The only thing more frustrating than feeling exhausted all the time is feeling exhausted all the time and not knowing why. On paper, you're doing everything right when it comes to your sleep habits: You get your full eight hours most nights, you keep your room dark and cool, you fall asleep to a good book, rather than Netflix or Instagram. And yet, the fatigue never subsides.
But in truth, while sleep may be the primary factor in your daily energy levels, it's hardly the only one. Seemingly random things like your diet, your hormone levels, and physical fitness all have a hand as well—and if one of these outliers is out of balance in any way, it could manifest in daily tiredness. (And though we'll get more into it in a moment, it's worth mentioning right away: Reaching for a cup of coffee might seem like the obvious quick fix, but ultimately it could be making matters worse.)
So what are these other components and how can you strategize around them? We spell it out below.
Look, we loooove coffee. It's a major source of antioxidants, and it's a beautiful thing to (literally) wake up to every morning. The problem is that when we drink it in excess, our bodies become dependent on it. In fact, surveys show that when people lessen their coffee intake or give it up altogether, they're actually less tired in the morning.
Another caveat: If your energy fades within a few hours, you might be tempted to reach for another cup—which not only continues this cycle but could disrupt your sleep without your realizing. The solution? Try to stick with just a cup or two first thing in the morning, and, at the very least, cut yourself off by noon. Also consider making your daily brew bulletproof-style: If you mix a fat like grass-fed butter or coconut oil into your coffee, your body digests the caffeine more slowly, giving you a more sustained energy burn throughout the day. A cup of quality matcha also has a similar effect.
While hormonal imbalances are common, they're also tricky to diagnose and treat. And yet adrenal fatigue is often the culprit behind inexplicable daily exhaustion, says London-based GP Dr. Jane Leonard. Our adrenal glands help produce hormones and regulate our "fight-or-flight" response, she says, and daily stress can put those functions completely out of balance. In a recent meeting I had with Moon Juice's Amanda Chantal Bacon, she concurred: "The worst part," she said, "is that often you don't even realize you're stressed—it just manifests itself in physical ways." Exhaustion, she continued, being chief among them.
There are a few ways to tackle this, primarily by ironing out any daily tensions in your life (more on that in a minute). But one thing I've found that really works for me is taking adaptogenic herbs, which help regulate and balance the body's natural stress response on a pretty powerful level. Maca is one of these foods, and just taking a teaspoon twice a day has seriously done wonders for my energy.
On that note, whether you know if you're stressed or not, it's important to nip that in the bud either way. That means beginning to adopt daily rituals that you know relax your mind and body, even if you're feeling great in that respect to begin with. This is obviously personal, so you do you: Whether that's journaling, heading to yoga, taking a few minutes to meditate, or listening to your favorite record. Either way, the point is to be proactive, not reactive, about daily stress. And this way, when obstacles do come your way, your mind and body are better equipped to handle them—and your energy doesn't take a hit.
In addition to impacting how well you sleep, an imbalanced diet can mess with your daily energy levels. Fatigue is usually your body's way of telling you it needs something, and it could very well be some necessary vitamins and nutrients. Scientists believe that there is a link between rising rates of chronic fatigue and poor diet in the U.S., and often, the fix is simple: Avoid processed foods whenever possible, stay away from too much sugar (which is often the culprit behind a mid-afternoon crash), and try to maintain a healthy balance of fats, protein, and carbs. Even if you try going back to basics for just a few days, you might be surprised by how much better you feel. (And if you want to be extra sure that you're meeting all your daily vitamin requirements, consider taking a supplement.)
There's tons of research that connects a consistent fitness routine with higher energy. One study even showed that cancer patients' symptoms improved when they began exercising more. We can also vouch for this from experience, so if you aren't already, consider breaking a sweat on most days during the week—even if that just means taking a walk during your lunch hour.
If sleep is your struggle, make sure you're doing it under the best conditions. Plus, tell us—what's your favorite way to stay energized throughout the day?
This story was originally published on August 29, 2017.