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London - Are you tired all the time? It’s a symptom so common it even has a handy acronym – TATT – used by doctors on medical notes.
One in five Britons say they are, according to NHS figures, with one in ten suffering long-term problems. Yet just a third of these will have anything physically wrong with them, making it a tricky problem to tackle.
Although causes such as hormonal problems or vitamin deficiencies must be ruled out by blood tests, once this is done, what is left to try?
We know that burning the candle at both ends can leave you feeling drained, but there are scientifically proven ways to beat the slump.
Here, experts reveal their favourite methods, from cutting out a nightly tipple to limiting time spent on your laptop.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE
DO drink six to eight glasses of water a day
Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital, South London, says: ‘Without adequate fluid intake, blood pressure drops, slowing delivery of oxygen to the brain, which can leave you feeling tired.’
The amount of fluid needed depends on the individual, but you should aim to pass urine at least three times a day. Between six and eight glasses of water-based drinks – including tea and coffee – a day are recommended.
‘Coffee is often vilified but the caffeic acid it contains is a great way to instantly increase alertness and blood pressure,’ says Collins.
DON’T have a nightly glass of wine
More than half of us reach for a glass of wine between three to four times a week to relax after a hectic day.
While alcohol relaxes you initially, it can compromise the quality of sleep – even if you are getting the recommended seven to eight hours per night.
‘Alcohol has a dehydrating effect,’ says Collins. ‘Added to that, the chemicals in alcohol disrupt your sleep cycle, preventing you from entering deep sleep.’
DO take a magnesium supplement
‘Magnesium plays a vital role in maintaining blood glucose levels, muscle health and concentration,’ says nutritional therapist Dr Elisabeth Philipps. ‘A deficiency can leave you feeling lethargic.’ Magnesium is found in leafy vegetables and nuts, but a supplement can help. Take between 200mg and 400mg a day. Try Nature’s Best Magasorb (120 tabs, £11.50; naturesbest.co.uk).
DON’T become deficient in B vitamins
A supply of all eight B vitamins is essential for feeling energised. ‘Vitamins B1, B3, B5 and B6 are crucial for the conversion of food into energy,’ says Dr Philipps.
B vitamins can be found in chicken, nuts, eggs, cheese and Marmite.
Dr Philipps recommends taking a B complex supplement. Try Solgar’s Vitamins B Complex (50 caps, £8.08; bodykind.com).
HERBS HELP… BUT BE PATIENT
DO try natural remedies
Herbs called adaptogens can help the body cope with environmental stresses that can trigger fatigue.
‘The most popular for low energy is ginseng,’ says Dee Atkinson, a medical herbalist. ‘It gently stimulates the adrenal glands, making us more alert.’
Rhodiola can also fight sluggishness. Try Vitano’s Rhodiola Rosea extract (£13.27, 30 tabs; vitano.co.uk).
DON’T expect instant results
‘It can take three to four days before you notice an improvement in energy levels when taking herbal treatments because some extracts have a gradual effect,’ says Atkinson.
And some herbal remedies do not work for everyone.
‘As with pharmaceutical drugs, everyone’s body responds differently,’ she says.
TIME YOUR POWER NAP
DO take 40 winks
A nap can take the edge off an afternoon slump, but the duration of a siesta is crucial.
‘It has been clinically proven that taking a nap for up to 30 minutes is revitalising,’ says Dr Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre.
We tend to enter deep sleep after 30 minutes, which lasts for a further half an hour, so waking mid-cycle can leave you feeling groggy. If you want to nap for longer, have one lasting 90 minutes.
DON’T throw yourself back into action immediately
Allow 15 minutes to wake up after a nap. ‘Everyone suffers with what we call sleep inertia after a nap – sometimes a person can seem drunk,’ says Dr Idzikowski. ‘You need to give your brain time to recover and regain composure.’
It isn’t fully understood why napping is beneficial, but it is thought that it gives the brain a chance to pause and rest.
GET IN THE LIGHT MOOD
DO get enough daylight
Winter is when many people feel at their most listless because daylight hours are at a minimum, which has a knock-on effect on our body clock.
‘Nerve cells called retinal ganglion receptors at the back of the eye are responsible for detecting light,’ says Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University.
‘If we don’t get enough, our bodies produce too much melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy.’
Even at dawn, daylight is up to 100 times stronger than the lighting at home and in the workplace.
Yet most of us get little, if any, daylight at this time of year – we travel to and from work in the dark and spend the majority of our time indoors at a desk. ‘Take a 30-minute stroll each day or move your desk near a window to increase light exposure and keep your inner clock in check,’ says Prof Foster.
DON’T get too much blue light
Studies have shown that those who sit at laptops and in front of the TV late at night find it harder to drop off because the blue light emitted suppresses melatonin production.
In the evening, dim your laptop light setting and try to stop watching TV one or two hours before bed. If you can’t switch off the PC, try downloading F.lux software for free (stereopsis.com). It adapts the colour of the light emitted from your laptop according to the time of day.
NO GRAINS, NO GAINS
DO eat low-GI foods
Choosing unprocessed foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) will maintain steady energy levels, says Dr Philipps: ‘Choose slow-burning wholegrains, brown rice and wholemeal bread in your diet but don’t overfill your plate. Digestion uses up a lot of energy so the more packed the plate, the more tired you will feel. This is particularly the case with carbohydrates because glucose triggers the production of the hormone serotonin, which can make you sleepy.’
DON’T forget to include protein
Ensuring you get adequate levels of protein – about 50g per day – will fight fatigue. ‘Protein slows the speed at which carbohydrates are absorbed, so there will be a steady drip-feed of glucose into your bloodstream,’ says Dr Philipps. Protein helps produce mood and energy-boosting hormones, too.
DO breathing exercises
Believe it or not, most people don’t breathe correctly and this can contribute to a feeling of lethargy, says respiratory physiotherapist Alex Hough. The following exercise helps reset your breathing pattern. By using the diaphragm – the muscle that inflates and deflates the lungs – you inhale and exhale more efficiently.
* Consciously relax your jaw, throat, shoulders and upper chest.
* Breathe in through the nose. Allow the air to glide down your windpipe as if it’s filling your abdomen. Your tummy – not your chest – should rise gently like a balloon filling with air. It might help to place a hand on your abdomen to monitor movement.
* As you exhale, let your abdomen sink gently like a balloon deflating.
* You should be breathing 12 to 14 times a minute. If you breathe more frequently than this, gently slow your inhalations and exhalations.
* Try this exercise twice a day for a few minutes at a time. You should find yourself feeling more energised and less stressed.
‘Modern life is stressful, which can make us fall into the habit of shallow breathing,’ says Hough. ‘Shallow breathing makes the body work much harder to get the air it needs.’
Indeed, key symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder – which affects about one in 20 Britons – are feeling tired, shortness of breath and a disrupted sleep pattern.
If blood tests have ruled out any deficiency or imbalance, then explaining to your GP that you are stressed could help address your lack of vitality. Treatment usually involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medications to help keep symptoms under control.
If you suffer from mid-afternoon inertia but don’t want to glug a double espresso to get you through the rest of the day, there are alternative pick-me-ups that have been proven to work.
Numerous studies have shown that sniffing mint is effective in boosting alertness. A 2005 study reported that volunteers in a darkened room were less likely to fall asleep if they smelled peppermint.
‘Our sense of smell is very powerful and certain scents stimulate the olfactory nerve in the nose more than others,’ says Atkinson. ‘While mint has the most evidence behind it, essential oils of eucalyptus, basil and rosemary have a similar effect. Sniffing these is a great way to pep yourself up.’
NIBBLE ON DARK CHOCOLATE
Chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine. ‘The chemical is almost identical to caffeine but has a more measured effect on the central nervous system,’ says Dr Philipps. You will need to eat dark chocolate though.
‘The concentration of theobromine is much lower in milk chocolate – about a tenth – so you won’t get the same effect.
‘If you do, it will be because of the high sugar content, which will leave you sleepier than before,’ says Dr Philipps.
A quick stretch can perk you up, says Steve Hunter, of Sport and Exercise Science at London Southbank University. ‘If we sit still at a desk all day, our bodies start to slow down. Stretching limbs stimulates neurons inside our muscles, which send signals to the brain to wake us.’ - Mail On Sunday