Lacking Energy? Consider What May Be Draining You

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By Jessica Hamlin

Tired. We’ve all felt it.

Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint why we lack energy and sometimes it seems we’re doing everything “right” and still feel worn out.

Or maybe you think you feel okay on energy but need several cups of coffee or other caffeine to function.

What’s the deal?

Note: If you feel constantly tired it may be a sign of a more serious condition (or you may be a new mom). Best to talk to a functional medicine doctor.

Here are just a few reasons why you may feel drained. Really consider each one as you read it and think about if it is a part of your life and if so, how much.

Lack of Sleep

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This reason seems obvious, but more than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we lay awake as our minds race, scroll through Instagram into the wee hours or watch just one more episode of a show we love on Netflix.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults aged 18–60 years sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being. And a leading sleep expert says that in general, women need 20 minutes more sleep than men.

Sleeping less than seven hours per day is also associated with:

  • Increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Frequent mental distress

Do you feel rested when you wake up in the morning?

Not Enough Water

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The average adult should have at least 8 cups of water, sometimes more. The Institute of Medicine even recommends 9 cups of water per day for women and 13 cups of water per day for men.

Even if we think we are drinking enough, we can also get dehydrated through exercise, caffeine, alcohol, salty foods, and more.

How much filtered water are you getting in a day? Do you partake in any of the above that may cause your body to need more water?

Here are 10 easy ways to drink more water.

Lack of Fueling Food

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Are you loading up on refined, simple carbs and sugar like cereal, fruit juice, pastries, white potatoes and rice that may give you a high but make you crash later? Or are salty foods or foods generally devoid of nutrition your go-to? If that’s the case, your body isn’t getting fueled properly. And just like our car needs gas—or electricity, if you’re fancy and have a Tesla—our body needs the proper fuel.

Vitamin/Mineral Deficiency

Vitamins and minerals are at the heart of fueling our bodies with good food (or quality supplements). When we don’t get enough essential vitamins and minerals, we can feel tired or like we’ve “run out of gas.”

Common vitamin and mineral deficiencies that affect energy are: Iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and folic acid.

Diets that restrict whole food groups, haphazard meal cutting, and even menstruation can leave you lacking what you need.

To confirm a vitamin or mineral deficiency, ask a health professional about getting a blood test.

Too Much Caffeine

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Attention, lovers of coffee and even coffee-free energy boosts.

Yes, there is such a thing as too much caffeine. The very substance many of us have regularly has a downside too.

If you tend to hit an afternoon slump or feel tired a while after having coffee, soda or something else caffeinated, you may be having too much or relying too much on caffeine. Other signs of having too much caffeine include heartburn, feeling anxious and not being able to sleep, which we’ve already mentioned is vital to keeping that energy up.

Not Enough Exercise

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Sometimes the last thing you want to do when you’re tired is exercise. But any movement is better than no movement and moving your body sooner rather than later can help prevent that energy slump in the first place.

During exercise, the levels of energy-promoting and mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in our brain such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin increase, a University of Georgia researcher noted.

An analysis of 70 randomized, controlled trials that enrolled a total of 6,807 subjects found: “More than 90 percent of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise.” Exercise in these cases was even more effective than anti-narcolepsy drugs.

In other words, exercise equals energy.

This doesn’t mean you need to run a marathon or start lifting weights every day. Listen to your body, start small, talk to a professional and do what works for you. Even taking a 30 minute walk a day has benefits.

How much are you moving in a day? If you work at a desk or sit most of the day, are you getting up once an hour to stretch and walk around a bit?

Doing Too Much

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“Work hard, play hard” is a motto some people like to live by. Supporting yourself and having fun are important but sometimes that leads to a packed schedule with little room for real down time to slow down, check in with ourselves and not be constantly stimulated.

If you’re working overtime or after work your nights or weekends are filled with happy hours, parties and activities, it may be time to say “no” to some things—even fun things—for the sake of your energy and sanity. Social media and FOMO make it easy to want to do all the things, but if you’re left tired a lot of times, that means your schedule may be burning you out, not fulfilling you. Look at your schedule and ask yourself: How much free time do I have? What’s most important to me?


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Stress can have many causes and effects, one of them being less energy.

When a stressful event occurs, our body goes into fight-or-flight response:

“Our body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which trigger a higher heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness - all these factors help us protect ourselves in a dangerous or challenging situation.”

But when we are in this fight-or-flight mode often, it can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies.

We may feel tired and in some cases stress can also lead to back pain, heart disease, lower immunity and many more issues.

If we’ve dealt with stress for a while we may not recognize it anymore or think it’s normal. Money troubles, toxic work environment, difficult relationships, overworking, a traumatic event, major life change, and health issues are just some of the things that can cause stress. And if we’re not doing some of the other things we’ve mentioned, like sleep enough, exercise and fuel our bodies well, the stress can impact us even worse. In some cases, people dealing with stress may self-medicate with food, drugs or alcohol or not sleep or eat enough.

Think of what’s happening in your life. Are you giving a large amount of time and energy to certain people or situations that may be stressing you out? Are you working long hours? Do you feel you get enough sleep and down time to feel replenished? Are you eating more or using drugs and alcohol to escape something? What else could be making you feel stressed?

Stay Tuned

Did any (or maybe several) of these reasons you may lack energy ring a bell? If so, good news: Recognizing what may be the problem will help bring you one step closer to dealing with it.

On that note, stay tuned for more in our energy series about energizing foods and practices, evaluating your vitamin needs and more.

What’s your go-to pick-me-up when you feel low on energy? Vote in our poll below!

(Thumbnail Photo: Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash)

Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.   


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