Low energy is a common complaint in doctor's surgeries across the country, but according to Dr Sally Norton, it is only occasionally that a medical condition (such as problems with the thyroid gland) is to blame. She believes that, more often than not, the root cause can be found in one or more lifestyle factors acting alone or together to deplete vital energy reserves.
So what does cause that energy slump, particularly common mid-afternoon or early evening?
Not rocket science – if we have slept badly the night before, we may manage to struggle through the following morning but get slower and slower come the afternoon.
If we have eaten badly during the morning and at lunch, relying on sugary snacks or quick-release processed carbs, our blood sugar will drop mid-afternoon leaving us feeling tired and listless. Not great for a productive afternoon.
It’s not just the content but the volume we eat at lunch. A large meal needs digesting – and our blood supply is diverted to our gut to help – leaving us feeling lethargic.
Studies show that our energy levels respond to natural light. Not surprising really as we weren’t designed to be nocturnal animals. By mid-afternoon, if we have been indoors in front of computer screens and under fluorescent lighting we may be feeling a loss of energy.
Stuffy, over-warm homes and offices may contribute to our general weariness – partly due to dehydration.
Too much sitting
By mid-afternoon / early evening some of us have spent many hours sat in a chair, our muscles stiff, our back aching, our eyes under strain – hardly a recipe for energy.
A mid-afternoon slump seems to be programmed into our natural diurnal rhythm. Some cultures just embrace it – think of the Mediterranean siesta – but others try to resist that natural urge to sleep off lunch.
So what can you do about it?
Now you know what causes your own energy slump, help yourself to a personal prescription!
The eat well cure
Ditch the sugary cereal which gives you a sugar dip and munchies at 11 o’clock. Choose a high protein egg breakfast instead or a bowl of hearty oats with a berry topping to give you slow release energy all morning. At lunch, choose protein again – a tuna sandwich on wholegrain bread is a good choice. Choose sugar-free snacks like a handful of almonds – great for heart health as well as avoiding the sugar dips.
The drink clever cure
Steer clear of the breakfast juice – it’s little more than sugar, after all. Caffeine is fine in moderation - proven to give you a welcome energy boost and may have other health benefits too. But avoid it after lunch or it will affect your sleep and leave you more tired the next day. Drinking at lunchtime is a sure-fire way to feel in need of an afternoon snooze. But even drinking at night doesn’t help. You may feel as though you crashed out and slept all night but your sleep quality will have been worse.
The sleep better cure
Talking of sleep, many of us are getting an hour’s less sleep per night than we used to. Thinking we can make up our sleep debt with a lie-in at the weekends isn’t true, I’m afraid so make sure you get 7-9 hours a night to preserve your energy. Steer clear of screens in the evening – the blue light plays havoc with melatonin. And don’t over-heat your bedroom. 16-18 degrees is apparently just right for shut-eye.
The move more cure
Nothing energises us like exercise. Particularly outdoors in the fresh air. Not only do we feel better at the time, but keeping our weight under control means we have less bulk to shift around – and that leaves us with more energy for other things.