Fighting the battle against drowsiness

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People are tired… of being tired.

One survey by the Rodhad University in the Netherlands found that 30% of visits to doctors involve complaints about feeling tired; meanwhile, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35% of people are lacking sufficient sleep. These closely tally with UK GPs reporting that one fifth of visits relate to fatigue.

But what is causing so many of us to feel fatigued to the point of seeking professional consultation?

Personal and executive coach Dr Sally Ann Law’s clients often come to her experiencing symptoms of burnout. “Many people feel that there are not enough hours in the day to meet all the commitments they have on their plate. They feel like no matter how many hours they put in they can never do enough, either at work or at home, to do the best job possible. That can leave people feeling anxious, guilty and exhausted.”

Yet there is no one size fits all answer, says Azmina Govindji, award-winning dietitian and media nutritionist. “Tiredness is often multi-factorial. Common causes are irregular eating habits, lack of certain nutrients, stress, inactivity, unhealthy lifestyle.”

Indeed, tiredness can be caused by factors relating to physical, psychological or lifestyle aspects.

“The symptoms vary from person to person and in severity; however, among the most common are: inability to concentrate; exhaustion; lack of motivation; low mood; physical exhaustion; irritability; tearfulness; headaches; other physical problems like stomach aches, muscle fatigue,” says Law.

“In some cases, they could be a result of an out-of-balance lifestyle, including poor diet, excess alcohol or drug consumption, no exercise, or just too much to do,” says Law.

To help understand the possible factors and influencers causing you to feel tired, Law suggests doing an audit of your life. “Work out a plan to take control of all the things that you can realistically do. Get them into a more manageable shape. See what you can get rid of – what makes you unhappy, what saps your time and energy. Build time in for regular exercise and try to eat as healthily as possible.”

Wake up to nutrition

“What we eat affects our energy levels. Food is made up of macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) and an imbalance in either group can affect energy levels. Combat fatigue by eating regular meals and planned, wise snacks, says Govindji.”

“Make sure you get a good variety of essential nutrients, in line with the Eatwell Guide. Drink enough fluid, cut down on sugar, and rich and fatty foods, and eat more fruit and veg,” she added.

Additionally, heavy high fat meals in the evening can affect sleep quality, says dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton. “Eat more before 5pm and eat light meals and salads later in the evening. A milky drink before bed can help because of the high carbohydrate content which makes us sleepy.”

Low iron levels are a common reason for low energy levels. “Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, the pigment in red blood cells, which carries oxygen around the body into your muscle tissues,” says Govindji. “Eating less iron can mean your blood is less able to carry enough oxygen, which can exacerbate fatigue.

How to combat fatigue

Pump iron: Eat lean red meat several times a week, supplemented with nuts and seeds, dark green leafy veg, and fortified cereals. “Make sure you have a source of vitamin C, like salad or a small glass of orange juice with veggie sources of iron, as this helps the body absorb the iron more easily,” advises Govindji.

Hi GI: Vegetables, beans, pulses and salad foods are low in glycaemic index, which means they are more slowly digested, often called ‘slow release carbs’. “There is research to indicate that low GI carbs can help you to feel fuller for longer and keep your energy levels up over a longer period of time. You also need B vitamins to help you release energy from food,” says Govindji.

Drink less, run more: “A non-diet solution is to spend 30-60 minutes per day being physically active, as well as less time on the computer/phone, especially 1-2 hours before bed,” says Ruxton. “Alcohol and caffeine in the evening can also reduce our quality of sleep, making us feel tired, even if we sleep for 7-8 hours.”

Depression? Seek help: Any one or more of the symptoms of tiredness could suggest depression or be a result of depression, in which case you should speak to their GP immediately, says Law.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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