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Why am I so tired?

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Wondering why you’re so tired all the time? Could one of these 5 lifestyle factors be the reason for your lack of bounce?

Tiredness and fatigue

Fatigue is a common reason for folk visiting their GP - in the Australian general practice setting, fatigue presents at a rate of 1.4 per 100 encounters, and is the most common unexplained complaint presenting to general practitioners.

Interestingly, women are more likely to visit for this reason, as are people aged 34–39 years.

While ongoing weariness can be caused by illness – and it’s always wise to check in with your GP to rule this out, there are a wide range of lifestyle factors which can leave you lacking energy 

1. Diet and energy

Given it fuels our body, nutrition can be the cause or the cure for fatigue.  

“As you can imagine, high sugar foods – think sweets, soft drinks, alcohol, pastries and cakes are not great for energy levels. They create that post sugar slump as well as requiring additional liver function to remove artificial components, alcohol and sugars. Neither last nor least, a high intake of sugars especially late in the day will impede sleep,” says nutritionist Jacinta Callaghan.  

She says highly processed carbohydrates; such as white breads, pasta, cereals and rices are also on the fatigue list, which makes sense when you consider all processed carbs convert to sugar, meaning that post sugar slump.  

“They also require much more energy to break down to utilise nutrients. The body does not recognise many of the components, so these have to be dealt with first within the biochemistry of the body systems such as the liver,” says Callaghan.  

Likewise, she says heavy combination meals; where you’re mixing large serves of animal protein with fats and highly processed carbohydrates requires additional digestive function to break down  components – and increased enzymatic function to break down within the digestive tract.

This again means the body requires additional liver function to break down to absorb nutrients, remove additives and toxins.  

How to eat for more energy

The good news is, much as diet can taketh your sleep away, it can also help with fatigue  

Callaghan says sustained energy is best attained through a balance of moderate to high fat (good, natural, unprocessed), adequate protein and natural low carbohydrate vegetables consumed in their most natural state. 

“The diet that would achieve the most energy in a sustained way is one that is high in coloured (low carb) vegetables combined with natural fats and either plant or animal protein or a combination of both depending on your individual genetic make-up,” she says.

In short, once again there is no dodging the health benefits of a varied diet rich in wholefoods!

2. Alcohol and fatigue

Alcohol is both high sugar and requires more effort from the liver through phases one and two detox pathways, says Callaghan.  Not only does it provide a level of sugar that cannot be utilised that late in the day, it is also giving that sugar boost when the body cycle is needing to be in the cycle of rest. 
 
She says binge drinking also puts a huge, unexpected load on the liver and as such also requires additional energy and nutrients to process which may or may not be available.  

Since the prime time for the liver to detoxify is between 1-3 am, sleep is also compromised, and most will find that this is when they either cannot sleep at all or when sleep is disrupted.  If this is compounded over time the gall bladder function 11pm-1am may also be affected further adding to the problem. 

A study published in the journal JMIR Mental Health revealed alcohol reduces the restorative quality of sleep – which is what makes us feel rested when we wake. It showed as little as one drink was shown to impair sleep quality, while moderate alcohol consumption lowered restorative sleep quality by 24 per cent, and high alcohol intake by as much as 39.2 per cent. 

While there was no difference in gender or activity levels, the effects were found to affect young people more than seniors.

And why is this the case? While many feel a beer or two helps them get to sleep – especially after a stressful day, it’s also a diuretic, which means waking to go to the toilet several times a night – again disrupting your sleep cycle. And for some, the more they drink, the more they snore, which makes for less restorative sleep – perhaps for yourself and your partner.

3. Exercise for energy

A study from the University of Georgia showed sedentary people who regularly complained of fatigue could boost their energy levels by 20 per cent - and decrease their fatigue by 65 per cent - by engaging in regular, low intensity exercise.

Naturopath Dina Savitz agrees and says exercise helps boost circulation and gets everything moving in your body, which can provide more energy.

“A lot of people are overworked and not sleeping enough,” says Patrick O’Connor, co-author of the study. “Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic. There’s a scientific basis for it, and there are advantages to it compared to things like caffeine and energy drinks.” 

And if you’re not into high intensity workouts – or you simply don’t have the energy, the news is good. The study group who engaged in 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic three times a week for six weeks had the same 20 percent increase in energy levels as the group who did the same amount of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

Even better, they had a greater reduction in fatigue levels than the moderate-intensity group, 65 percent compared to 49 percent, respectively. 

The study’s lead author, Tim Puetz also credits the psychological benefits of regular exercise with reducing fatigue – and as we know stress can interferes with the quality and quantity of sleep we get, it’s a compelling reason to get your exercise on.

4. Sleep hygiene

Our sleep hygiene and sleeping habits can play a role in both the quantity and quality of our sleep and how tired we feel. Sleep hygiene refers to sleep habits that are linked to a better nights sleep, including:
  • Routine - going to bed and getting up at more or less the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Only trying to sleep when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed. And if you go to bed and find yourself counting sheep – get up do something boring and try again later (no screens should be used as blue light can affect sleep.)
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which are both stimulants. Likewise, alcohol can interfere with sleep
  • Not using your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex, so that your body comes to associate bed with sleep

5. Tech time can interfere with sleep

It will come as no surprise that technology can leave us feeling constantly tired.

Though it is important to note it treats everyone differently, the bright screen light from devices can cause increased alertness.

Depending on what you’re using it for, stimulating activities may make you less sleepy and it is not uncommon to become engrossed in what you are doing and stay up later than you intended.  

Studies have tested the effects of bright tablets and laptop screens for up to five hours rel="noopener noreferrer" rel="noopener noreferrer" before bed, and the Sleep Health Foundation reports the natural evening rise in melatonin (a hormone that makes us ready for sleep) is affected by one and a half hours or more of bright screen light.

Furthermore, if you keep this up for five nights, you can delay your body clock by one and a half hours.

In short, if you’re struggling with low energy or getting enough sleep, it may be time (after ruling out potential illness with your GP) to take a look at your lifestyle and see where you could switch unhelpful habits for those that support getting enough shut eye and energy.  
 
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