8 Things You Need to Know About Your Body's Energy Levels

If you have low energy or feel fatigued, learn the potential causes and tips for boosting your body's energy levels.

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Photo: Glow Wellness/Getty Images

It's no wonder so many of us struggle with energy issues. We go, go, go from morning to night, running on little but grit and caffeine. But it doesn't have to be that way!

"The reality is, you can get a real boost by making a few simple changes," says Nada Milosavljevic, MD, director of the integrative health program at Massachusetts General Hospital. That's why we put together a guide to all-day energy: It's packed with proven strategies that will keep you powered up as you plow through your to-do list. You'll also learn about surprising energy drains (social media, we're looking at you)—and how to keep them from stealing your mojo.

01 of 08

Allergies can leave you drained

Allergies, specifically allergic rhinitis, are associated with a stuffed nose and itchy eyes, but fatigue is another symptom. The CDC estimates allergic rhinitis affects 60 million Americans each year. People with hay fever often feel sluggish but don't realize why.

"You spend so much time trying to breathe, you don't have energy for anything else," says New Jersey-based allergist Neeta Ogden, MD, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Your congestion might also keep you awake at night:

Over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays (like Nasacort and Flonase) effectively relieve congestion and improve quality of life—including fatigue and sleep issues—in people with seasonal allergies. Dr. Ogden suggests pairing a spray with a daily dose of an OTC nonsedating antihistamine (such as Claritin or Allegra); the drug will block the action of histamine, the compound that triggers nasal symptoms. For best results, begin treatment a couple of weeks before sniffle season starts.

02 of 08

You can still feel pooped after a full night's sleep

If you are getting a full night's sleep--the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to eight hours per night for adults--but waking up tired, you might not actually be getting restful sleep. You may want to talk to a doctor about a potential underlying cause, like a sleep disorder.

For example, it's estimated that between 10 to 30% of people in North America have obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that involves shallow breathing or pauses in breathing while you sleep. If you're among them, you may often feel like you're in a "brain fog," even if you're clocking seven hours of shut-eye a night. Other common sleep disorders include insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome (RLS).

If your primary care physician suspects sleep apnea, she can refer you to a sleep center. Most cases can be diagnosed with an at-home test, says Raj Dasgupta, MD, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Southern California and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Mild cases can often be treated with lifestyle modifications, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol before bed. Moderate or severe cases may require sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which supplies a steady stream of air to keep your airways open.

03 of 08

Exercise is the ultimate invigorator

A sweat session is great for upping your oomph, even when you feel like you're out of juice.

"When you exercise, you release hormones like adrenaline," says Sabrena Jo, a senior exercise scientist at the American Council on Exercise. "This hormone actually tells our bodies to ignore feelings of pain and fatigue while enhancing blood flow to large muscles." As a result, a workout can leave you with more energy than you had beforehand—an effect that can last several hours.

Remember: The idea is to leave your workout energized, not exhausted. "If you feel beaten down...it's a sign you need to scale back," says Jo.

04 of 08

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D is known for how it keeps your bones healthy (it makes it easier to absorb calcium) and your immune system strong. Your body produces it when your skin is in the sun or when you eat vitamin-D-rich foods. It can be difficult to notice a vitamin D deficiency because it sometimes yields no symptoms, but a 2019 observed that older adults with lower levels of vitamin D reported fatigue. A 2020 study also found that vitamin D can affect sleep regulation.

Since it can be tough to get an adequate amount from food (sources include fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk), your physician may recommend a supplement.

05 of 08

How to use social media so it's energizing, not draining

There are two reasons social media can be an energy suck, says Brian Primack, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh. "On one hand, you look at everyone's curated photos and get depressed because your life doesn't look so perfect," he explains. "But on the other hand, anything that's negative also gets magnified. Neither extreme is good."

We are still studying the mental health effects of social media. Primack's research points to a correlation between social media use and feeling isolated, as well as a likelihood for young adults to develop depression.

Aimlessly scrolling on your phone may seem like a way to relax or take a break, but a 2019 study reported being on your cell phone does not effectively recharge the brain.

Not ready to sign off completely? Try paring your "friends" down to your actual friends. "When you don't know someone, you're more likely to have a miscommunication or be upset by something in their feed," says Dr. Primack. "But using social media to connect with old friends can have the opposite effect—it's energizing."

06 of 08

The food you eat

Food provides calories, or units of energy. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are three macronutrients your body needs.

Toxic dieting articles label carbs as "bad," but in reality, carbohydrates--sugar, fruits, vegetables, fibers, and legumes--are necessary sources of energy. Carbohydrates can be either "simple" or "complex." Simple carbs quickly raise your blood sugar levels. Complex carbs take longer to digest and more gradually increase blood sugar levels.

Simple carbs--often found in candy, sodas, juices, and sugary cereal--may boost your energy fast but you may experience a "crash" soon after. Complex carbs--like fruits, vegetables, unrefined whole grains, and brown rice--may help increase your energy throughout the day.

Studies have also found a relationship between excessive daytime sleepiness and eating high saturated fat found in food like meat, butter, cheese, ice cream, and fried foods.

The bottom line is maintaining a balanced diet that includes simple and complex carbohydrates can help you stay energized.

07 of 08

Take breaks that recharge you

That advice may seem simple but in today's world, taking a break surely can feel impossible. But finding time throughout your workday to take breaks that actually recharge you can benefit your energy and focus.

Think about the way your take breaks -- are you moving from one task and just going to another, pausing only to scroll through emails, browsing an online store, or posting to social media? These "breaks" may actually be wearing you down.

So what can you do? The Learning Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapil Hill suggests getting creative (daydreaming, coloring, learning); moving (going outside, stretching); nourishing (drinking water, coffee or tea); and socializing (calling a pal).

By the way, we still need more research to understand if an exact break time and frequency exists. So don't be too hard on yourself and don't assume if you can't spare a full hour, taking a break isn't worth it. Even a few minutes away from your task may make you feel energized or more focused.

And just so you know, we also need more research to determine if "power" naps really power you up, so don't fret if your life doesn't have room for a mid-day snooze.

08 of 08

When fatigue is a symptom

Sometimes feeling spent isn't a problem that can be solved with an ordinary lifestyle changes. Sometimes there is an underlying medical cause, condition, or explanation for why you're feeling fatigue.

If you feel like you are getting enough sleep, filling up on vitamin-D-rich foods, and your stress levels are under control, talk to a doctor about testing for an underlying cause of low energy. Conditions like iron-deficiency anemia and celiac disease are two examples of conditions that can increase fatigue.

Furthermore, hypothyroidism--when your thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones--affects nearly 5 out of every 100 Americans, and can cause extreme fatigue. "You're going to feel like you're running low on fuel all the time," Dr. Milosavljevic tells Health.

Tiredness and fatigue can also be a sign of heart disease or failure. "Patients often say that they feel tired in their chest," says Dana Simpler, MD, internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Keep in mind: the American Heart Association notes that any one sign of heart disease is not a reason to cause alarm. Talk to a doctor if you experience fatigue alongside shortness of breath, persistent coughing and wheezing, swolen legs and feet, loss of appetite, impaired thinking, increased heart rate or chest pains.

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