March 18, 2004 -- Does even sleeping make you tired? You're not alone. In fact, the CDC says we are far more exhausted than previously thought -- 2.2 million people from all ages and education levels suffer from marked fatigue lasting more than six months.
Being drained is no longer the trendy domain of overstressed yuppies -- fatigue is affecting everyone, rich and poor, educated and non-educated, and collars of all colors. And it takes a toll on us emotionally and physically.
"This is an epidemic of exhaustion spreading through our country," says internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a clinician who himself suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome in the 1970s, inspiring him to study the disorder ever since. Teitelbaum also authored From Fatigued to Fantastic.
Why We Are Dragging
"We need to feed the body, use the body, rest the body," Teitelbaum tells WebMD. "The reason we are so tired begins with the Standard American Diet, which features 150 pounds of sugar a year, white flour, and almost no fiber. It's dreadful! This is the first time in the history of the world that we have high-calorie malnutrition. We don't even know which vitamins to take."
If you don't get enough sleep, eight to nine hours a night, Teitelbaum says, you will be in pain, gain weight, and look older. "When we are asleep, this is the time we make the human growth hormone everyone is talking about," he says. "Sleep, sex, and exercise contribute to that. We need those."
Another factor leading to exhaustion, says Jon Gordon, MA, author of Become an Energy Addict: Simple, Powerful Ways to Energize Your Life, is the fairly recent phenomenon of free-floating fear in the country. Gordon was so negative and grumpy, his wife almost left him. "We are too high on the fear scale," he tells WebMD. "We are running on adrenaline, which is supposed to be for a short-term, fight-or-flight reaction. This is taxing our adrenal glands."
Another energy sapper is the things we tell ourselves, Gordon says. "I am so busy." "I don't have enough time."
Scattering focus also drains energy, Gordon says. "If you finish what you are doing, you will have more energy."
All of these conditions result, they both say, from not taking proper care of ourselves.
10-Minute Energy Breaks
The key can be 10-minute energy breaks during the day. Every 90 minutes to two hours is ideal:
- Teitelbaum recommends ear lobe massages. Rub your ear, from lobe to top, with a gentle pressing motion. "Amazingly, your alertness will return," he promises.
Take some "self" time. Get up from the desk, leave the cell phone behind, and take a walk. "Fresh air! Sunshine!" enthuses Teitelbaum. "Something fun and easy." Gordon agrees. "Humans are not meant to sit in front of a computer 12 hours a day."
In fact, Gordon recommends a "thank you walk." "Flood your brain with positive neurotransmissions," he says. "Walk and think of things you are thankful for." The best time, he adds, is right after lunch -- walking doubles your metabolic processes.
If your mouth and lips feel dry, drink a glass of water. "I am not into counting glasses -- what an annoying way to spend your day," Teitelbaum says. "Just drink some water if you feel dry."
A cup of tea is a nice energy break. "It's so good for you," Teitelbaum says.
Eat a small snack. "If your body is telling you, 'Feed me now or I will kill you,'" Teitelbaum says, "it may not be kidding! This is the adrenals starting to fail -- they might kill you." He adds that he is not into groats and weird health food, but you should pick something healthy to nosh on (we all know what these things are, whether we admit it or not).
Take a silence break. Ten minutes of silence is a great energizer, Gordon says. "Buy a lock for your office door. This is a noisy world, and noise keeps the mind too active." Breathe in and out using diaphragmatic breathing techniques -- feel your lungs filling from the bottom, meaning your stomach pushes out on the inhalation (no one is looking, stick it out!). On the inhale, think the syllable "So," hold for three seconds, then exhale, thinking the syllable "Hum." So-hum, so-hum. (Golfers might focus on the word "Eagle," Gordon says with a laugh. Or you can think: "Energy in," then "Negativity out.") Repeat for 10 minutes.
Avoid Vampires and the Mafia
Energy vampires, according to Gordon, are people who suck away your energy. "Everyone knows them," he says. "The complainers, the gossips, the people who say things like, 'The other employees are getting this and we're not.'"
"I say, think of energy vampires as germs," Gordon says. "You can only be affected by them if your own energy level, akin to immunity, is low. "Focus on your own energy and they will stay away. Vampires don't like light."
Of course, if you are feeling stable and the energy vampire is a spouse or close person, you can try talking to them about it. "You might help them change," Gordon says. "We teach people how to treat us. We have to teach energy vampires."
The Mafia, according to both experts, are short-term fixes like a fourth cup of coffee, caffeine-filled soda or power drink, or a candy bar. "You can borrow quick energy, but when they (these Mafia fixes) come collecting, you will have to pay. These are like running on fumes rather than fuel," Gordon says.
Other Quick Tips
Eat breakfast. Have small meals throughout the day, every few hours. Call a friend. Tell a joke. Sleep at night. Turn off the cell phone. (Getting away from toddlers, those adorable little energy vampires, may be tempting, but is not recommended.)
All of these techniques also will increase your creativity, as well as your energy. "Many ideas come while you are asleep," Gordon reminds us. Keith Richards, he says, came up with the crucial pauses in "'Satisfaction" while asleep. You have to clear away mental clutter, relax the adrenaline ("If you are feeling shaky," Teitelbaum recommends, "ask yourself out loud: 'Am I in any real danger?'" The adrenal gland will respond to that, he says.)
If you try all of these methods and are still pooped, Teitelbaum suggests a hormonal workup. "You could have thyroid problems," he says. "There are a thousand ways to blow a fuse in the body."
The trick is to replace all the fuses before they can blow. It only takes 10 minutes to boost your energy level.