Are you fed up with feeling tired all the time?
You're not the only one. Low energy is one of the most common symptoms my clients mention when they come to see me. For some it comes in the form of a mid-morning or afternoon slump, for others it's that feeling of exhaustion even after a full night's sleep.
They've usually been putting up with it for a long time - attributing it to ageing and a busy lifestyle.
Of course being busy ALL the time is going to affect your energy levels but if you struggle to get through a normal day then there could be other factors at work.
Maybe it's your hormones.
So what's going on?
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the body and regulate a range of bodily functions including:
- Growth and development
- Heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
- Sleep / wake cycle
- Reproduction and sexual function
Your hormones are interconnected – they need to work together in perfect harmony. Keeping them in balance is the key to avoiding many symptoms, including fatigue and sleep problems – both common during perimenopause.
Low thyroid hormones
Thyroid hormones are responsible for your metabolism. If your thyroid gland is underactive (called hypothyroidism) you may not be making enough of these hormones and that can make you feel tired and sluggish. Other symptoms may include poor concentration, feeling cold, weight gain, thinning hair and depression – all common symptoms experienced during menopause.
Oestrogen also affects thyroid function, so as levels of oestrogen fluctuate during perimenopause this can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism.
High stress hormones
Cortisol is your main stress hormone. It is released as part of your automatic ‘fight or flight’ response that saves you from the sabre toothed tiger – or more likely from the oncoming bus as your step off the pavement. It triggers an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose, preparing your body to take action - fight or flee.
It is good in small doses and at the right time. It helps you get out of bed in the morning and is essential for dealing with acute stress. But in our chronically stressed, busy modern lives excess cortisol can lead to sleep problems, fatigue, weight gain, poor concentration and mood swings.
Fluctuating sex hormones
Having the right balance of oestrogen and progesterone can help maintain good energy levels.
Declining levels of oestrogen during perimenopause can cause hot flashes, night sweats and increased anxiety and stress, which can lead to sleep disruption.
Progesterone increases the action of the neurotransmitter GABA, which calms the body and reduces feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. It also promotes sleep. Declining progesterone levels during perimenopause can result in loss of deep sleep and subsequent symptoms of fatigue.
Testosterone plays a role in women’s health and again levels fall during perimenopause, contributing to low energy, low libido and low mood.
Insulin and blood sugar balance
Eating sugary foods, consuming excess caffeine and alcohol and high levels of stress can send blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster of highs and lows.
A sudden spike in blood sugar triggers the release of insulin, which enables cells in your body to take up the sugar and use it for energy. But what goes up must come down – that spike is followed swiftly by an equally rapid drop. That’s the cause of the afternoon energy dip, low mood or poor concentration.
Constant snacking or a diet of high sugar, highly processed carbs puts excessive demands on the body to produce insulin that, if left unchecked, can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What else might be sapping your energy?
There may be other factors to consider when your energy levels are on the floor. Whatever the root cause it is likely that it will ultimately contribute to a hormone imbalance – there’s no getting away from the interconnectedness of our amazing body systems.
This is one of the biggest causes of tiredness – not surprising really when you think that your body is over 60% water.
There are a number of essential vitamins and minerals needed to produce energy and these are only available through diet.
These include magnesium (needed for over 300 reactions in the body), iron and the B vitamins. A deficiency in any of these is going to affect your body’s energy metabolism, making you feel tired and sluggish.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’. A more accurate version is ‘you are what you absorb’. If you have any digestive issues you may not be absorbing all the essential nutrients in your food.
Symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, IBS or gas could be an indication that food is not being broken down and digested efficiently and you might be missing out on some essential nutrients.
Of course there could be a whole host of other reasons causing your lack of energy, including:
- Too little as well as too much exercise
- Too little fresh air or time spent outdoors
- Being over or under weight
- Other underlying health conditions – consult your GP if you are concerned about any of your symptoms.
7 steps to boost your energy
Try these simple steps for an instant energy boost to help you feel more like the Duracell bunny:
1) Eat a nutrient rich diet
That means a diet of whole, real, unprocessed foods. Processed foods tend to be high in sugar and will cause that afternoon energy slump.
Always include protein with every meal or snack to slow down the release of sugar and keep you feeling fuller for longer
Eat fibre-rich foods to support healthy digestion. They’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and keep your blood sugar balanced.
2) Start your day with a healthy breakfast
Include slow-release carbs like oats and whole grains and add protein and healthy fats like eggs, natural yoghurt, nuts and seeds.
A piece of toast and a bowl of cheerios won’t see you through until lunchtime.
3) Eliminate or replace sugary snacks
Aim to eat 3 satisfying meals that will sustain you.
If you are hungry between meals (check that it isn’t actually thirst or boredom) then remember to include protein with your snack - an apple with some nut butter, an oatcake with cottage cheese or hummus and veg sticks. That way you’ll avoid the sugar peaks and troughs.
4) Stay hydrated
Aim to drink 2 litres of water and herbal tea per day.
Water helps your body absorb nutrients and it helps to prevent constipation, which can make you feel sluggish.
5) Limit caffeine and avoid it after lunchtime
Caffeine acts as a stimulant and triggers the release of cortisol, which in turn releases sugar into the blood stream – so we’re back on that rollercoaster again.
It also stays in your system for a long time. With a half-life of 6 hours that 3pm cup of coffee will still be sloshing around your system until long after you go to bed and try to fall asleep.
6) Get moving
Yes, believe it or not doing some exercise will help you feel more energised.
When your body becomes more active, internal mechanisms like metabolism and blood flow speed up.
7) Manage your stress
Whilst that might sound easier said than done there are some simple exercises that can help reduce your stress levels and calm your mind.
Start with some simple breathing exercises for a few minutes at a time during the day:
- Box-breathing – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 and hold for 4. Repeat for 4 cycles.
- 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8.