These days, many people are feeling the effects of an energy crisis. Not the one within our environment—but the one within our own bodies.
As a health expert and the author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success, I know how important it is to get optimal sleep and feel well-rested.
That's why I'm sharing five big issues behind our great energy depression and key tips to help turn it around:
1. Your sleep cycles aren't optimized.
Even if you get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep, you can still wake up feeling like a piñata after the party if you don’t optimize your sleep cycles.
Your sleep cycles are approximately 75 to 90 minutes each, cycling through phases of REM and non-REM sleep, plus all of the stages in between. Each phase is correlated with specific regeneration or detoxification of cells and organs throughout your body.
Factors like elevated cortisol (stress) levels and unstable blood sugar levels can throw off your sleep cycles. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in bed if your sleep cycles are not healthy. Disrupted REM sleep, for example, has been found to be associated with mild psychological struggles such as irritability and difficulty concentrating.
How to fix it: Research suggests that getting more sunlight exposure in the morning can help decrease cortisol levels later in the evening. You should also eat a well-balanced diet that’s focused on real food and avoid processed foods—good nutrition is foundational to keeping your blood sugar stable at night. There are also a number of key nutrients you need in your diet for great sleep, including potassium and vitamin D.
2. You’re not moving enough.
Don't mistake the occasional workout for living an active lifestyle.
If you work out an hour a day and then sit around the rest of the time, you're not much more active than the rest of the sedentary population. There's even a new name for the growing class of people who try to balance out being deskbound all day with some time in the gym: The Active Sedentary.
Of course, getting some exercise is clearly better than no exercise at all—but to bolster those energy levels we’ve got to get back to basics.
How to fix it: The reality is, we human beings don’t “get” energy; we create energy. By simply moving around, your tissues generate a form of energy that's equivalent to an AC current charging up your cells. If you’ve been sitting for a while, simply standing up and doing 50 jumping jacks or bodyweight squats will generate enough electrical wattage to instantly make you feel more energized. The positive boost in your hormones and neurotransmitters will make you feel more alive, too. Just try it out and see for yourself.
Set a timer on your phone to do two minutes of bodyweight exercises every 90 minutes. You'll easily feel more charged up during the day.
3. You're deficient in crucial nutrients.
Your lack of energy could also be due to a lack of key nutrients. The main source of energy in our cells is something called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. It's essentially the currency that runs your body’s economy, but it can’t make any real transactions without the banker. And that banker is magnesium.
Though ATP is the main source of energy in cells, it must be bound to a magnesium ion (Mg) in order to be biologically active. So, ATP is really Mg-ATP when it comes to making the magic happen in your body.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes that help keep you energized and healthy. If you’re deficient in magnesium, that’s over 300 processes your body can’t effectively do. The end result is you feel like a sock. A sweaty, old, smelly gym sock.
How to fix it: Magnesium gets zapped from your system pretty quickly because it’s involved in so much. To ensure your magnesium levels are up to par, make sure to eat four to five servings of magnesium-rich foods like spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds and almonds every day. You can also consider adding in a magnesium supplement.
4. You need to drink more fluids.
Cell dehydration can literally damage your DNA. Because of this, your brain and nervous system take dehydration very seriously. Even just a small drop in normal fluid balance in your body is enough to cause headaches and fatigue.
Most people hear about the importance of drinking plenty of water, but time and time again it’s overlooked as a reason for common health challenges. Your cells, tissues, and organs are all operating in a water medium. The more murky that water starts to get, the more you start feeling symptoms of fatigue.
When you drink a glass of water, within mere minutes that water begins to become your blood and extracellular fluid and pushes out the used fluid that’s now littered with metabolic waste products. If you don’t drink enough water, that stuff stays gummed up in your system. And you start to feel like a microwaved couch potato.
How to fix it: Make it a must to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. So, a 150-pound person would make sure to get in 75 ounces, for example. Also, knock out a nice chunk of that first thing in the morning when you wake up: Give yourself an “inner bath” to start your day by drinking 20 to 30 ounces of water shortly after getting out of bed. This will set the pace and ensure that you become hydrated before the busyness of the day takes over.
5. Stress is getting the best of you.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 80 percent of all physician visits are for stress-related issues. Stress is one of the biggest culprits in our mental and physical energy crisis today—and yet only 3 percent of patients receive stress management counseling during a doctor's visit. Something definitely needs to change.
Stress suffocates your energy in a number of ways. With chronically elevated stress, your adrenal glands are forced to operate in maximum gear. This keeps cortisol and other stress hormones high. Excess cortisol leads to a surge of glucose in order to facilitate the perceived “fight-or-flight” situation you’re living in. This is your body’s attempt to make sure you’ve got the energy to run away from that man-eating lion (or run away from that overdue phone bill—because to your body, that stress is all the same).
Spiking glucose inherently leads to crashes. And, for many of us, this is happening day after day after day.
How to fix it: Instead of running to caffeine or sugar for a pick-me-up, be more proactive in buffering stress in the first place. Simple breathing exercises can switch off your sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system within a few seconds. Meditation, restorative yoga, massage therapy, and even moving meditations like qigong and tai chi are all clinically proven to reduce your body’s stress load and enhance energy and well-being.
Find a practice that works for you, and implement it just a few minutes a day. A simple 5- to 10-minute practice can buffer your brain and body against stress and ensure you have the energy to have the quality of life you deserve.