Feeling Tired all the Time?
If you are someone who constantly feels tired, fatigued and suffers with low energy levels, then you are not alone. In fact, this exhaustion epidemic, as it has been named, affects 1 in 5 people, with 1 in 10 people suffering with prolonged fatigue.This is making getting through the working day a particularly hard grind and, as not many of us are blessed with being able to have a sly forty winks during working hours (unless you have mastered the art of sleeping with your eyes open, or drawing realistic eyes onto your eyelids), there needs to be another solution to the problem. This solution comes in the form of food and nutrition and, if used correctly, can really improve daily energy levels and banish that sluggish feeling.
Common causes of tiredness
There are many common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue, but some of the main causes can be easily addressed through diet and lifestyle. Here are a few causes that may explain YOUR tiredness:
- Dehydration - Being dehydrated, even mildly, causes you to feel tired and exhausted. A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed dehydration caused fatigue, low mood & low concentration levels. If you are someone who plays a lot of sport or someone who naturally perspires a lot, then you are particularly at risk, as sweating is the most common cause of dehydration. Water is by far the best thing to rehydrate the body, so drink plenty of it throughout the day taking little sips frequently rather than drinking a lot all in one go, as this can cause bloating.
- Iron deficiency anaemia - Iron is essential for allowing blood cells to carry oxygen. If we don’t get enough iron then we can end up feeling tired and exhausted. Iron deficiency anaemia can affect men and women, but those most at risk are women with heavy periods, people with gastrointestinal disorders such as those suffering with coeliac or Crohn’s disease and also pregnant women whom require more iron to meet the needs of the developing baby. Iron rich foods should therefore be eaten regularly in the diet (see below for good food sources), along with foods high in vitamin C, as this vitamin is vital for aiding the absorption of iron in the body.
- Incorrect eating behaviours – If you skip meals, eat high sugar foods, or snack on the wrong sorts of foods, then all of these habits can have a detrimental impact on your energy levels and make you feel constantly sleepy. Skipping meals leaves your body deficient in ‘fuel’ meaning most bodily functions will slow down, including your ability to focus and concentrate. Skipping breakfast in particular, has been shown to have negative impacts on both energy levels and weight, so don’t make the mistake of thinking skipping breakfast is no big deal, it is and you will soon wish you had eaten it when you are experiencing that mid-morning slump.
Eating high sugar foods or snacks may give you a quick boost in energy, but will soon leave you feeling sleepy, as these foods will quickly spike you blood sugar levels, which will then just as quickly come crashing down again leaving you feeling lethargic. If you need to snack between meals, then snack on nuts, seeds, vegetables (with some tasty dip), or foods high in protein such as cheese or ham. Even a little bowl of porridge makes a great healthy snack, which can be made with Delamere goat’s milk and a spoonful of Delamere honey goat’s yogurt added for extra deliciousness! Who said porridge was just for breakfast!!
- Illness - There are some illnesses where constant tiredness is a big feature, so if the above do not really apply to you and your tiredness has persisted for some time, then you may wish to seek advice from your GP. Diabetes and underactive-thyroid are two health conditions which can cause extreme tiredness and can be easily checked via a blood test. Stress and depression are also big causes of tiredness and with both on the increase, making lifestyle and dietary adjustments can help with these too.
Improved cognition = Improved energy
We know from studies, that a person’s nutrition status is a predictor of mood, cognition and memory, with research suggesting that improved cognitive function, especially our mood, can help us feel more awake and energised. It is therefore vital to consume foods that are known to help improve cognitive function. Here are three good choices:
Oily Fish - This is full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which has been shown to boost brain power. We also know that people lacking in certain types of these fish oils are at heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so choose from salmon, herring, mackerel and trout and eat two - three times a week.
Nuts - These are a high source of vitamin E, which helps prevent cognitive decline. Nuts also contain the protein tryptophan which helps enhance mood. Walnuts are particularly beneficial.
Dark Chocolate - A great source of antioxidants especially one called flavonoids, which can improve blood flow to the brain and thus help mental capacity and mood. It is also a good source of iron and also contains caffeine, which will also have an initial effect on overall energy levels.
Foods to boost energy levels
There are many foods that contain natural ingredients that have been shown to boost energy levels and thus reduce tiredness. Some may be a little surprising, but by making them part of your regular diet they should have a positive impact on your energy levels.
Foods high in tyrosine - Tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid (a building block of a protein), and has been shown to improve mental performance, including motivation and alertness and thus is often said to be helpful in improving general energy levels because of the effects it has on cognitive function. Foods that are naturally high in tyrosine include, chicken, pork, cod, pumpkin seeds and cottage cheese.
Iron rich foods - The importance of iron was discussed above and it’s therefore important to make sure your diet consists of a variety of foods that are good sources of iron. Choose a variety fromred meat, spinach, dried fruit, pulses, lentils, artichokes and dark chocolate.
Wholegrain foods - These foods include brown rice, brown pasta, barley oats, quinoa and buckwheat, all of which help to stabilise blood sugar levels, as they are digested and absorbed more slowly by the body compared with non-wholegrain products. Wholegrain foods can also help raise serotonin levels (the hormone which regulates mood) andremember that better mood means better energy levels!
Foods high in Co-enzyme Q10 - Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a strong antioxidant found naturally in every cell of the body and helps convert food into energy. As we age, our body's natural ability to produce CoQ10 massively decreases leaving an estimated 75% of both men and women aged over 50 deficient in it. This deficiency in CoQ10 has been shown in many medical studies to have a negative impact on a variety of health issues from the serious to the mild, including impacting on energy levels.
If you are taking Statins (Cholesterol lowering drugs), these drugs have been shown to further deplete the body of CoQ10, which can accelerate the progression of heart disease. Research shows CoQ10 can be very helpful in alleviating general fatigue. Some studies even show that people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome often have low levels of CoQ10. You can get this in supplement form, however there are foods that contain it naturally, the highest sources are beef and herring. For vegetarians, a good plant source of CoQ10 can be found in peanuts.
Lack of sleep, insomnia and food
We cannot overlook the importance of good quality sleep when trying to find a solution to constant tiredness.
According to the Great British Sleep Survey done in 2011, 55% of the adult population have trouble falling to sleep, which is not only frustrating, but has huge impacts on our overall health and wellbeing. Research has consistently shown that poor sleep increases the incidence of illness especially depression and diabetes, so it is definitely something that needs to be addressed. There are actually some foods which can help aid sleep and should be eaten for an evening meal or a light snack before bed time. Here are some of the best:
Milk - Although research varies on this, we do know milk contains the amino acid called tryptophan that can help with relaxation, as it helps produce sleep-inducing brain chemicals called melatonin and serotonin. Goats' milk actually contains more tryptophan than cows' milk, so why not try a glass of cold or warmed Delamere goats' milk before bedtime or even add some good quality cocoa powder to it, which is a great source of iron too. Honey, eggs & turkey also contain tryptophan.
Cherries - Although it sounds unusual, cherries contain melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. A research study showed drinking cherry juice twice a day improved both sleep quality and sleep duration.
Bananas - These contain the minerals magnesium and potassium which are both muscle relaxants. These minerals can help promote sleep and calmness and potentially help with restless leg syndrome, which is the cause of many peoples inability to fall asleep.
Herbal teas – Herbs such as Valerian and Chamomile have a sedative effect and can help promote sleep in either tea or supplement form. Passion flower has also been shown to improve sleep quality, especially in people suffering with insomnia.
It’s quite ironic that you can struggle through the day fighting your fatigue and wishing you could just have a quick ‘power nap’, yet when bedtime actually arrives you can then lay awake for hours, despite being tired and counting over 1000 sheep. Implementing the guidance above could really make a difference to your sleep quality, energy levels and cognitive function, so get eating and sleeping!