Common Energy Sappers

Common Energy Sappers

On our soon to be launched Dashboard, we ask you every day what your energy levels are like to get an overall picture of your health and wellness. Feeling Tired All The Time (TATT) is one of the most common reasons people visit their GPs, and as many as one in five report feeling unusually tired with one in 10 have prolonged fatigue, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Here, health journalist Jo Waters explores the most common reasons for depleted energy. 

Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep

  • Not enough sleep: Sleep is often the first casualty for busy people so try and get enough – adults aged 18 to 64 need seven to nine hours, according to the US National Sleep Foundation.
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea: If you’re waking feeling groggy and with headaches even after 7 to 9 hours of sleep , it’s possible you have sleep quality problems due to obstructive sleep apnoea. This is where your airways momentarily collapse for a few seconds several times a minute, depriving you of oxygen while you sleep. You might not even be aware of it (or you may wake up others with your snoring!). See a doctor for an assessment.
  • Insomnia: If you suffer from problems getting to and staying asleep, avoid day time naps, exercising too close to bedtime, caffeinated drinks in the evenings and deal with sources of stress and pain that wake you. 

Poor diet and vitamin/mineral deficiencies

Eating a balanced diet providing you with enough calories and a full range of vitamins and minerals from all food groups is crucial for energy levels, as is not skipping meals.

  • Lack of iron: Iron-deficiency anaemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet due to low levels of haemoglobin (red blood cells) which carry oxygen around the body. Women below the age of the menopause are particularly at risk if they have heavy periods, as well as pregnant women. Runners may also be at risk of anaemia because the impact of the foot on hard surfaces causes red blood vessels to burst, a condition called foot stroke haemolysis. Ask your GP for a blood test to check your iron levels. Rich sources of iron in food include red meat, leafy green vegetables, eggs and dried apricots. Boost iron absorption by drinking a vitamin C-rich juice at meal times, but avoid tea and coffee because this can inhibit it.
  • B12 deficiency: Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include extreme tiredness, lack of energy, depression and muscle weakness. The most common cause is pernicious anaemia where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, preventing absorption of vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is also more common in people who eat a vegan diet (no meat, fish or dairy products). You may need B12 injections or supplements to pep up your B12 levels.

Common medical causes of tiredness

  • Type 2 diabetes: An estimated 12.3 Million people in the UK are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. Symptoms include tiredness, weight loss, thirst and passing large amounts of urine. Your GP can run blood tests to check your sugar levels. If diagnosed early you may be able to control your diabetes with diet and exercise alone, but some patients also need medication.
  • Underactive thyroid: This is where your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of a hormone called thyroxin for a healthy metabolism. Symptoms may include feeling tired, muscle aches, thinning hair, sudden weight gain, dry skin and a hoarse voice. See your GP to arrange for a thyroid function test. If diagnosed you’ll need to take thyroxine tablets.

Psychological causes of tiredness

Stress, anxiety or depression can make life feel like a struggle and sap your energy as well as affect your sleep. See your doctors to talk about your feelings you may need to be referred for a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy or need a course of antidepressants.

Too much or too little exercise

If you’re training remember to have regular rest days and to plan your exercise so you don’t overdo it. Exercising generally though should leave you feeling more energised. A University of Georgia study found healthy adults who began exercising lightly, three days a week for just 20 minutes reported higher energy levels and less tiredness after six weeks.

Sleep, and Why It Matters!

Sleep, and Why It Matters!

It’s amazing how even the fittest, healthiest people who eat well and make the effort to work out can neglect their sleep needs.

Busy people often cut back on sleep when under pressure – failing to realise sleep issues can lead to long term health problems such as an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even dementia, as well as short term drowsiness and tiredness.

But there are more subtle effects too – including the effects on higher executive function –  the higher level cognitive skills you need for planning, problem-solving and working memory. This can lead you to being under par at work. Sleep deprivation can also affect your self-control, emotions and decision-making.

Why sleep quality matters too

It’s not just sleep quantity that matters – but sleep quality too. If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – where your airways momentarily collapse for a few seconds several times a minute, depriving you of oxygen while you sleep – you might not even be aware of it, but it’s interfering with your body’s metabolic processes. This can raise your blood sugar and blood pressure and lead to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.

If you snore and suffer daytime sleepiness you could have undiagnosed OSA, so it’s important to get tested and treated. Other risk factors for sleep apnoea include being overweight, having a thick neck, smoking and having a large tongue or large tonsils or adenoids.

Why your body needs sleep

We spend a third of our life asleep, but don’t think of it as time wasted.  When you’re sleeping your blood pressure drops, breathing slows down and the body goes to work on  repairing and rebuilding tissue. Sleep is also the time when hormones are released which are essential for growth and muscle development and the regulation of ghrelin and leptin,  the “hunger” hormones which control appetite (sleep deprived people tend to eat more and gain weight). Cerebral spinal fluid is pumped more quickly throughout the brain during sleep, washing  out  waste so you wake up mentally refreshed.

How much sleep  do you actually need?

Mrs Thatcher famously got by on three hours sleep a night but most of us need a lot more  than that. After a two year study, the US National Sleep Foundation revised its recommendations in 2015 as to how many hours we need per night, as follows:

  • school age kids (six to 13): 10 to 13 hours;
  • teens (14 to 17): eight to 10 hours;
  • adults (18 to 64): seven to nine hours;
  • older adults (over 65): seven to eight hours.

What about power naps?

A short day time nap of under 40 minutes can refresh you – but nap for any longer and you may be raising your risk of metabolic syndrome, the medical name for a number of symptoms that can lead to heart disease including high blood pressure, excess fat around your middle and high blood sugar and cholesterol, according to new research from the University of Tokyo.

How to sleep better

Unfortunately, insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed, affects one in three people.

But there are some simple ways to sleep better including:

  • Sticking to a set time for bedtime and getting up – even at weekends and on holiday.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark with no light pollution, a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Practising a winding-down routine with a warm bath, relaxing music and a milky drink before bedtime.
  • Saving worrying for daylight hours. Write down what’s worrying you and block it out when you’re in bed.
  • Avoiding heavy meals, too much alcohol and smoking for two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Getting treatment for medical conditions that wake you at night including joint pain, restless legs syndrome, cramps and nocturnal trips to the loo.