Top 10 energy sappers

With many of us attempting to juggle work, families and social lives, it’s no wonder a whopping one in five GP visits are down to fatigue, as we try to handle the breakneck pace of modern life. If you’re feeling lethargic but don’t know why, read these tips and solutions from Dr Marilyn Glenville for ways to combat tiredness.

Energy sapper 1: Your phone

Sleeplessness, headaches, fatigue and dizziness can all be symptoms of electrical sensitivity, which affects about 35 per cent of the population and interferes with your body’s natural rhythms. Cordless phones may be the worst as we tend to keep them beside the bed, where we receive electrical waves from the base. Other risk areas include using the hairdryer for over ten minutes, keeping your digital clock by the bed and sitting too close and too long in front of a computer screen.

Energy solution: Switch to an analogue clock and a flat-screen monitor, and keep your wireless network router in a different room to your bedroom. If you’re working in front of a computer screen for long periods, make sure you take a few minutes break at least every half an hour.

Energy sapper 2: Anaemia

Around four million women in the UK suffer from anaemia, caused by lack of iron. The symptoms include tiredness, dizziness and a racing heart. Your body needs iron to produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your system. Without it you’ll feel lethargic, no matter how much sleep you get. It is better not to take iron unless you know you are anaemic, and then to retest to check that your levels are back to normal.

Energy solution: If you suffer from tiredness and heavy periods ask your doctor for a blood test for VWD (Von Willebrand disease), which affects around 300,000 women in the UK and is caused by blood not being able to clot properly. Your doctor also needs to test your iron levels. To reduce the risk of anaemia, make sure you eat a balanced diet with plenty of green vegetables.

Energy sapper 3: Undiagnosed diabetes

According to the Healthcare Commission, 500,000 women in the UK are unaware they have diabetes. Diabetes is partly to do with high-sugar diets, obesity and sedentary lifestyles and occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is too high and your body is unable to convert it into energy, as there is not enough insulin or the insulin produced isn’t working properly. The body then breaks down its stores of fat and protein to try to release more glucose and the problem gets worse. This is why people with untreated diabetes feel tired and lose weight. Other symptoms include urinating often and extreme thirst.

Energy solution: Ask your doctor for a blood test. If the test is negative for diabetes then your tiredness could be caused by your blood sugar levels. Cravings for starchy, sweet or fatty foods before your period can mean you have a blood sugar imbalance. To keep your blood sugar levels steady, avoid sugar and refined processed foods as well as juices, cigarettes and caffeine. Eat every three hours and load up on low glycaemic foods such as seafood, eggs, hummus, green vegetables and fruits such as pears, grapes and apples. Replace pasta with basmati rice and have porridge for breakfast instead of packaged cereals.

Energy sapper 4: Your lunch

One in ten people in the UK have a food intolerance, which can cause lethargy and irritability. Food intolerances trigger an immune response, which use up a huge amount of energy. The most common food culprits are wheat, dairy and sugar, so if your lunch was a cheese sandwich on wholewheat bread with a bar of chocolate your body may be using up energy by simply digesting, rather than converting your lunch into energy.

Energy solution: If you suspect you have a food intolerance, keep a food diary for a few weeks and see if there is a connection between your tiredness and a specific food. Try eliminating that food and see if it makes a difference. Alternatively you can have a blood test to check for food allergies.

Energy sapper 5: Underactive thyroid

Your thyroid works by producing the hormone called thyroxine, which controls metabolism and regulates energy levels. If your thyroid produces too little of it you feel tired, you might gain weight, your skin and hair will feel dry and you may also feel depressed.

Energy solution: Ask your doctor for a thyroid test. If you have an underactive thyroid, he or she will prescribe medication to boost your hormone levels. You should also eat a diet high in fruit, vegetables, fish and seaweed and avoid alcohol and cigarettes.

Energy sapper 6: Your bedroom

Almost 40 per cent of the population suffers from some form of insomnia. A disrupted night’s sleep affects you physically and mentally. In the long run you end up with a massive sleep debt that your body can’t repay no matter how much of it you get.

Energy solution: To increase your chances of a good night’s sleep, make sure your bedroom is a calm and relaxing place and your mattress is comfortable. Use your bed for sleeping only, so you associate it with rest and block out noise and light, as light will impair the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Try to also sleep in a well-ventilated, but not cold, room (around 13-18°C) as body temperature falls at night to promote feelings of sleepiness.

Energy sapper 7: Vitamin B12 deficiency

If you feel tired and are eating a healthy diet, you may be deficient in vitamin B12, which helps to carry oxygen around the body and is a must for energy.

Energy solution: You may want to ask your doctor for a blood test to check your levels of B12. Injections can then be administered by your doctor if needed.

Energy sapper 8: Your workout

Not how, but when, you work out could be draining your energy. You should not exercise intensely just before bed, as this will make your adrenaline, heart and respiratory rates pump and you won’t be able to sleep. Also, if your exercise routine is too intense, long or vigorous for your current level of fitness, instead of energising it will be draining you.

Energy solution: Do energy forming exercises such as running or aerobics in the morning and focus on milder activities later in the evening. Try a walk at the end of the day or a yoga session to calm your mind and stretch your muscles. If your daily exercise routine is exhausting then you should adjust it – the aim of exercise is to boost your energy, not drain it. Don’t go the other way though and cut out exercise altogether! Not exercising will trap you in a vicious cycle of tiredness. Around 30 minutes of light exercise a day can help boost energy levels significantly.

Energy sapper 9: You’re dehydrated

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in and your body doesn’t have enough fluids to carry out its normal functions. Common causes of dehydration include intense bouts of diarrhoea, vomiting, fever or excessive sweating. Inadequate intake of water during hot weather or exercise also may deplete your body’s water stores. Mild dehydration can cause symptoms such as weakness, dizziness and fatigue.

Energy solution: You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by increasing your intake of fluids, but severe cases need immediate medical treatment. The safest approach is not to become dehydrated in the first place. Aim for six to eight glasses of water or herbal tea a day and don’t wait until you get thirsty to drink. You can do that by monitoring your fluid loss during hot weather, illness or exercise, and drinking enough liquids to replace what you lose. Reduce your alcohol, tea and coffee intake as these are dehydrating.

Energy sapper 10: You’re depressed

As well as loss of libido, weight gain and lack of motivation, one of the most common side effects of depression is tiredness.

Energy solution: As well as eating healthily and getting the mood-boosting effects of regular exercise (preferably in the fresh air) you may want to try some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is recognised as effective in helping to change the patterns of your mind so that you can control stress and depression. The herb St John’s wort is also effective for mild to moderate depression.


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