Feeling tired? You’re not alone. Fatigue is as common as breathing for millions of Americans. And when it comes to figuring out the source — good luck! Tiredness can be a symptom of so many different ailments that some spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to track down a cause. The good news: Identifying when you’re most tired can help pinpoint the reason, as well as the solution — for pennies!
Sleepy after lunch?
One in three women fight heavy eyelids after the midday meal. The reason? This is the time that the body’s energy engines (mitochondria) slow the conversion of calories into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your cells’ main form of energy. The result: afternoon sleepy spells. But you can reduce post-lunch fatigue by as much as 67 percent by adding 3 ounces of protein (like tuna, chicken, cheese, or eggs) to your meal, say Canadian scientists. That’s because protein kick-starts the mitochondrial genes that produce ATP, preventing energy lulls so you stay invigorated all afternoon.
Your pineal gland is responsible for the production and secretion of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin — and it is supposed to produce plenty of the hormone at night, and virtually none of it during the day, observes Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. “But it can easily get confused — by changes in your sleep schedule or sun exposure, for example — and start churning out melatonin midday, making you suddenly feel groggy.” The simple solution? Amping up your
sensory input by doing things like listening to music, flicking on more lights in the house, or opening the blinds to let more sun in. These simple strategies remind the pineal gland that bedtime is a long way off, which forces it to dial down melatonin output in as little as 20 minutes.
Your brain needs a burst of B vitamins to kick-start its morning production of the energizing brain chemical dopamine. No wonder British researchers say B vitamin shortfalls double your risk of feeling foggy, unfocused and sluggish! Taking a basic B-complex vitamin (like Life Extension BioActive Complete B-Complex) with a vitamin B–rich breakfast of eggs can quickly boost B stores, increasing morning energy and productivity by 58 percent. Also smart: Season your eggs with a half teaspoon of salt. Sodium in salt helps the body correct overnight dehydration to boost energy levels for up to four hours at a stretch.
Tired all day?
The number one cause of all-day fatigue: poor sleep. Thankfully, the easy fix to better sleep is available at your drugstore for as little as three cents a night: the antihistamine doxylamine. Originally developed to ease allergies, this over-the-counter medicine was such an effective sleep-enhancer that “eventually drug companies started using it as a sleep aid in nighttime pain relievers and cold medications,” says pharmacologist Joe Graedon. Now doxylamine is available on its own in Unisom SleepTabs (Buy at Walgreens, $18.49). Take 10 mg. to 15 mg. nightly (half a tablet), and you could drift off 20 minutes faster and cut middle-of-the-night awakenings by as much as 50 percent.
Doze off after dinner?
Ozone levels are low in the morning and rise throughout the day, peaking around 6pm. This air pollutant can irritate the tissues lining your lungs, hindering oxygen uptake and triggering dinnertime fatigue. To keep your ozone-level exposure low, decorate rooms that you frequent most with plants such as Boston ferns or English ivy. NASA scientists say these natural air purifiers quickly mop up fatigue-triggering pollutants from the environment, so you don’t feel groggy too early.
Wake up tired?
Stress overload taxes the adrenal glands, leading to early morning lulls in cortisol production, says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health (Buy on Amazon, $16.84). “Cortisol is damaging in high doses, but a slow trickle is necessary to chase away morning fatigue.” To keep the cortisol flowing, start your day with a two-minute DIY neck massage. Studies show that rubbing the pressure-sensitive nerves in the neck sends messages to the brain that trigger low-level cortisol production. To do: Before getting out of bed, massage your neck using a firm but gentle circular motion, paying extra attention to the base of your skull.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Save on Healthcare (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).