5 Ways to Fighting Fatigue

Some of us are morning people. Some are night. And a lucky few are both—the ones who are always “on.” You know the type: the friend who jogs after spending the whole day doing variety of physical work, or a neighbor who finishes a few loads of laundry after a full day’s labor.

Want to feel more zip instead of zapped? Here are five tips that can boost your staying power:

1) Key to your rhythms: Getting enough sleep is vital, of course, but even the well rested experience fatigue. Because of your sleep-wake cycle, in fact, it’s natural to get tired at the same time everyday. If you go to bed between 11:00 pm and midnight, expect peak alertness about 10:00 or 11:00 am in the morning, says Dr. Richard P. Allen, co-director of the Johns Hopkins University Sleep Disorder Center in Baltimore. Between one and four in the afternoon you’ll probably feel sleepy. “Some people have one more alertness peak between 6 and 9 pm,” he adds.

There are ways around biological lows. Although daily rhythm takes its primary cue from bright light—that’s why we sleep by night—it’s also affected by activity. Exercise can disrupt the sleepy phase of your cycle, as can simple conversation. So if you start nodding at your desk around 3 pm, walking over to chat with a colleague might wake you up.

The best way to deal with your daily rhythm is to work it into your schedule. Save social duties for the afternoon—returning phone calls, taking the kids to the playground. This will help you withstand the droop. In midmorning or during early-evening energy pickups, do what requires the most concentration.

2) The potent role of diet: Your diet plays a vital role in how much energy you have throughout the day. Here’s how to eat smart:

– Remember you are what you eat. Carbohydrates increase production of serotonin, a brain chemical that encourages sleep. High-fat foods take a while to digest, leaving your mind and muscles under fueled.

– Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is also important. If you don’t, vitamin and mineral reserves drop, leading to fatigue. Some researchers now think that “boron,” a little known mineral found in carrots, apples, pears, peaches, grapes and peanuts—may play a key role. Studies suggest that diets low in this mineral weaken mental recall and concentration.

– Take small meals. Maintaining an even blood sugar level keeps the fuel flowing to your brain and muscles. The best way is to eat five mini meals a day. Another way is to avoid a large meal just before you need to be alert.

– Go slow on candies and sweets. Ever tried to perk up with a candy bar or cookie? It probably didn’t work—at least not for long. Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream so rapidly that it brings the blood sugar level up for only about half an hour. If you are dragging at four but need to make it through an important meeting, a snack of complex carbohydrates, such as muffins, crackers or fruits will keep you going longer than candy.

– Try caffeine. Seek caffeine—in moderation. This stimulant can improve mental performance. However, there is a limit to its effectiveness. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study shows that the most effective caffeine dose is about 128 milligrams—the amount of 5 to 8 ounces of coffee. More than that doesn’t increase mental alertness beyond the effects of the original dose.

3) Exercise to energize: Have you ever dragged off to an aerobics class, and then walked out revitalized later? If so, you have experienced the exercise-energy connection. But you needn’t jump up and down for an hour to get that boost. Just a small walk of around 5-6 minutes gives a short term lift by increasing your adrenalin level.

For long-lasting energy benefits, exercise regularly. The prescription of general good health calls for a workout that burns 700 to 2000 calories a week. That’s 30 to 45 minutes of brisk walking four to five times a week, or 30 minutes of more vigorous activity, such as jogging or aerobics, three to four times a week.

If you are just beginning, don’t be surprised if you feel even more tired after exercising. “Your body needs time to adjust,” says exercise physiologist A. Garth Fisher. “After a while, the body will adapt to give you more energy.”

4) Watch for spirit zappers: Fatigue seems physical, but it’s often a sign of mental distress, particularly depression and anger. “Excessive tiredness and feeling run-down should be viewed as red flags,” says W. Michael Nelson, a psychology professor. Be alert to what’s bothering you, whether it’s a change in your life—or anger over a situation at home.

Suppressing your feelings takes a lot of energy. And although you may not be able to change everything, Nelson notes, you can change how you view and deal with events—so you stop brooding and move into high gear.

5) Take a sportsman’s tip: Breathe deeply! During competition, athletes can’t afford fatigue—sometimes they must literally “grab” energy out of nowhere. Their favorite trick: deep breathing, reports sports psychologist Diana McNab. Take three slow, deep breaths. Each time, breathe in through your nose until your lower abdomen is full (about four counts), pause for eight counts to let the air circulate, then slowly exhale, pulling in your abdomen as you do. The technique can be used just as well, says McNab, when the “competition” you are facing is a boss waiting for a report or a toddler begging for another story.

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