If I could wish for anything in the world, it would probably be more energy! Well, let’s be real, first I would wish for a billion dollars! But the second thing would be infinite energy. With it, I could be more productive, get more accomplished, have more time to do the things I love and spend with the people I care about.
Maybe you can relate to feeling like you could do so much more and be so much further along on your goals if only you had the energy to do it.
For me, feeling constantly tired and sluggish has been an ongoing struggle. I first recognized it as an issue way back in high school and since then I’ve seen many doctors over the years trying to get to the bottom of my consistently low energy levels. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any definitive answers. According to them, nothing was medically wrong.
So I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it was something I’d have to live with (and compensate for with lots of coffee).
But after diving into the world of holistic health and experimenting on myself with various diet and lifestyle changes, I’ve found that there are many things that impact our energy levels that are within our control.
Of course, check with your doctor first to rule out factors like vitamin deficiencies or other conditions that cause fatigue (e.g. anemia or hypothyroidism).
But if everything checks out and you’re still feeling exhausted all of the time, then read on because one or more of the following could be the reason your energy levels aren’t where you think they should be.
1. Your sleep is off
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep where your body can fully rest and repair itself, then it’s no surprise that you’re tired. If you’re not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, then that should be your #1 priority.
I hear a lot of people online saying things like sleep is overrated and they’ll sleep when they’re dead. And I think that’s a really sad commentary on how much we as a society are obsessed with working and hustling at the expense of our health and wellbeing!
Sleep is extremely important. It’s essential not only for building the body back up so that it can perform physically and mentally every day. But a lack of sleep can lead to health issues like obesity, a weakened immune system, depression, and chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (source).
But it’s not just about the amount. It’s also about the quality. For years I slept for well over 8 hours most nights, but would still wake up feeling exhausted and barely able to get out of bed. This was because my sleep wasn’t deep or restful. During deep sleep the body encodes new memories, detoxifies, and gets you ready for the next day.
If you have trouble falling asleep when you go to bed and wake up multiple times throughout the night your sleep quality is suffering. Here are some things that affect sleep quality and keep you tired even when you’re getting the right amount of rest.
- Screen time before bed (blue light from the screens of electronics like phones and laptops throw off the body’s natural circadian rhythm and keeps you feeling wide awake before bed)
- Napping during the day
- Inconsistent sleep schedule
- Heavy meals before bed
- Caffeine in the latter part of the day
2. Your diet isn’t fueling you
Food is our main source of energy, so of course diet plays a major role in how energized we feel. We know the importance of having a balanced diet filled with whole grains, proteins, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables and fruits because it fuels us the most.
There’s so much to discuss when it comes to diet and it varies from person to person. Some people feel great on a plant-based diet. Others swear by paleo. It takes a little experimentation to find out what types of foods make you feel your best.
The goal is to stick with foods that fill you and give you sustained energy without weighing you down or making you feel sluggish. Start paying attention to what you eat currently and how you feel afterward.
You can’t go wrong with eating more real, whole foods that give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function and keep you alert. Iron is a particularly essential vitamin when it comes to energy and a lack of it will leave you feeling depleted. Include more iron-rich foods in your diet like beans, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, and red meat. You could also consider taking an iron supplement (but check with your doctor first).
On the flip side, cut down on processed and sugary foods. Processed foods tend to contain high amounts of sugar as well as other chemicals (preservatives and artificial flavorings) that 1) don’t offer any nutritional value and 2) spike your blood sugar which, in the short term, will lead to an energy crash. In the long term, blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, but that’s a whole nother issue! You want to keep your blood sugar stable because this will provide consistent energy instead of highs and lows throughout the day.
3. You’re Dehydrated
Our bodies are over 50% water. Pretty much every organ, including our brains, need water to function properly. It helps regulate body temperature, flush out waste, lubricate joints, and keeps muscles energized. If you find yourself tired all the time, take note of how much water you drink on a daily basis.
How much water is enough? It varies from person to person based on size, amount of physical activity, illness, and other factors. Some people go by the 8 cups a day rule. I have been following the half your body weight in ounces rule (eg. if you weigh 160 lbs, you would drink 80oz of water daily). And that’s been a game-changer for me.
What’s helped me get into the habit of drinking enough water is having my water bottle with me at all times, setting a goal to drink at least 3 full bottles and tracking how much I drink (there are many apps that do this or you can write it down in a journal), and flavoring my water with lemon and other fruits and herbs.
Wondering if you’re getting enough water? Aside from fatigue, these are some other signs of dehydration you might be experiencing:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Darker colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
4. Your exercise routine isn’t working for you
There were times when I didn’t exercise at all and felt constantly tired. There were times when I was in the gym 5-6 days a week and felt constantly tired. It took some time for me to find the sweet spot where my exercise routine was energizing me rather than completely wiping me out.
Many studies have shown the benefits of regular exercise for boosting mood, energy and sleep quality. But one, in particular, conducted by the University of Georgia found that students who did light, 20-minute exercises 3 times a week experienced major improvements in their daily energy levels and fatigue after 6 weeks. And this was even greater than the alternate group that did more intense workouts.
This highlights the value of adding some kind of movement practice to your weekly routine. And the good news is it doesn’t have to be extremely intense. In fact, short bursts of exercise have been shown to be even more effective for waking up the body and mind than extended, rigorous workout sessions.
5. You’re drinking too much caffeine
In moderation caffeine does give you that boost you need in a pinch. It provides a short burst of energy by kicking the nervous system into overdrive and releasing feel-good hormones that improve mood, concentration, and productivity. But over time, caffeine can overstimulate your adrenals and lead to exhaustion.
I used to be a HUGE coffee drinker! I had multiple cups a day and pretty much relied on it to get through the day. I now know for sure that it was contributing to my ongoing fatigue.
The problem with caffeine is that it’s easy to build up a tolerance to it, needing more and more to have the same effects. Your body does start to rely on it and your natural energy levels are altered because your body no longer needs to produce its own energy.
And when you start having coffee later in the day (even up to 6 hours before bed) it impacts your sleep. It becomes harder for your body to relax and wind down before bed and can throw off your biological clock. You start to naturally fall asleep later and take longer to go into a deep sleep, which is the most reparative time for your body.
Bonus! 6. You’re mentally and emotionally drained
Physical concerns like diet, hydration, movement, and sleep are an important first place to look to address low energy and fatigue. But sometimes there is a mental component to it as well. And I can definitely speak from experience on this. When you’re feeling unmotivated, unhappy, or generally unexcited by life, it affects how you feel physically–it’s draining.
The mind-body connection is real! Your body takes cues from your thoughts and feelings and responds accordingly.
Have you ever noticed that it takes so much longer and requires so much more effort to do the things we don’t like? While the things we enjoy seem effortless and time just flies.
In life, obviously you can’t always do what you want when you want. But constantly doing work you hate, feeling bored, or lacking inspiration eats away at your energy reserves. Having something to look forward to–whether that’s a promotion, a business, a hobby, or a trip–helps to perk you up. It also gives you the motivation to work on the physical causes of fatigue that we discussed above.
Stress is another energy destroyer. When you’re stressed, your body enters fight or flight mode. Your energy is literally taken and distributed to only the essential areas, leaving little left over for your day to day activities. Feelings of fear, worry, and anxiousness can all trigger this stress response and leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
In today’s busy, constantly-on-the-go world, we need all the energy we can get! If you struggle with low energy, I know just how frustrating it can be. But there is a reason for it and there’s something you can do about it. When you find your energy levels shrinking, look to your sleep, diet and water, exercise, caffeine consumption, and mental/emotional state. Addressing these will do wonders for your energy and your overall health.
Do you feel tired all the time? What has helped you the most to increase your energy levels? Let me know by leaving a comment below.