7 Energy Sapping Culprits and Ways to Deal With Them
Normal aging is often accompanied by a noticeable increase in fatigue and loss of energy. The tiredness we feel reflects the impairment of the cellular functions which sustain us. However, there are many ways to help keep energy levels high.
What does “being full of energy” feel like to you? For me, it’s the ability to get up every morning and do whatever it is I want or need to do and feel good about what I’ve accomplished at the end of the day. Although you might have a different definition, most people know what their own optimal state of “energy” feels like and want to feel that way most of the time.
I think most of us have also experienced feeling too tired to focus and complete our work or exercise or even to fix dinner at night. It happens to everyone occasionally, but chronic “lack of energy” is a common complaint. Normal aging is often accompanie
d by a noticeable increase in fatigue and loss of motivation. The tiredness we feel reflects the impairment of the cellular functions which sustain us. Of course, this can happen at any age—even young people may complain of fatigue or feeling “tired all the time” if their lifestyle is using up energy faster than is being replenished.
Here’s a review of the most common energy-sapping culprits as well as ways to combat and prevent your own personal “energy crisis”.
1) Lack of exercise or activity
Exercise is honestly the most important key to all-around better health and longevity and lack of exercise is one of the biggest causes of fatigue. Exercise increases your energy levels in general, unless you overdo it. Since it increases oxygen intake and circulation, all body systems benefit, including your brain, which has a huge impact on how you feel. However, you don’t have to go to the gym every day to improve your energy levels. Thirty minutes of daily activity, whether it’s walking, yoga or dancing, still makes a positive impact. Taking a 15-minute walk outside whenever a feeling of tiredness or fatigue creeps in will help reverse the energy slump - which ties in t
o the next culprit:
2) Not getting enough sunlight
Sunlight through your eyes triggers the brain to release energizing neurochemicals. Spending too much time indoors without access to bright light or sunlight drains your batteries and sunlight can recharge them. A little daily outside activity, even just a 15-minute brisk walk, is an important way to keep energy up. Especially first thing in the morning, which can recharge your batteries for the whole day.
First-year college nutrition students learn the most common cause of headaches and fatigue is dehydration. My kids will testify that whenever they came to me complaining they were tired or had a headache I always had the same (annoying) response: have you been drinking water? Adequate hydration is necessary for optimal physiological and biochemical function and needs to be a health priority for many reasons, including maintaining good energy levels and reducing fatigue.
4) Poor sleep quality or quantity
Lack of adequate sleep leads to many health issues, including daytime fatigue. For someone feeling tired all the time, the first question should be, “How did you sleep last night?” Caffeine and alcohol both can impact sleep quality. Caffeine can stay in your system for six hours, so if someone is not sleeping well, they may want to forgo that late afternoon cup
of coffee or tea. Sleep apnea, restless legs, cortisol imbalance, pain and street noise can prevent one from getting the restful sleep needed to regenerate energy. Too much light, too much TV and too much computer, phone or video stimulation all contribute to poor sleep quality. In turn, this can contribute to daytime fatigue and loss of energy and motivation. A lot has been written on “good sleep hygiene”, which can have a positive impact.
Much like exercise, improving sleep hygiene takes discipline; but it has a big payoff. Preparing for bed earlier, going to bed at the same time every night and avoi
ding computer/phone screens for two hours prior to bedtime are important aspects of good sleep hygiene. Reducing ambient light sources through windows or from other rooms in the house (including night lights) can be very helpful. A quiet, cool, dark room is often exactly what is needed for many people and blackout shades or heavy curtains can help significantly. More and more people are using earplugs as well, to help reduce interference from outside noise or noisy housemates! The goal is eight hours or more of good quality sleep. Consuming caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime can prevent any gains from improving sleep hygiene, but herbal tea is a good alternative!
Supplements that may be of benefit for supporting quality and quantity of sleep include Melatonin, 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, GABA, L-Theanine, phosphatidylserine, honokiol from Magnolia officinalis, hops, valerian, scullcap, lemon balm and ashwagandha. I encourage people to try each one separately for a few days to see how they respond before choosing a sleep formula because everyone is different in what works best for them. My personal tip is to take L-theanine right after work, in the early evening before dinner. This is because it is calming, relaxing and helps clear the mind, setting the stage for rest. Preparing both mind and body for a good night’s sleep begins hou
rs before bedtime. And let’s not forget that calming herbal teas like chamomile, lemon balm and tulsi (holy basil) not only taste great, they are relaxing to body and mind as well.
5) Unstable blood sugar
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if it’s energy you want, then stay away from sugar and refined carbohydrates, at least during the day. I know, we enjoy our oatmeal, pancakes, muffins and bagels in the morning, but for many people it’s not the best way to start the day. Refined carbs tend to spike blood sugar then send it crashing, and the body expends a lot of energy just trying to fix it. Keeping blood sugar from going too high or too low helps preserv
e and maintain a more consistent energy level.
As a nutritionist I can assure you the better choice in the morning is more protein than carbohydrates: scrambled eggs and veggies, an omelet or a protein shake can make all the difference in your energy levels and alertness. Everyone is different as to what foods are best for them and how often to eat, but maintaining a food intake pattern that keeps blood glucose stable is critically important to feeling well. Reducing intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates in general (especially during the daytime before dinner) can decrease daytime fatigue and increase feelings of alertness and energy. You might even drink less coffee!
6) Underlying health issues
Health issues have a significant impact on energy levels. The body expends energy and nutrients dealing with the stress of illness or chronic health problems. Allergies often cause significant fatigue, even without other overt symptoms present. Indoor environmental allergens, including mold, perfumes and cleaning products, can be significant culprits as much as seasonal outdoor allergens. Anemia, hypothyroidism, cardiac issues, diabetes, obesity, viral illness, mental health issues, sinus or breathing problems, including congestion or sleep apnea, are some of the most common. However, any health problem can contribute to draining our energy and res
erves. And, let’s not forget…Stress is one of the biggest energy busters.
7) Nutrient deficiencies—supplements can help
Not everyone understands what “healthy diet” or “eating healthy” actually means. But even when consuming a very healthy, balanced diet, it’s still often difficult to obtain all the vitamins, minerals and trace minerals that are needed within an optimal personal calorie level. In addition, there are many things that interfere with the proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food.
Since research has shown that stress depletes potassium, magnesium, B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid) and vitamin C, it’s especially important to maintain optimal levels of these nutrients in the bloodstream to support normal cellular metabolism. Many energy formulas will contain these nutrients. Cellular/mitochondrial support formulas have become more popular due to the need to support the very foundation of our health and well-being (our cellular energy metabolism). They’re a good idea for everyone, but especially for older adults, and anyone dealing with underlying health issues.
Many people have heard that B-vitamins help with energy and are good for those with stress. The B vitamins comprise a group of eight water soluble vita
mins that have essential, inter-related roles in cellular functioning, including energy production by the mitochondria. NAD+ is a central metabolite within each cell involved in energy metabolism. Known precursors to NAD+ include nicotinic acid (Niacin) and nicotinamide. But a relative newcomer of interest, nicotinamide riboside, is another form of vitamin B3 which has shown to be more potent than nicotinamide or niacin in elevating NAD+ levels. As we age, levels of NAD decline, affecting intracellular processes of communication. Over time, this loss of communication reduces the cell’s ability to make energy. A decline in natural NAD+ is a known cause of cellular aging. There is currently much research looking into the benefits of supplementing with nicotinamide riboside in addition to other targeted nutrients found in many mitochondrial support formulas.
Adaptogenic herbs are wonderful allies in helping to rebuild and maintain energy and stamina. The best researched, most popular and very effective are the “ginsengs”, which include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and “Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
These tried and true adaptogens help protect against both mental and physical fatigue, support mental alertness and work output as well as supporting stamina during physical or athletic activity. Although there is much debate over which to use when, they are all effective in supporting the HPA-axis, helping the body systems adapt to stress and reducing resulting fatigue. For mental alertness and energy, my choice is always Panax ginseng. My favorite adrenal formula contains Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and licorice root, which among other actions, supports healthy cortisol levels, healthy adrenal function and energy levels.
For many of us, health and vitality is largely within our control if we correct the lifestyle habits that drain our vital force and know what elements we can add to our routine which can help regenerate our energy on a daily basis. Just like recovering from acute or chronic illness tak
es time, restoring energy may also require some time and a few new healthier habits.
All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.
Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!