You don't need to accept exhaustion as normal, especially if you have a clean bill of health. Here's what you can do.
It's normal to have an occasional sluggish day, but if you're staggering through life longing for a nap or
looking for a bottomless coffee pot, it's time to evaluate your habits and change those that are making you
more tired during the day.
If your fatigue is new, accompanied by other symptoms, or so severe you can't function normally, start with
a visit to your doctor. You don't need to accept exhaustion as normal, especially if you have a clean bill of
health. You can make changes that will increase your energy level and help you to stop feeling tired all of the time.
Prioritize your sleep
Sleep is as important to your health as proper eating and exercise. Don't push it aside to make room for
Sleeping too little, or less than seven hours per night, is the most common cause of exhaustion. In
addition to leaving you feeling tired, lack of sleep has also been linked to an increased risk for serious
accidents as well as the following health issues:1
- Decreased immunity
- Heart problems
- Impaired thinking, memory, and mood
- Weight gain
Another often-overlooked energy-zapper is the snooze button. It's so tempting to grab those extra nine
minutes of shut-eye, but it's not enough time to reach restorative sleep. You're better off getting up
right away when the alarm clock rings.
On the other hand, some studies have shown that routinely sleeping more than nine hours each night is
associated with an increased risk for diabetes, headaches, and obesity.2
Go for the happy medium; most adults do best on seven to nine hours of sleep per night.3
Fuel with protein
If your usual breakfast is a muffin, doughnut, bowl of sugary cereal, or even worse, nothing at all,
you're likely to feel the effects just a few hours into your day. Filling your body with a heavy dose of
carbs leads to a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash that can make you feel desperate for a nap.
If you have time, scramble eggs for breakfast. If not, spread peanut butter on a piece of whole-wheat toast,
enjoy a bowl of yogurt with fruit, or grab a protein-enriched bar or smoothie. Instead of an afternoon
candy bar, have apple slices with a small piece of cheese.
Work protein into every meal, and grab snacks that balance carbs with protein. Protein wards off severe
fluctuations in blood sugar, leaving you more alert.
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine, in the form of coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, or even chocolate, can affect your sleep by
keeping you awake longer, shortening your restorative stages of sleep, and zapping your alertness the next day.4
Do your best to watch your caffeine consumption; the FDA recommends no more than 400 milligrams (about
four or five cups of coffee) per day.5 In addition, since caffeine's half-life can range
from as little as two hours to as long as 12 hours, try to avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime.6
Alcohol can also interfere with good shut-eye, disrupting the duration of your sleep as well as your
ability to fall and stay asleep. Researchers found that even consuming alcohol six hours before bedtime can
increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep.7 Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to a hangover,
and a rough, sleepy start to your day.
Make an effort to move more
It seems counterintuitive, but daily fatigue can be your body's way of crying out for more activity.
Exercise raises your metabolism, stimulates your mood, and helps you sleep better at night.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise every week, which
equates to roughly 30 minutes per day, five times a week.8
You don't need to spend hours at the gym, or even do the recommended 30 minutes at one time. Take
a brisk 20-minute walk around the block in the morning, and do a quick 10-minute stair workout in the
afternoon. A study of sleep-deprived adults found that walking up and down the stairs for 10 minutes
increases energy levels more than taking 50 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly 4 ounces of coffee.9
Drink more water
Dehydration can lead to increased sleepiness, fatigue, and irritability,10 and many people don't
drink enough water throughout the day.
Try one of these ideas to up your daily water intake:
- Wake up and drink a glass of water before brewing your coffee or tea.
- Always keep a refillable water bottle handy, including at your desk and in your car.
- Drink a full glass of water before each meal.
- Alternate other beverages (like tea or coffee) with one glass of water.
- Swap your 8-ounce drinking glasses for 12-ounce ones.
- Reach for a glass of water before reaching for an afternoon snack.
- Sip water before and during exercise and drink a full glass after your workout.
Find time for fun
Fun and laughter are great energizers, so do your best to shake up your routine and indulge in a favorite activity
each day, even if only for a short time. Even something small like trying a new hairstyle or switching your route to
work can leave you feeling more alert.
A few fun ideas to add to your day include:
- Watch a funny movie.
- Read a hilarious novel or your favorite comic strip.
- Call a friend who cracks you up.
- Listen to your favorite tunes.
- Sign up for a class that interests you.
- Try a new restaurant.
- Learn a new hobby, like gardening.
- Give a new sport or workout a whirl.
Manage negative emotions
Stress, negativity, and depression are huge energy-suckers. If you are overwhelmed with gloomy thoughts, you
might consider talking to a mental health professional to identify the source of your negative emotions and
come up with coping strategies.
For everyday stress and blues, consider one of the following.
- Volunteer: Helping others is a great way to improve your mood and energy and lower stress levels.11
- Be grateful: Take a minute or two before bed each night to write down something good that happened that day.
Forgive: Hanging onto anger, grudges, self-pity, or resentment saps your energy and spirits. Releasing
negative thoughts leaves your mind free to focus on more stimulating topics.
Meditate: You don't need to hit the mat for an hour to reap the benefits of meditation. Even spending
several minutes of counting your breaths while sitting quietly can help calm your mind and leave you feeling more aware and alert.
Practice your faith: Whether you are a regular churchgoer or consider yourself a spiritual person, some communion
with a higher power is a great way to relieve your worries, appreciate what you have, and release the tensions and
thoughts that lead to fatigue.12
If it seems there just isn't enough caffeine in the world to get you through your day, it's time to set down the coffee
cup and start making healthy changes to build up your energy and conquer your busy life.
Feeling tired all the time can also be a sign of a medical or mental health issue, so if your sleepiness becomes
excessive and difficult to manage, talk with your healthcare professional to discover what's causing you to feel
tired during the day.