Are your energy levels all over the place? Are you tired when you should be alert, such as upon waking or during the afternoon?
The feeling of tiredness can be defined as the need for rest or sleep. This occurs on a daily basis as part of our normal sleep-wake cycle. We should be energised and alert upon waking and over the course of the day to help us rise to and meet the challenges of the day, and then gradually become tired into the evening to prepare us for sleep. Sleep is our golden moment for ‘rest and repair’, essential for keeping our body and mind resilient for what’s to come the following day.i ii However, when our energy pattern deviates from this natural rhythm, we can start to feel tired at different times of the day, or even persistently.
Many factors can impact energy levels, such as thyroid dysfunction, chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal fatigue, resulting in prolonged fatigue. Here are some key energy-depletors that you can address:
The human body cannot sustain prolonged exposure to mental, emotional or physical stress for long without consequence. If it becomes chronically overworked, persistent fatigue can result. A prolonged stress response can deplete the very nutrients you need to create energy such as B vitamins and magnesium, especially if dietary intake is low. Anxiety, which can come hand-in-hand with stress, may further contribute to over-stimulation of the stress response, elevating nutrient depletions. This in turn can drive low energy levels and anxiety itself, creating a vicious cycle. Continued, long term stress and anxiety can result in higher levels of cortisol, with a negative impact on sleep, further affecting energy levels due to sleep deprivation.
Some people seem to be more predisposed genetically to be stressed than others. Some seem more prone to stress and anxiety than others. A variation in a gene called ‘GAD’ may result in less conversion of stress chemical messengers into the calming ones, resulting in higher stress levels overall. iii Others may have a gene variant which means they don’t reduce their stress hormones as quickly (COMT). iv,v,vi For these individuals, it may be the case that further targeted nutritional and lifestyle support is needed, to enable them to adapt more effectively to stressful situations, so it has less of an impact on energy levels.
Inflammation is a natural part of our immune response and is vital for managing immune threats. It is designed to be temporary and acute. Chronic stress, vii disrupted sleepviii and poor diet (see below) are associated with low-grade, chronic inflammation, which can put a long term drain on energy levels. It can have a direct negative impact on energy levels via causing oxidative stress, potentially damaging mitochondria, our main energy producing powerhouse cells, depleting energy via reducing production.
- Gut health
Poor gut health, as in the case of IBS, increased intestinal permeability (‘Leaky Gut’) or colitis, can impair digestion and nutrient absorption. This can potentially result in insufficient micronutrient cofactors required for key enzymes involved in energy production, such as vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B12 and magnesium. Persistent stress, as well as driving inflammation in the gut, can also result in certain vital biological functions being de-prioritised and down regulated, including digestionix, further impairing absorption and energy production.
Consuming a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar can directly contribute to blood sugar imbalances. Increased intake of these foods can cause blood sugar levels to peak and then fall. This fall can coincide with the feeling of tiredness, further stimulating cravings for sweet and carbohydrate rich foods. Furthermore, low nutrient status can also have a negative effect on energy levels. This can occur due to poor digestive health, as well as low intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and good quality protein, which are rich sources of the vitamins and minerals needed for energy production.
To support energy levels there are several nutritional and lifestyle recommendations which you can try:
- Reduce your stress by taking adequate time out – meditation, walking, mindfulness activities.
- Sort out your sleep – get into a routine, go to bed earlier and try to reduce blue light in the evening, through limiting screen use, such as TV and mobile phones, as this can disrupt sleep.
- Reduce intake of stimulants, such as caffeine, as it can stimulate cortisol production as well as promoting night-time wakefulness, which can further disrupt sleep.
- Diet – change to a low refined carbohydrate, high vegetable, higher protein diet.
- To help reduce your stress levels, you could try a supplement containing calming nutrients. Lemon Balm can be beneficial via increasing GABA production, which is a neurotransmitter involved in calming and relaxation. Magnesium can help us deal with stress and improve sleep. Specifically, magnesium taurate could be further beneficial, as the amino acid taurine can also increase the activity of GABA in the brain.
- To help support your energy levels, B vitamins, especially B2, B3 and B5 support energy production, and herbs like panax ginseng can give you a natural lift. To help to balance your blood glucose, you can also use chromium, magnesium, cinnamon and vitamin B3.
- Probiotics and digestive enzymes can help modulate gut inflammation and ensure that food consumed is efficiently digested to maximise nutrient absorption.
No matter what your energy patterns are, whether you are tired all of the time or some of the time, it might really help to support your system overall, and so remove the drains on your energy. That could be the key that unlocks your energy levels in the long run.