3 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Energy Levels
When thinking about energy levels, the cycle of wellbeing is a good place to start. This is the concept that contentment across the key areas of our lives can impact our overall wellbeing. Those key areas can be split into physical, mind, social and life. By keeping these balanced, we should feel happier and healthier in general1.
There are many questions around how we can improve our energy, particularly in today’s fast-paced society. These questions often become more relevant during the winter months, when the darker days leave us feeling more lethargic and wearier.
Fortunately, by making some simple changes to your overall wellbeing, you can start to improve your energy levels.
1. What Affects Your Energy Levels?
There are some well-known areas that affect energy levels, and we will look at these in a moment. But overall wellness plays an important part too. Energy is fundamental to each aspect of the cycle of wellbeing. When we are more energised, our mood and physical health improves. We are more inclined to connect with others, exercise and feel motivated to work hard and achieve personal goals.
A stable combination of all pillars is important for energy levels and wellness. For instance, if someone is overwhelmed by work, this may have a knock-on-effect on their everyday life. Their social lifestyle and personal direction or goals might waver. This can lead to a lack of sleep which may then lead to them not eating well and not exercising. As you can see, if one aspect of the wellness cycle is vulnerable, it can directly impact the others.
The more common areas to consider when thinking about what effects our energy levels are:
Lack of sleep, too much sleep, or poor quality sleep all impact our energy levels. Sleep is a fundamental bodily function needed to repair and recharge our physical bodies and our minds. Without enough, we can struggle with everyday tasks through lack of concentration, fatigue, and stress. On average, an individual needs 8 hours of sleep per night for a healthy, longer life2.
However, the main goal should be undisrupted sleep. If we wake up throughout the night, it disrupts the stage of sleep we enter. The best quality, most restorative sleep occurs when we are in a deeper stage (Slow-Wave-Sleep or REM sleep)3. This is harder to achieve if you are disturbed or drift in and out of the shallower stages of sleep. You are likely to wake up feeling groggy, not refreshed, and your energy levels will be at a less than ideal level to start the day.
Equally, oversleeping (thought to be over 9 hours or more within 24 hours) has been shown to contribute to health issues like obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes4.
b. Busy Schedules – work and life
When you are very busy and feel like you are always on your feet rushing around from one task to another, this will naturally impact your energy levels. Unfortunately, this is all too common, for instance, juggling work with childcare. Busy schedules are physically and mentally demanding. They can prevent how much rest and sleep we get, pulling our time away from early nights or self-care. The more you have going on in your life, the more likely it is that you will experience racing thoughts. These are a key reason behind struggling to drift off to sleep at night or waking in the night. Again, this is linked to low energy levels as the quality of sleep you experience is hindered. Lack of rest can make you feel run-down. A major symptom of feeling run down, is being low in energy.
c. Too much or lack of physical activity
Not taking the time to rest by doing too much exercise can exhaust your muscles and body, leading to a lack of energy overall.
However, studies have found that physical activity can lower the amount of time it takes to fall asleep at bedtime. Regular exercise is also known to boost your energy levels overall5. There is no surprise then that if you are living a sedentary lifestyle, there is overwhelming evidence to show that you will have low energy levels6. It seems that it’s all about balance and exercising in moderation to achieve optimum energy levels.
Our energy levels are of course closely linked to the ‘physical’ pillar of this cycle. The nutrients and vitamins we consume directly fuel our body and are turned into energy. Foods that are high in protein and iron for instance, like chickpeas, fish and eggs, will help maintain your optimum energy levels.
An unhealthy diet made up of fast food, crisps and biscuits plus too many fizzy drinks or alcohol, is high in sugar and unsaturated fats. These foods are likely to leave you feeling sluggish and drained of energy. It’s not just the obvious unhealthy foods that can impact your energy levels. You could eat a healthy meal containing white rice, however these types of grains are processed quickly through the body, so can cause a slump in energy. Try eating whole grain versions instead, like rice, cereals and bread7.
2. How Do I know if My Energy is Low?
Generally, it is clear when your energy levels are low. You’ll probably experience some, if not all the below:
- Lack of mental energy
- Lack of physical energy e.g motivation
- General Tiredness
- Concentration Difficulties
- Iron is one nutrient that plays a key role in the body’s energy supply If you are low in iron one of the main symptoms is tiredness and fatigue.
What Can I Do to Lift Energy Levels?
It’s important to remember the wellness cycle, and how everything works together to ensure energy levels are operating effectively. As discussed earlier, if you are feeling down about your work life for example, you may find you have little energy or ‘get up and go’ to socialise with friends or carve out time for exercising. If you are struggling emotionally, it’s not uncommon to reach for ‘junk food’ or alcohol to feel better or take your mind off things.
So, it’s important to look after all ‘pillars’ of the wellness cycle to keep on top of your energy levels. Here are some tips:
a. Get Better Sleep
As mentioned previously, frequent, good quality sleep aids energy levels by allowing our bodies to rest and rebuild physically. It also allows our minds to process the day we have just experienced. When we wake up from a good sleep, we feel more refreshed and focused. In turn, we feel able to cope with whatever the day may bring. This contributes to our general sense of wellbeing as we interact with others and approach challenges with a positive mindset.
Tips on improving your sleep are to establish a sleep routine, whereby you take time in the evenings to switch off from the day via selfcare, go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday and limit screen time in the evenings.
It’s very common to feel good after exercise. By getting your heart rate up and pushing yourself physically and mentally, you know you are taking care of your body. You don’t have to hit the gym hard every day to achieve this either. A brisk walk as a substitute to driving a short journey can make all the difference! Exercise also keeps your mind focused on the present moment, for instance, if you are concentrating on a team sport or the time it takes you to complete a run. This is beneficial for your emotional wellbeing, as it aids mindfulness and helps you understand and accept your emotions8. Endorphins released from exercise also offer a mood boost, and reduce adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones9.
By managing your emotional and physical wellness with exercise, you are setting yourself up for more restful, restorative sleep and in turn, higher energy levels.
c. Healthy Eating Habits
In the same way as exercising, it feels good to eat a balanced diet and nurture yourself with nutritious food. It’s important to fuel your body with energy giving foods, or foods that release energy slowly throughout the day to avoid those afternoon slumps. Foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans and grains or red meat, are likely to help you feel full for longer, and keep you going throughout the day. As a result, not only will your energy levels benefit, but you will feel more resilient to any challenging situations. For example, the phrase ‘hangry’ has been used to describe irritability or anger when hungry10. If our body is empty of fuel or insufficient food (like processed foods), it’s harder to think clearly or motivate ourselves. Therefore, there seems to be a link between healthy eating, energy levels and our overall wellness.
d. Slow Down
Resting our bodies and minds is a great way to keep the cycle of wellbeing in check. As we have seen, by taking too much on and running ourselves ragged, it affects all the ‘pillars’ of wellness. To ensure you are slowing yourself down, you could say no to evening plans if you are feeling tired, or delegate some work to a colleague with less on their plate. By preserving our energy levels in this way, we set ourselves up for less stress, better quality sleep, more energy and overall wellness.
e. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough fluid a day is vital for many areas of our body’s performance, including brain function and digestion. Studies have shown that if we don’t keep our body’s water level topped up, we may experience fatigue, among other health problems.11 The recommended daily amount of water is 6 – 8 cups12.
Embarking on a healthy lifestyle won’t just improve your physical fitness. Thanks to the cycle of wellbeing, all aspects of our ‘self’ can benefit. By fuelling our bodies correctly, exercising and practicing mindfulness, we can help ourselves sleep better. Decent sleep can help us cope with and build resilience against daily challenges through a positive mindset. By ensuring emotional wellness within ourselves, we can then shape strong, healthy relationships and motivate ourselves to reach our goals. Looking after each ‘pillar’ can give us more energy to support this overall healthy wellness.
11 Nutrition Reviews, Volume 68, Issue 8, 1 August 2010, Pages 439–458, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x