With long nights and chilly temperatures, it’s easy to feel rundown in the winter. Rather than heeding our natural instinct to slow down, we often spend too much time working and running errands, and don’t pay attention to our physical, mental and emotional needs. Many of us feel tired day-to-day, and when we do, we reach for coffee or soda. While caffeine does provide a temporary boost, it doesn’t address the underlying problems—lack of sleep, adequate exercise and proper nutrition—and can leave us more tired than before. Plus, there’s a chance that too much may elevate blood pressure, induce headaches or encourage jittery withdrawals.
Fight fatigue by restoring your energy supply with one of these natural energy boosters. From herbs and supplements to aromatherapy, these natural solutions can energize your mind and body, leaving you rejuvenated and alert to meet the day.
Get Enough Sleep
First, make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Most adults require seven to eight hours a night, although some may need as few as five and others as many as 10. Humans don’t adapt to getting less sleep than we need, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although we may get used to sleep deprivation, it still impairs our judgment, reaction time and other mental functions. “Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you probably have severe sleep deprivation,” the NIH reports. Studies show adequate sleep is “tied to better metabolic control, memory, learning and emotional functioning,” according to Psychology Today. New studies also suggest ties between sleep and creativity, and between sleep deprivation and obesity and depression. To get the sleep you need, turn down lights and avoid television and computer screens in the evening. Many people find a nightly routine helps them settle soundly into sleep. And take naps—in several studies, napping has been shown to improve memory, learning ability and motor skills.
Natural Light and Exercise
Long before alarm clocks, the morning sun was our ancestors’ cue to wake up: Light triggers the release of stimulating chemicals in our brains. Get a morning dose of sun with a brisk walk. If you work indoors, make an effort to go outside for at least one (ideally two or three) 10- to 15-minute walk during the workday. For many of us, the short winter days leave few daylight hours before and after work, so it’s especially important to get outside during the workday at this time of year.
Exercise is one of the best natural energy boosters. Movement stimulates blood flow, which helps us feel awake. Along with increasing our levels of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, studies show that exercise reduces general fatigue in nearly every group, from healthy adults to those with chronic diseases. In fact, in a review of more than 6,000 individuals in 70 randomized studies, researchers at the University of Georgia Exercise Psychology Laboratory found that exercise had a stronger effect on drowsiness than the narcolepsy drug modafinil. And don’t hesitate to explain to your boss why you need a long walk or a trip to the gym at noon: Researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University found that exercising around lunchtime leads to a more productive workday.
Food and Supplements
Food is how we energize our bodies, and hundreds of books and studies have been written on diet and energy. Ultimately, most of them offer the same general advice: Eat lots of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, nonstarchy vegetables, herbs and healthy fats. Our bodies burn these foods slowly, so they provide energy over time rather than burning fast with a spike of energy followed by a crash, as simple carbohydrates and sugars do. If you get low on energy throughout the day, eat snacks at midmorning and midafternoon, or eat five small meals throughout the day. Eat with “energy efficiency” in mind—you’re aiming to provide your body with a steady supply of slow-burning energy throughout the day, so never skip a meal and never eat beyond the point of fullness.
Although ingesting a range of vitamins and minerals is vital to overall health and energy, a couple of nutrients are key to high energy levels. Our cells produce coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to help convert food into energy, but as we age our bodies produce less of it, which may make us feel tired. If you have a healthy diet and are still battling fatigue, try taking a 100 milligram CoQ10 supplement two or three times daily. Keep in mind that it may take up to two months to see effects.
B vitamins are also essential for breaking down carbohydrates into glucose, which provides us with energy. Although they are found in abundance in most healthy diets, B vitamins are water-soluble, which means our bodies flush them out with water waste. Supplementing your diet with 50 milligrams of B vitamins twice a day may help combat fatigue.
Our skin naturally converts UVB energy into vitamin D—which may be vital for boosting energy levels, according to a new study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. In dark winter months, when sunlight is not as available, it may be helpful to supplement your diet with vitamin D tablets. (The Institute of Medicine recommends a dietary intake of 600 IU per day.) Vitamin D is also abundant in some fish and fortified milk.
As always, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Use Stimulating Scents
Feeling down? Try the scent of citrus fruits, which boosts production of happy-hormone serotonin and reduces levels of stress-hormone norepinephrine. Start your day with natural energy boosters such as citrus shampoos and soaps or, for a pick-me-up at work, add a drop of essential oil to a cotton ball or handkerchief. The smell of peppermint also stimulates the mind. Try a cup of peppermint tea when you need to think clearly.
Herbs for Energy
Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat exhaustion and anxiety.
Dose: 300 to 500 milligrams extract daily
Notes: Results may take three to four weeks
Astragulus was used in ancient Chinese medicine to treat physical exhaustion and fatigue.
Dose: 500 milligrams two or three times daily
Notes: Commonly used in conjunction with ginseng
Ginseng provides energy and increases focus.
Dose: 100 milligrams of standardized extract daily
Notes: Avoid if you have high blood pressure
Licorice boosts energy and stimulates the body’s adrenal glands, which regulate metabolism.
Dose: 1 ½ grams of licorice root once or twice a day
Notes: Avoid if you have hypertension or heart or liver disease and if you are pregnant
More Lifestyle Tips
Keep to the beat: Listening to upbeat music for 10 minutes is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get an extra jolt of energy, second only to exercise, according to a study published in Athletic Insight.
Chat it up: Surrounding ourselves with positive people who keep our spirits high has a strong effect on our happiness, for extroverts and introverts alike. If you’re feeling rundown, call a close friend for a quick chat or simply circulate around the office to exchange pleasantries.
Wake up with water: Using hot and cold water, hydrotherapy may boost energy by improving blood flow—cold water contracts blood vessels and pushes blood away from the surface of the body, while hot water expands blood vessels and draws blood to the surface. Enjoy a hot, relaxing shower or bath and follow up with a cold rinse to boost energy.