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.
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
‘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,’ 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.
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.
TIME YOUR POWER NAP
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.
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.
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 whole grains, brown rice and whole meal 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.
GET IN THE LIGHT MOOD
DO get enough daylight
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’