Feeling tired is a common problem that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including lack of sleep, poor diet, stress, and medical conditions, and have a huge impact on our mental and physical health. When we are tired, it can be challenging to concentrate, make decisions, and complete tasks effectively and efficiently. This can have a significant impact on our productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.
The Recommended have looked into the causes and effects of tiredness and are here to lend a helping hand. We’ve got you covered with practical solutions to help you feel more alert and focused throughout the day, with tips and advice to improve your morning-to-evening routines and enhance your overall wellbeing.
Why do we feel tired? The common causes of tiredness explained
Top health website Patient.info defines tiredness as ‘having less energy than usual. You feel exhausted, either mentally, physically, or both. Tiredness is a normal part of life, but if it persists, it may suggest a medical problem.’ It could also indicate a need for lifestyle changes, such as improving your sleep and diet and reducing stress levels. Here are a few factors that can lead to that exhausted feeling:
Lack of sleep
This is one of the most common reasons people feel tired. If you are not getting enough sleep, it can affect your ability to focus, make decisions, and complete tasks effectively. We’ve got more on this later.
This can also contribute to feelings of fatigue. What you eat, when you eat and even where and how you eat can affect your daily functioning and physical and mental performance. Consuming too much sugar or processed foods can cause a spike in energy, followed by a crash, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish.
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The NHS recommends the best way to keep up your energy throughout the day is ‘to eat regular meals and healthy snacks every 3 to 4 hours, rather than a large meal less often.’ A diet rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables can help boost energy levels.
Another factor that can lead to unnecessary tiredness is stress. When we are stressed, our bodies release hormones that can disrupt our sleep patterns and lead to feelings of exhaustion.
The NHS explains that ‘stress uses up a lot of energy. Try to introduce relaxing activities into your day. This could be working out at the gym, doing yoga or tai chi, listening to music or reading, or spending time with friends. Whatever relaxes you will improve your energy.’
Certain medical conditions
Conditions such as anaemia, thyroid disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome can also cause ongoing tiredness. Make sure to check in with your GP if you have concerns.
How to identify the cause of fatigue
To combat feelings of fatigue, it is essential to identify the underlying cause. Keeping a sleep diary can help you track your sleep patterns and pin down any issues that may be affecting your sleep quality. If you suspect that your diet may be contributing to your fatigue, consider keeping a food diary to track what you eat and how it affects your energy levels. If stress is a factor, think about taking steps to manage it, such as practising mindfulness, starting with journaling, or seeking support from a therapist.
It all starts with a good night’s sleep: nighttime routines for better sleep
It might sound obvious, but getting a good night’s sleep is essential for waking up feeling refreshed and alert. When we don’t get enough sleep, we may feel groggy, lethargic, and unable to focus. Establishing a consistent sleep routine can help improve your sleep quality and wakefulness during the day. According to the Sleep Foundation, ‘guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.’
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends, to get into a consistent routine, and ensure your sleep environment is comfortable and conducive to sleep. This includes keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet, with no screens, and having a comfortable mattress and pillows. The NHS also recommends avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bed, as these can interfere with your sleep patterns. ‘Although a couple of glasses of wine in the evening can help you fall asleep, you sleep less deeply after drinking alcohol, and the next day you’ll be tired. Cut down on alcohol before bedtime. You’ll get a better night’s rest and have more energy.’
Establishing a pre-sleep routine can also be effective in promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality. Consider engaging in some light reading, taking a warm bath, or practising meditation or relaxation exercises before bed.
If you continue to experience difficulty sleeping despite making these changes, consider speaking with your GP. They can help identify any underlying medical conditions or sleep disorders that may be affecting your sleep quality.
How to wake yourself up in the morning: energising morning routines
To help you feel more awake in the morning, consider establishing a morning routine. Start your day with a glass of water to rehydrate your body after a night’s sleep, and try engaging in some light exercise, such as stretching or yoga, to get your blood flowing and wake up your body. Additionally, exposing yourself to natural light can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep quality - a light alarm clock is a great option.
What you have for breakfast can also have an impact on your energy levels in the morning. Consuming foods that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates, such as eggs or oats, can help provide sustained energy throughout the morning. Our friends at BBC Good Food suggest recipes such as chia and almond overnight oats, apricot and hazelnut muesli, or a herb omelette with fried tomatoes.
How to wake yourself up during the day: mid-day energy boosts
If you are feeling tired during the day, there are several actions you can take to boost your energy levels. Getting up and moving around can help increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, leading to increased energy and alertness. Engaging in some breathing exercises and stretches can also help improve energy levels and mental clarity.
Foods and drinks can also play a role in maintaining energy levels throughout the day - opt for snacks high in protein and fibre, such as nuts or fruit. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is also recommended to prevent feelings of fatigue. The NHS explains that ‘sometimes you feel tired simply because you’re mildly dehydrated. A glass of water will do the trick, especially after exercise.’
How to wake yourself up at work: staying alert and focused
Staying alert and focused at work can be challenging, especially if you are feeling tired. Consider incorporating some simple exercises and stretches into your workday routines, such as shoulder rolls or leg lifts, to help increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, improving mental clarity and productivity.
Eating snacks and lunches that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates, such as a turkey sandwich or a quinoa salad, will also help you sustain energy levels throughout the day, as well as stay hydrated. It’s best to avoid consuming sugary snacks or caffeinated drinks, too, as these can cause only a temporary increase in energy and are typically followed by an energy dip. Fresh fruit and nuts are a better option.
Make sure to take regular breaks during your busy days to help prevent burnout and improve focus. Doing some relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or meditation, or going for a short walk outside are good options. The NHS advises that ‘regular exercise will make you feel less tired in the long run, so you’ll have more energy. Even a single 15-minute walk can give you an energy boost.’
In addition to these suggestions, it is important to prioritise sleep and self-care outside of work hours. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular exercise can help improve overall energy levels and prevent feelings of fatigue.
Breathing and stretches to increase energy
Adding some simple breathing exercises and stretches into your daily routine can be effective in increasing energy levels and improving your cognitive functions. When we are feeling tired, our breathing can become shallow and restricted, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and lethargy. By practising some easy moves, you can increase oxygen flow to the brain, improving overall energy levels and helping combat tiredness.
Here are a couple of easy suggestions, which can each be done anywhere, at any time, making them a convenient and effective way to wake yourself up when you are feeling tired…
- Deep breathing: sit or stand with your back straight and inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs with air. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this exercise several times, focusing on breathing deeply and fully.
- Standing hamstring stretch: stand with your feet hip-width apart and hinge forward at the hips, reaching your hands towards your toes. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, focusing on breathing deeply and fully.
- Leg lifts: sit up straight in your chair and lift one leg off the ground, keeping it straight. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your leg back down. Repeat this exercise several times on each leg, focusing on breathing deeply and fully.
- Shoulder rolls: sit up straight in your chair and roll your shoulders backwards, then forwards, in a circular motion. Repeat this exercise several times, focusing on breathing deeply and fully.
- Seated spinal twist: sit up straight in your chair and twist your torso to the right, using your left hand to hold onto the armrest of your chair. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Feeling tired can be a challenging problem to address, whether in the morning, during the day, at work, or at night, but luckily there are many practical solutions that you can implement into your daily routine to help you feel more energised and alert. By prioritising sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular exercise, to name just a few suggestions, you can improve your overall energy levels and prevent feelings of fatigue.
Want to improve your wellness and read more expert-recommended round-ups? Check out more of our content, including our guide to mindfulness journals: how to start wellness journaling and its benefits, the best eye masks for sleeping, and how to improve your posture: top tips and advice.
Cordelia Aspinall is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media, working across brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeForMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. She has previously worked and written for digital publications including Condé Nast Traveller, The Evening Standard, Cosmopolitan, and several other lifestyle brands.