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Being sleepy in the morning and sluggish throughout the day are common symptoms of low energy. Low energy is one of the common reasons why people come and see their doctor. It’s a non-specific symptom, which means many different issues can cause it, and it’s our job as doctors to figure it out. Below are the 8 most common reasons for low energy and tips to improve it.
Many people simply don’t give themselves enough time to sleep. The proper amount of sleep is eight hours each night. Besides making the time to sleep, what helps is to have a wind-down routine before bed – it could be a warm foot bath, gentle background music playing before bed, etc. Too often, we click the TV off or have a late meal or workout, which is too stimulating to allow us to fall asleep in a reasonable time. Other things that can hold people back from sleeping through the night are: an uncomfortable bed, too much light in the room, or a loud bed partner; some solutions are rotating your bed-top every three months, getting black-out drapes/blinds for any windows in the bedroom, or ear-plugs for the noise.
Of all the nutrients, low iron is the most common deficiency that reduces your energy, no matter how much sleep you get. Low iron also can lead to hair loss, more infections, restless legs, apathy, headaches and lowered concentration; low iron is a common cause of reduced attention and hyperactivity in kids. Get your levels checked and pick a good iron supplement that does not constipate you. Excellent low-calorie food sources of iron which may surprise you include: asparagus, chard, spinach, thyme, cumin seeds, and turmeric.
Many of the advertised foods that we eat are filling, but low in nutrition. Simply put, they are high in calories, but low in nutrients. People will not only get more energy, but will also maintain a healthy weight by instead eating foods that are nutrient dense. This means that most of the foods we eat should be vegetables and herbal seasonings, and not overcooked. Aim for 3-6 servings of vegetables each day, depending on your height and weight, and also eating about 1-2 tablespoons of herbal seasonings each day – this may include thyme, oregano, basil, cumin, turmeric, marjoram, sage… there are many to choose from… think of these seasonings as power-pellets for your body.
One of the biggest drains on our energy besides insufficient sleep is poor digestion. If you burp a lot, or have heart burn and bloating – these are clear signs that you are not digesting your food. If you don’t digest, you don’t absorb your nutrients, and energy will not be created in you. Here are some tips to improve your digestion: eat slower, chew longer, and eat bitter. Yes, bitter foods promote digestion – these foods include plants such as dandelion, arugula, radicchio, and artichoke leaves – eat a small salad with some bitters before each meal, or make a dandelion or artichoke tea to drink 15-20 minutes before your meal.
A common though elusive cause of feeling drained when you wake each morning, and also a common cause of being sluggish during the day. People with sleep apnea have one or more pauses in breathing, or shallow breaths while sleeping. Breathing pauses can last a few seconds to minutes, and occur 5-30 times each hour. Normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. If this sounds like you, get your doctor to send you to do a sleep study to confirm it.
Low energy can also relate to your blood sugar levels. If you find that you are easily irritated, and get hungry again soon after eating, you may have hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose. Incorporating more whole foods instead of refined/ processed foods will help, as well as spreading your meals over the day more evenly. You may have some underlying nutrient deficiencies and weak organ function as well. As a naturopathic doctor, I find that those with low adrenal gland capacity and weak digestive functions have this condition.
Vitamin B12 is unique in that it is the largest and most complex vitamin in the body. Standard blood tests are not accurate for vitamin B12, so it’s useful to know the signs of low levels: lack of energy, mental fogginess, tingling hands/feet, trouble sleeping, mood problems, low blood pressure, tiring easily, etc. Vitamin B12 sources are from animal foods, so it is a common deficiency among vegetarians. Even people who eat animal-based foods can have low levels if they have poor digestion, or have absorption problems. As a naturopathic doctor, as a way to both confirm and to treat this problem, I recommend a methyl-cobalamin preservative-free vitamin B12 shot since you will usually feel a difference within a day or two, confirming the deficiency.
You may not realize that you are toxic. This could simply mean that your body is congested. This congestion is often at the level of your digestion, where it is slow or difficult, or constipated. Think of your bowel movements like a train, when it’s not on time, everyone’s schedule is affected and everyone gets upset. Considering that your stool contains the wastes from your body, then the movement of that waste is slowed down and can reabsorb back into the body and congest other parts of your body such as your liver, kidneys, skin, and yes your brain, leading to low energy. Doing a detox cleanse every 3-6 months is a good idea to keep your internal train on track, and will often improve your energy.
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