Go from exhausted to energized in no time by changing a few simple habits.
By Sunny Sea Gold
Some days you know exactly why you feel worn out: maybe a curfew-breaking teen kept you up past your bedtime or your coughing kid has you coming down with something. Other days it's a mystery. "So many of my patients come to me saying they're tired and they don't know why," says endocrinologist and metabolic specialist Eva Cwynar, M.D., author of The Fatigue Solution. The reason may be one (or more) of these six energy suckers. If they have you dragging your heels, we've got easy fixes for putting pep back in your step.
When patients go to Dr. Cwynar complaining of burnout, she always tells them: Have good sex. "Making love boosts your body's production of adrenaline and endorphins -- hormones that increase alertness and energy," says Dr. Cwynar. For a rarin' start to your day, set aside some time in the morning. "I know you're thinking that you have to prepare for work, make your kids their lunches, and it doesn't seem like you can find the time," says Dr. Cwynar. But a quickie before the children wake up can be just as satisfying as a longer session on date night, plus it'll give you the get-up-and-go you're seeking.
"Women, moms especially, often try to accomplish 100 things before lunch," says Allyson Lewis, time strategy expert and best-selling author of The 7 Minute Solution. The pressure we put on ourselves to do, do, do is so enormous that we often feel overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ultimately, bad about ourselves when we (inevitably) don't get it all done. Instead, she suggests switching to a "5 before 11 list" of five tasks you want to complete before 11 a.m. The chores can be as simple as whipping up a healthy meal, picking up poster board for your child's science project or even making the list. This strategy works because limiting the number of undertakings lets you commit to small daily activities that keep you motivated to continue working toward bigger goals, explains Lewis. "That feeling of accomplishment is so invigorating," she says.
Starting your day with a carb-packed breakfast -- bagel, muffin, doughnut -- can leave you worn out. "When your meal is high in sugar, your body responds by pumping out insulin," explains Dr. Cwynar. "The insulin overcompensates, lowering your blood sugar, and then you crash." This triggers your body to crave even more sugar to keep you going. Stop the vicious cycle by choosing protein from foods like eggs, lean meats, dairy and beans, which takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. "We've become a carb society because it's so convenient and cheap, but I preach protein for breakfast," says Dr. Cwynar. You don't want to nix carbs completely (that's a different kind of power drain) -- your meals should be a mix of protein and carbs.
Spending a Sunday on the couch while your husband takes the kids out seems like a good way to recharge, but being sedentary can sap your spirit. "The more physically active you are, the more vitality you have," says sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan. "This is especially true for people who work out very regularly -- activity begets the urge to do more activity." In fact, researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens found that persistently fatigued people who started doing low- or moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 20 minutes three times a week felt up to 65% less tired after just six weeks.
We each have a built-in regulator that dictates the times of day we'll be most energetic and alert (without a grande cup of coffee) and the times we'll feel less focused. Not respecting this reality can lead to the major drag of playing catch-up. "One global company I consulted for was having huge internal struggles and staff turnover that all stemmed from energy cycles," says stress expert Kathleen Hall, Ph.D., author of A Life in Balance. "These women thought other people were falling down on the job because they didn't realize they all just worked differently." If an employee is more of an afternoon person, for example, give her an end-of-day or 9 a.m. deadline. She'll be able to put in her best effort and deliver a polished project on time. This strategy can help your household run more smoothly too. Most teens, for example, aren't all there in the morning, so schedule appointments or important discussions for later in the day.
"The snooze button is the worst invention out there when it comes to exhaustion!" says Breus. "The average snooze period is seven to nine minutes, but your body can't actually get into deep sleep that quickly, so all you're doing is fragmenting those last precious moments of rest." In order to feel fully rested, your body and brain need five 90-minute cycles of sleep during which you alternate between REM and non-REM rest. When you interrupt that final cycle, you can wake up sleep deprived even if you were lying in bed for eight hours. So don't set your alarm for when you hope you can roll out of bed. Punch in the time you truly must get up, says Breus.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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