15 Surprising Things That Drain Your Energy
Solve the mystery behind your seemingly inexplicable exhaustion — plus, find some easy changes to boost your energy and improve your quality of life.
Too much caffeine
That afternoon cup of coffee can disrupt your sleep cycle: Researchers at Michigan’s Henry Ford Hospital’s Sleep Disorders & Research Center and Wayne State College of Medicine found that consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime can reduce how long a person sleeps — and the quality of their sleep. Psychology Today advises drinking your caffeine early in the morning, then tapering off by 2 p.m. After that, no caffeine for you.
You may take pride in your ability to do five tasks at once, but there’s a hitch: You’re not actually doing five tasks at once — you’re switching back and forth between them. All of that re-focusing uses up the oxygenated glucose in your brain, according to Science Alert, making you tired and less capable of tackling your to-do list. To counteract the issue, be more methodical about how you approach work by focusing on one thing at a time and scheduling regular 15-minute breaks to give your brain some much-needed R&R.
You’ve probably heard that if you feel hungry, you might actually be thirsty. But did you know that if you feel tired, you might actually be thirsty? Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that even mild dehydration can torpedo energy, especially in women. The reason is unclear, but one theory is that the brain’s primal warning system is letting you know that it needs water to survive. Regardless, it’s important to monitor your water intake — all year round and all day long — because the body often doesn’t realize it’s thirsty until it’s already 1 to 2 percent dehydrated. (Here are 17 secret signs to watch for.)
Complaining about work
Sure, everyone occasionally complains about their job, but are you doing it daily? If so, you’ve got a bigger problem than an annoying boss. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, going down a rabbit hole of negativity and waiting for the next bad thing to happen is more mentally draining than expressing frustration in a more positive way. How can you be positive about being annoyed? Instead of simply complaining to your work buddies, work on solutions to your job issues.
Checking Facebook in bed
If you want some pep in your step tomorrow, keep the smartphone out of your bed tonight. The sleep stealer isn’t aggravation from political posts (though that doesn’t help either); it’s the blue light emitted by these devices, according to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It interrupts your natural circadian rhythms, reduces the secretion of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, lessens REM sleep, and makes it harder for you to fall asleep. As a result, you’re sleepier the next day. In the interest of boosting your energy, step away from technology at night and pick up a book instead.
Is your diet optimized to support your energy? Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, and if it doesn’t have enough, less oxygen will travel to your muscles, draining your energy and making it harder to focus. So make sure you’re eating enough lean beef, nuts, beans, and leafy greens. And if you’re a vegetarian and consuming plant-based iron (nonheme iron), pair it with foods that contain at least 25 milligrams of vitamin C so that your body can better absorb the iron.
Sleeping with your mouth open
Sleeping with your mouth open isn’t the prettiest way to sleep, and it can also cause some not-so-pretty problems the next day — namely, dark under-eye circles and exhaustion. That’s because mouth-breathing can cause dehydration, which can disrupt your sleep. Experts recommend a few ways to solve this problem, such as addressing sinus issues with decongestants or air filters, practicing conscious nose-breathing during the day, doing yoga to reduce stress, and even using gentle paper tape over your mouth for a few nights to train yourself to breathe differently.
Skipping the gym
It’s the ultimate paradox: You’re too tired to exercise, but that lack of exercise may be what’s making you tired in the first place. According to WebMD, this has to do with the mitochondria in our cells; the less energy you expend, the less energy they produce. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that regular, low-intensity exercise could increase a person’s energy by 20 percent and decrease fatigue by 65 percent. So, get moving! Every little bit helps and could lead to a desire to move more.
Being a perfectionist
People say you’re obsessed. You say that you just want things to be, well, perfect. While it’s important to take pride in your work, obsessing over every minor detail can take a mental toll. Research from the University of Bath indicates that perfectionism and burnout are closely tied together, and that can cause stress and — you guessed it — fatigue. To save your sanity, work on your flexibility, your fear of failure, and your need for control. Surprisingly wonderful things can happen when you just let go.
Poor posture negatively impacts your health in a number of ways — from causing circulation problems and headaches to exacerbating arthritis and inhibiting sexual function — and it also robs energy. When the spine is misaligned, you put more pressure on joints, ligaments, and muscles that weren’t meant to handle that kind of weight. According to U.S. News & World Report, that can drain your energy because “poor posture and gait require much more energy and work to maintain and compensate for.” So, stop your slouch: Stand up straight, get an ergonomic chair, and don’t strain yourself with overweight bags.
Your messy desk
How can a mess do anything other than, well, look messy? According to Princeton psychology professor Sabine Kastner, it pulls your brain in too many directions and tires you out over time. “Whatever you look for dominates your brain signals so much,” she explains. As a result, the brain focuses more on what it’s looking for instead of what it’s actually seeing. A few minutes of sorting, purging, and organizing can let your brain take a much-deserved rest — and let you channel energy elsewhere.
An out-of-wack thyroid
Sometimes, a lack of energy is a physical condition — like hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid. The thyroid dictates so many of the body’s functions that when it slows down, you can’t help but follow suit. Fatigue is just one symptom. If you’re also experiencing weight gain, dry skin, and an increased sensitivity to cold, talk to your doctor. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy can bring balance to your body.
That wine you had last night
A glass of wine at the end of a long day can feel relaxing and help you drift off to dreamland, but it ultimately disrupts sleep, leading to a tired tomorrow. According to WebMD, a review of 27 studies revealed that drinking before bed disrupts the part of sleep that’s supposed to be restorative — your REM sleep. The more you drink at nighttime, the worse the disruption. The solution? Cut back on the booze, and don’t rely on it as a sleep aid.
Being cooped up inside
If you’re feeling sluggish, you may not need another cup of coffee: Try some fresh air instead. A series of studies in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people need nature to thrive. While the research didn’t examine the reasons, it did find that being in nature for just 20 minutes a day boosted energy levels — and it had nothing to do with the added benefits of physical activity or social interaction. “Nature is something within which we flourish,” says the study’s author, Richard Ryan, PhD, “so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments.”
Saying yes to coworkers too frequently
It’s hard to say no at work because you want to be a team player. But researchers from Michigan State University found that when you’re bombarded by coworkers’ pleas for help first thing in the morning, it leads to mental exhaustion and your own decreased productivity throughout the day. Is there anything wrong with helping and collaborating? Of course not; it’s an important part of office life. But a well-timed “no” or a promise to help later in the day could make a world of difference in your own attitude and energy level.