’t as varied as it could be, you may wish to consider supplementing with a high quality multivitamin and mineral product to boost intake of key micronutrients and support your body’s energy production processes. It’s a good idea to consider taking magnesium, as this mineral has a significant role in the production of energy in our cells and helps support healthy muscle function. As an added bonus, magnesium can also help with stress, and may help improve sleep. Supplementing with magnesium ½ an hour before lights out may benefit those who struggle to relax, as it helps maintain healthy levels of the neurotransmitter called GABA, helping to quieten the nervous system and induce sleep.
Key nutrients to look for in your multivitamin and mineral product include the whole spectrum of B vitamins including B3, B2, B1, B6, B12, as these are known to contribute to normal energy yielding metabolism. Your supplement should also contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals including zinc, iodine, and vitamin C.
CoQ10 (Co-enzyme Q10) is another energy boosting compound that is vital for energy production, and should ideally be in your multivitamin;- look for a product that contains at least 50mg. It’s very difficult to get through diet, but the human body naturally makes CoQ10. However, as we get older, our natural levels deplete, meaning our cells cannot produce the energy needed as effectively and leading to fatigue. This decline in our natural CoQ10 is thought to happen in our 30s, which is why some people may notice a lift in vitality when supplementing with CoQ10. Additionally some medications - including statins - also deplete our natural levels, so you may wish to consider supplementing if taking these, though you should always check with your doctor first if you're considering taking supplements alongside any medication, to make sure it is safe and suitable for you to do so.
When taking the aforementioned supplements, you could see a difference in your energy levels within as little as a week, but for some people it could take several weeks to really notice an improvement. If you’ve been tested and are known to be deficient in iron, expect it to take longer - at least 3 months.
Although iron is key for supporting healthy energy levels, it’s not advisable to supplement unless you have had a blood test done via your GP to confirm that you are deficient, as it can be harmful to take iron supplements in excess. It is for this reason that we do not include iron in Inessa Advanced Multivitamin.
What level of fatigue isn’t normal? When should you speak to your doctor?
If your fatigue - of any level - is ongoing and persistent, you should see your doctor to rule out nutrient deficiencies and health issues such as poor thyroid function and anaemia, which commonly cause fatigue. More rarely, persistent fatigue can be related to serious illness, which your doctor will be able to check for.
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