If you feel wired one minute and tired the next, you’re not the only one. Many of us are swinging high from the branches of coffee and/ or post-work wines one minute, and crashing spectacularly into our computer screens/ duvets the next. It’s a familiar see-saw, but the swings and roundabouts of energy deficit and overload can not only unsettle your mood; they’re detrimental to your waistline, work life, relationships and, most importantly, long-term health.
Burning the candle at both ends is, luckily, flickering out of fashion, with high profile professionals such as Arianna Huffington and Karren Brady speaking out against long, inflexible working hours, not to mention the explosion in popularity of mindfulness activities and apps and the influence of wellness bloggers and authors such as Ella Woodward , the Hemsley sisters and Madeleine Shaw . There’s something in this ‘health is wealth’ philosophy; Arianna’s bestselling Thrive has convinced even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to slow down. Subsiding on wine, fags and fast food is just so 90s; make the following switches and you’ll be on your way to even-keel energy levels and sustained happiness. You’re welcome.
Sort out your sleep pattern
This one seems obvious, but Arianna cites sleep deprivation as one the principal reasons that she spiralled into burnout. We all know how groggy we feel after a night of tossing and turning, but everything from technology to sweet treats (more on those later) can disturb our sleep patterns on a more long term basis, meaning that many of us are getting by on a few measly hours per weekday and lying in until lunch at the weekends. Consultant Neurologist Dr Guy Leschziner of The Sleep Centre at London Bridge Hospital thinks we need to start putting slumber firmly back on the agenda:
“We spend a third of our life asleep, and yet we pay our sleep so little attention, compared to what we eat and how we exercise. Sleep fundamentally influences a huge array of physiological and psychological parameters, ranging from mood and memory, to blood pressure, immune function and pain threshold. Optimising sleep may have significant beneficial effects beyond simply making you feel less tired.”
Given that, according to figures gathered by The Sleep Centre, 25% of people in the UK suffer from a sleep disorder, and the rest are likely yawning though afternoon meetings and snoozing on the commute, the power of restorative R&R shouldn’t be underestimated. Fight insomnia with this sleep cheat sheet , try to keep bedtimes and wake up hours consistent and establish, but don’t obsess about, a wind down routine. Herbal teas, warm baths and a spritz or ten of magnesium will help to ease tension (stress can leach the body of magnesium which in turn can prevent calcium being absorbed properly).
Cut the caffeine
“Adenosine is a substance that builds up in the brain during every hour that you are awake and is thought to contribute to the natural increase in your sleep drive that occurs at the same time. Its action is to slow down your nervous system and so it makes that it could be responsible for feelings of drowsiness and sleepiness that occur as the day goes on.”
“Caffeine is the antagonist of adenosine, which means that it blocks the use of adenosine by the brain. This explains why your nervous system speeds up after you have a coffee or a tea. Drinking too much caffeine or drinking it too late can potentially diminish your sleep drive and push you further away from sleep.”
In the long term, that sixth espresso is a recipe for less energy, not more. If you can’t face the day without a caffeine hit, green tea could be your saving glory. Matcha tea in particular can give you a buzz (not to mention a hefty antioxidant hit) without the jittery, sleep sapping side effects of coffee and your usual cup of char.
It’s public enemy number one, but countless anecdotes and studies show that the sweet stuff can steal your mojo, not to mention your mind on occasions (Skittles= my downfall). The NHS is in agreement that sugar can have serious impact on your stamina:
“Adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar. Sugar is not only bad for your teeth, it can also be bad for your waistline. It gives you a rush of energy, but one that wears off quickly.”
“Cutting out all sugar is virtually impossible. There are natural sugars in lots of foods, including fruit and veg, and you don’t need to avoid these. However, it’s a good idea to cut down on foods with lots of added sugar, such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, non-diet fizzy drinks and chocolates.”
Common sense advice, but hard to follow in real life. As journalist and author of Sweet Nothing Nicole Mowbray muses: “It kind of flies in the face of the whole ‘had a bad day? Have a bar of chocolate’ legend that many of us have adopted as we’ve aged.”
Instead of going cold turkey, cut down your general intake and switch to natural, unrefined sugars. Our Project Me guide has some genuinely delicious alternatives, as does Madeleine Shaw in Get The Glow - think honey and stevia instead of the white stuff. Madeleine also loves dates: “Dates are loaded with fibre and B vitamins, they also act as a great binder in many of my raw desserts.”
If you need something sweet, stat, Rude Health’s The Beetroot Bar fuses the bright, earthy veg with dates, almonds and sunflower seeds. If that sounds wholesome, it is, but it’s sure to satisfy your sweet tooth and keep your energy levels steady, which is the name of the game here.
Big up your bacteria
Your tummy is the holy grail of happiness and ‘get up and go’, as it turns out, and not just because you’ve just eaten a nourishing meal. A healthy balance of gut bacteria is quite frankly vital to your vitality; Vicki Edgson doesn’t mince her words on the topic . Madeleine Shaw also has a good bacteria action plan:
“ Probiotic tablets - which are a concentrated form of good bacteria- will help restore the gut to a healthy state. They particularly help with IBS, constipation and diarrhea. Every morning, take the recommended daily allowance of probiotics, making sure you choose a probiotic that contains at least 4 billion viable organisms with as many different types of probiotic species as possible.”
Hold off on Happy Hour
Two-for-one mojitos make most people happy, but in the grand scheme of things alcohol can rob you of your energy. The NHS has a few words as to why:
“Watch your alcohol intake. It can dehydrate you, which will make you feel tired. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking on average six to 10 small glasses of fluid, such as water, a day.”
“The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid and men should drink about 2.0 litres of fluid per day. That's about eight glasses of 200ml each for a woman, and 10 glasses of 200ml each for a man.”