In our fast-paced world, it’s understandable that at times we might feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
If you find yourself feeling tired all the time, it can be easy to assume you’re simply not getting enough sleep, but there are lots of other reasons why you might have low energy. From making simple changes to your diet to finding ways to better manage stress and anxiety, here are 9 ways to help beat tiredness.
1. Get a good night’s sleep
Let’s start with the most obvious cause of tiredness: not getting enough sleep. While the amount of sleep you need can vary from person to person, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep to function at their best. But many people don’t get the right amount of sleep – or if they do, it isn’t good quality sleep. Heading to bed too late can be one reason you’re not feeling rested in the morning. Not only does being late to bed reduce the number of hours we spend asleep, but it can also affect the quality of our sleep.
Sleep is made up of REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep and non-REM sleep, and as the clock creeps forward, we become more likely to have REM sleep. This type of sleep is lighter and dream-filled, whereas non-REM sleep is deeper and more restorative. So, when we go to bed too late at night, we might wake up feeling groggy, because the sleep we’ve had hasn’t been long or deep enough.
According to scientists, the period between 8pm and midnight is actually most beneficial for sleeping – but for those of us who are night owls, forcing yourself to go to sleep at 10pm isn’t usually feasible. A good rule of thumb is to go to bed as soon as you become sleepy; never try to force yourself to stay up. Sometimes just being aware that going to bed earlier is beneficial can be enough to have you embrace the idea of an early night. It’s also helpful to go to bed at the same time each night – and, even if you’re really tired during the day, try to avoid naps, as they can make it much harder to fall asleep later.
If you ever struggle to get to sleep, or would like to find out more about how you can get a good night’s sleep, have a read of our article on sleep tips.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
What we eat has a knock-on effect on how we feel, and there are many reasons why you should try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. We recently wrote about how your immune system can be seriously boosted by what you eat, but our diet has a powerful effect on our energy levels, too. When you’re tired, you might crave a sugar hit or reach for foods that feel comforting, but it’s helpful to try to avoid sugary foods as much as you can. They may give you a brief energy boost, but this soon wears off and can lead to you feeling even more sluggish later.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the best foods we can eat to improve our energy levels are whole plant foods and slow-release, unrefined carbs – so this means plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods are also packed with antioxidants which can help decrease inflammation, and the fibre in these foods also promotes healthy digestion, which can further help aid sleep. Because irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue are strongly linked, it’s also a good idea to eat plenty of fermented foods – things like miso, yoghurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These improve the health of your digestive tract and may help to prevent and manage IBS.
3. Drink lots of water
One simple reason people frequently feel tired is because they’re dehydrated – and dehydration can have an extremely negative impact on your energy levels. It can also harm the quality of your sleep itself by causing your mouth and nose to dry out, which can lead to snoring and hoarseness, and make you feel less alert the next day.
A 2014 study on water intake also found that people who decreased the amount of water they drank reported increased feelings of fatigue and lethargy – plus, when the participants reduced their water intake they also reported fewer feelings of calmness, satisfaction, and positivity, which can further harm your ability to have a good night’s sleep.
So, to keep your body running at its best and ensure your sleep isn’t being affected, it’s crucial to stay properly hydrated. According to NHS guidelines, we should try to drink at least 1.2 litres of water a day – this is around six to eight glasses. If you think you need to drink more water, you might want to consider buying a motivational water bottle, which has markings on it to track how much you drink throughout the day, and remind you when it’s time to take another sip.
4. Find ways to manage stress
When we’re tired, it’s normal to focus on the potential physical causes – but often it’s psychological factors that can have the biggest effect on our energy levels. Chronic stress can cause fatigue, but even smaller-scale stress can rob us of the mental and physical energy needed to comfortably get through the day. Stress hormones can harm our sleep patterns as well as our overall health, and generally speaking, the more stressed we feel, the more energy we use up.
Of course, reducing stress can be easier said than done. But it’s really important to weave relaxing activities into your day and make doing them a priority, however busy you might be. It doesn’t matter what the activity is; as long as it relaxes you, it will help. Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga are some of the best ways to reduce stress, but other activities like journaling, going for a walk, taking a bath, or simply speaking to friends, can all help. To find out more about managing stress, have a read of our article on coping with stress and anxiety.
Taking care of our mental health is just as important as our physical health. If you’d like to read more about the different ways you can prioritise your mental health, check out the Healthy Mind section of our site, where there are lots of resources you may find helpful.
5. Reduce your alcohol consumption
We know that drinking too much alcohol isn’t good for our health – but many of us aren’t aware of just how detrimental it can be to our sleep. Alcohol is a toxin that our body works hard to expel, and this can throw our body off balance and affect the quality of our sleep – particularly if we’re dehydrated. Many people believe that alcohol actually aids sleep, especially as having a nightcap before bed is a popular ritual for many of us. But even though alcohol may sometimes help you fall asleep, you won’t sleep as deeply, and can wake up feeling groggy – even if you slept for eight hours.
For those of us who really enjoy an evening whisky or glass of wine, you don’t have to cut alcohol out entirely, but you should try to have several alcohol-free days every week. When you do drink, aim to drink in moderation, and try not to drink before bedtime. NHS guidelines recommend that men and women shouldn’t drink more than 14 units a week. To find out more, and to calculate your own units, have a read of the NHS advice here.
6. Make exercise a habit
The benefits of exercise are widely known, but in spite of this, when we’re tired, it’s often the very last thing we feel like doing. But many studies show that doing regular exercise can reduce symptoms of tiredness, improve sleep quality, and release endorphins that naturally boost our energy levels. According to the NHS we should try to do at least 150 minutes (2.5hrs) of moderate-intensity exercise each week. We should also try to do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week – these are important for building strength and balance. If you want some inspiration about how you can get fit, head over to the healthy body section of our site.
If you spend a lot of time sitting, trying to get up and move around more can also have a positive effect on your energy levels. You might have to sit at a desk for work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to include short bursts of activity into your day – and this could take the form of going for a quick walk during your lunch hour or when you’re on the phone to colleagues, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Even small changes to your lifestyle and daily routine, like parking your car further away, or walking to the local shops instead of driving, can be good ways to get moving more and encourage your energy to get flowing. You can find more tips in our articles 17 creative ways to increase your daily step count, and 10 rewarding activities to do while walking.
7. Increase your iron intake
One physical cause of fatigue is anaemia, an iron deficiency that can lead to tiredness. When you’re low in iron, your haemoglobin levels are also low, which makes it harder for oxygen to travel to your tissues and muscles. It also harms your immune system, meaning you have a higher chance of becoming sick or developing an infection, which can just make you more tired. Anaemia is more commonly seen in women than in men, but anyone can be affected by it.
Luckily, anaemia is usually simple to treat. You can take an iron supplement, or you can make sure you eat plenty of iron-rich foods – or you can potentially do both. Iron-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals and bread, beans, peas, and lentils, meat and liver, nuts, and whole grains. You can read more about this in our article Iron: what it is, why it’s important, and how to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. Eating iron-rich foods is something all of us should do, but before you begin taking iron supplements, you should speak to a GP and get your iron levels tested. To find out more about being tested for anaemia, have a read of this NHS article – or you might find it helpful to read our own article; Iron: what it is, why it’s important & how to make sure that you’re getting enough in your diet.
Note: People who have the inherited condition hemochromatosis need to be particularly cautious of taking iron supplements, as while most people only absorb around 10% of all the iron they consume, people with hemochromatosis absorb up to 30%, which means that their iron stores can be raised to dangerous levels.
8. Cut down on caffeine
While drinking more fluids can help beat tiredness, it’s important to be mindful of what exactly you’re drinking. If you drink plenty of coffee, tea, cola, or energy drinks, it’s a good idea to seriously cut down on these – or even better, cut them out completely. However, if you decide to do the latter, it’s usually helpful to reduce your caffeine intake gradually rather than going cold turkey; sudden caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches and affect your mood, so it’s best to take this slowly.
You may feel that without caffeine you’d feel even more tired, but it’s key to remember that caffeine is only a short-term fix to tiredness. Once it’s eliminated from the body, you can experience a caffeine crash, which can make you feel even more tired. When that happens, it’s easy to fall into a caffeine-fueled cycle of tiredness. If you like having hot drinks, you might want to try caffeine-free herbal teas like peppermint and lemon and ginger, fruit teas, or Rooibos tea – or you can drink the decaffeinated versions of your favourite tea and coffee. Because you’re making sure you’re staying hydrated, you may find these hot drinks help you feel more alert, too.
Try lowering your caffeine intake and reducing the amount of caffeine you ingest each day. Though you may initially feel more tired, in the long-term it can give you lots more energy. If you really love your morning coffee, you don’t have to cut it out entirely, but you could consider only having one caffeinated drink a day – or a maximum of two. To ensure you’re able to properly wind down in the evening, it’s also helpful to avoid drinking caffeine from mid-afternoon onwards.
9. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Most of us have experienced that slump shortly after eating a big meal, and one very effective way of keeping your energy levels high throughout the day is to eat smaller meals. If you’re worried that doing this will mean you’ll be hungry, the good news is that eating smaller portions means you’re able to eat more regularly. Eating smaller meals and healthy snacks every three to four hours means that your blood sugar levels remain stable, making it much less likely that you’ll experience an energy slump.
When we go a long time in between meals, we can sometimes get intense cravings for sugary food, so ensuring you eat every three to four hours also means you’ll be less likely to reach for junk food, and then experience the subsequent sugar hit and slump. Healthy snacks that release energy slowly include things like bananas, an apple with peanut butter, avocados, or nuts like almonds.
When you’re feeling tired, not getting enough sleep may seem the obvious culprit, but there are many different reasons we might feel tired, and sometimes a simple change to your routine or diet may be the best way to increase your energy levels and vitality.
It’s important to remember, however, that chronic tiredness can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying health problem, so if you’re concerned or if your tiredness has persisted for a while, you should certainly make an appointment to see your GP.
Generally, taking steps to look after your overall health, eat well, and exercise regularly can have a profound effect on beating tiredness – and as an added benefit, they can often have a positive effect on our mood, too.
Have you struggled with feelings of tiredness recently – or have you made any changes to your lifestyle that have given you an extra boost? We’d love to hear your stories. Join the conversation on the community forum or leave us a comment below.