While it’s not a new problem, our collective exhaustion has been gaining momentum in recent months. In fact, Google searches for the phrase ‘Why am I tired all the time?’ hit a record high between July and September of this year. “With working from home the new normal, there’s no real separation between the office and our personal life and we’re working around the clock,” says naturopathic doctor Dr. Nigma Talib. “My patients are all physically and mentally tired because of it.” Here are the simple lifestyle tweaks that can shift your energy levels back into high gear.
Get the right kind of sleep
“One of the most obvious reasons we’re tired is because we’re not getting enough sleep or enough quality sleep,” says Dr. Rebecca Robbins, sleep scientist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School. “Our circadian rhythm encompasses our brain and body processes that cycle across 24 hours. So what we do during those 24 hours hugely impacts how we sleep.” Get outside or open a window if you can’t. “Sunlight and fresh air help to regulate our internal clock,” says Robbins. She advises eating dinner no later than three hours before bedtime and avoiding strong lights and blue light when winding down to activate melatonin, the sleep hormone. Stick to the same bedtime and waking time each day, too. “Your sleep will be more efficient.” If you’re extremely sleep-deprived, “add time to your overall sleep schedule but don’t sleep in two or more hours past your usual wake-up time. It can throw your circadian rhythm out of sync, and disrupt your sleep the following night.”
Switch up your routine
While we’ve recently gained more normalcy in our lives, we’re often still feeling the effects of lockdown monotony as a brain fog that just won’t lift. “We’re not getting the mental stimulation that comes from socializing with someone, or somewhere new, or from everyday office chat if you’re still working from home,” says Dr. Talib. Whereas physical fatigue benefits from rest, this type of mental fatigue is often helped by taking action. Research shows that our brains seek out what’s different and exciting. If you make even small changes to your daily routine, it gives your brain the novelty it wants, improving focus and mental energy in turn. So try a morning cycle instead of a run, or eat your lunch outside rather than in front of your computer screen.
Balance your cortisol levels
You might be getting enough sleep, but you can still feel burnt out. “We’re all suffering from social-media and news exhaustion, compounded by the pandemic, which is keeping our nervous systems on full alert and impacting our cortisol levels,” says Dr. Talib. “Keep this stress hormone in balance to stay energized.” Start with a magnesium spray, pill or cream. “Most of us are deficient in magnesium, and the more stressed you are, the more deficient you’ll be.” Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha also work to keep cortisol levels in check and increase our resilience to stress, says Dr. Talib. As does balanced blood sugar. “Snack less, eat more protein at every meal, add healthy fats to your plate and have carbohydrates with the skin or peel on to balance the fiber.” Finally, she emphasizes making time to meditate. “It’s really important to calm your mind chatter here”.
Avoid lifestyle lethargy
Persistent tiredness can be a side-effect of what you’re putting into your body. “We’re multi-tasking now more than ever, so we grab a morning coffee to be fully alert and an alcoholic beverage at night to calm down – everybody is self-medicating to get their act together,” says Dr. Talib. But caffeine throws our cortisol levels off-balance. “Eat a mix of high fiber, protein and healthy fats for breakfast to help you get up and go instead.” And cut back on wine, because “fermented sugar depletes our energy levels” – and try a cup of calming passion-flower tea instead. It boosts Gaba, a neurotransmitter in our brain, which helps us relax and calms anxiety. “The body recovers quickly, so these small tweaks can make a huge difference in how worn out you feel in just a few weeks.”
How fatigue takes its toll on your skin
“If you’re physically sleep-deprived, you might notice an increase in fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation because you’re not giving your body adequate time to repair itself,” says cosmetic doctor Dr. Sophie Shotter. “With mental fatigue, your skin might feel more dry and dehydrated than usual.” She recommends focusing on hyaluronic acid, since hydration makes skin look more awake. “When we’re tired, our skin’s natural exfoliation process is often less efficient, so add AHAs or PHAs into your regime.” Retinol is also key. “It helps minimize how much collagen we lose through sleep deprivation.”
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