It’s almost everyday at work that a patient comes to my clinic to tell me how he or she cannot concentrate at work because they are so low in energy or are constantly tired.
Surprisingly, a lot of these people are very young. Are people being lazy? Demotivated? Making an excuse? Maybe not! Let’s look at some underlying causes of low energy and fatigue and solutions for the same.
Problem: Less sleep
Too little sleep can negatively impact both concentration and health. Ideally, adults should get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Fix: Try to have a regular sleep schedule. Laptops, cell phones and television sets should be turned off at least an hour before bed time. If you must use your mobile phone, turn off your blue light. Blue light can suppress production of melatonin, which is required for sleep.
Eat your dinner at least three hours before bedtime. Else you can get acid reflux which will keep you from sleeping. If you’re still having problems sleeping, consult a doctor. You may have a sleep disorder.
Problem: Sleep apnoea
A condition called sleep apnoea can hinder the quality of sleep significantly. It causes intermittent sleep “cut-offs” several times in the night, cutting off oxygen supply to the brain momentarily. Each of these interruptions wakes you for a moment, though you may not even be aware of it.
As a result, you’re sleep-deprived, though you may be sleeping for more than the ‘number’ of hours prescribed, but the quality of sleep is poor. Typically, this happens in an overweight person, who also snores a lot (though unaware), the spouse is normally the one who complains!
Fix: If you consistently dozing off in the middle of the day or feel sleepy while driving, or you don’t wake up feeling rested, you should definitely see a doctor who may prescribe a sleep apnoea test. If overweight, weight loss can reverse sleep apnoea in most cases.
Problem: Eating the wrong food
While eating the correct foods can give you a surge of energy, eating the wrong foods can be a cause of fatigue. Consuming a balanced diet with complex carbohydrates like vegetables and grains helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling one gets with simple carbohydrates like juices and chocolates and candy bars which cause sugars to initially spike in the body but later plummet giving rise to lethargy.
Fix: Try to include proteins and complex carbohydrates with some good fats in every meal. For example, eat eggs with wholegrain toast or a toast with avocado. Avoid simple carbohydrates and junk food. Don’t fear fats, as long as they are good quality fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds.
In women, anaemia due to menstrual blood loss is very common and can cause iron deficiency, making anaemia a common yet overlooked cause of fatigue.
Fix: For anaemia caused by iron deficiency, iron supplements should be prescribed for a minimum of three months. Have it with a tablet of vitamin C to increase its absorption. Make sure you do not have it with calcium as it hinders the absorption of iron.
A diet rich in iron foods, such as lean meat, liver, beetroot, carrot, dates, shellfish, beans and jaggery, should be included to increase iron naturally.
Problem of hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid
I’ve had patients tell me “Doc, I’ve always been very active, but over the last few months I’ve become increasingly sluggish, low on energy and feel depressed. Why?” Well, could be your thyroid playing up.
Thyroid is an endocrine gland which controls metabolism, that is, the speed at which your body converts fuel into energy. It is your master hormone. When the gland is underactive, that is when one has hypothyroidism, metabolism slows down, and you may feel sluggish and put on weight.
Fix: If you feel low, sluggish, have put on weight, are intolerant of heat or cold, and have dry skin, a fast pulse, an underactive thyroid could be the cause. Check with your doctor and get tests done. The good news is that it only takes a few weeks of medication to get you back on your feet.
Depression, though thought of as an emotional disorder, can manifest as a host of physical symptoms such as fatigue, headache and loss of appetite. If you feel tired and “down” for more than a few weeks, with none of the other causes of fatigue on this list, it may be a good idea to see a psychiatrist or at least you GP.
Fix: Talk to a trusted friend, exercise to release some endorphins—“happy hormones” and listen to upbeat music. And don’t be afraid to seek medical help.
Problem: Caffeine overload
Who would have thought! Most people drink coffee to get a buzz and feel energised. Sure, caffeine can improve alertness and concentration in moderate doses. But too much can increase the heart rate and blood pressure and cause fatigue, it can also lead to lack of sleep.
Fix: Reduce caffeine intake in all forms including that in coffee, tea, chocolates and energy drinks. Do it gradually though, since a sudden cut-off can cause caffeine withdrawals and increase fatigue! Also, it’s a good idea to stop anything with caffeine several hours before bedtime.
Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids especially if you are working out, or are doing a lot of physical work. The loss of electrolytes from the body when you are dehydrated can cause major fatigue. Listen to your body. If you’re thirsty, then you’re already dehydrated. That’s a good reason to drink up!
Fix: Drink a glass of water every hour and sip on water during your workouts. Include other liquids like coconut water and buttermilk in summer. But stay away for excessive caffeinated drinks and aerated drinks which are diuretics and worsen dehydration. Another good indicator is the colour of urine. Drink till it is pale yellow. Dark yellow is a good marker of dehydration.
There are many reasons why smokers typically have lower energy levels than non-smokers. Firstly, for the body to produce energy, it needs to combine glucose with oxygen, but the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen available in the blood.
Fix: Quit smoking. This is the only fix!
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