Where did my energy go?

Energy is probably the thing most asked for in my clinic, 9/10 people have reduced energy levels and are struggling in some way having enough of it. Our society has an energy deficit by the looks of things, and energising people is becoming a big part of what I do.

Years ago I remember going to a gig by The Sundays and sleeping standing up all the way through it, I woke just as they finished, I never really liked them anyway so I wasn’t so bothered by it. But even in my early 20’s I was having big problems with fatigue, and although I’ve never since seen any one else sleep through a gig, I know I’m not the only one at that age having fatigue issues.

The BMJ last year had a piece of research showing how 1 in 100 school children were suffering from chronic fatigue type symptoms, an astonishing amount, and the doctors said in that article that they have few tools to effectively deal with it.

In college I would sleep through lectures and fall asleep on the radiator, I’m not sure if my lecturers were really that boring, I partied but not that much, but I did also work night shifts. I know by that stage I was starting to have ME type symptoms which over time became worse until with the chronic fatigue I experienced sleeping became the only thing I could do.

Research shows that 1 in 5 of us are increasingly experiencing heightened levels of fatigue, and reduced levels of energy. In fact it’s got so bad that employers know this is a workplace hazard that they have to manage because it’s not only a performance issue it’s a health and safety one too. With energy having an effect on reaction times, research shows that those people who have had less than 5 hours of sleep and have been then awake for 16 hours, are the most likely to make mistakes, Most interestingly the Health and Safety executive actually have a fatigue index, set up for monitoring shift workers mostly, but in the last few years shift working has been linked with other wider health issues including breast cancer, so ignoring just these small signs on the dashboard of your body from my perspective isn’t constructive if you want good health.

Then other indicators of our energy deficit are the increasing sales of energy drinks, that are now even consumed by children and are clearly being targeted at them. Last year a friend’s daughter had a pink lemonade made by Lucozade, what followed was a child that kept saying she felt different and had dilated pupils, she couldn’t articulate her experience, so we looked at the ingredients and caffeine was one of them, in a drink most obviously marketed to children. Astonishing really, but the sales of these drinks has increased year on year recently, with Red Bull still leading the field, the industry shows how normal fizzy drink sales are dropping as these energy drinks are rising in sales. A worrying trend but one that is clearly showing how energy is much sought after, and if it’s not via the stimulant caffeine, look at the explosion of coffee shops in the last few years, and the increase in sizes of the coffee hit you can get, then it’s now with these energy drinks, which are more focused on the younger age group. The sales of these drinks continues despite the media outlining how some of them are creating heart palpitations, and health issues, and giving children these drinks will inevitably have a long term affect on their health. The irony is that these drinks lead to long term tiredness and exhaustion, so it’s a no win situation in the end. But the search is for energy that is now missing and understanding why is the key to not needing these drinks in the long run.

The rhythms of the body have highs and lows throughout the day, you probably know when they happen, you are drawn to having that sneaky biscuit, carby or sugary treat, hot chocolate or coffee at about 11am and 3-4pm in the afternoon. Your concentration wanes, and focus is then on having some form of stimulant, and you start to feel both mentally and physically fatigued. For some by 4pm you just want to sleep and struggle to stay awake, we’ve all seen people on the train sleeping on the way home if this was a manual job they were doing you could understand it, but mostly we are sitting around in sedentary jobs now, so shouldn’t be experiencing the levels of fatigue that so many are.

So take yourself back a few decades, and consider firstly how the pace of life has changed so rapidly, particularly due to the change in communications that has happened. How many letters and phone calls did you get back then to deal with in comparison to emails, newsletters, webinars, texts, phone messages, instant chat messages, Skype calls, Facebook messages, Tweets, DM’s, Instagrams, forums, and the rest I’m not even going to try and mention that you get now. It never stops does it, in fact if you have a big group of Facebook friends you could spend your day on Facebook and never get through all the information that is now available.

So it’s all become a bit overwhelming from everyone’s perspective, as has the pace of expected response, when you are on these mediums everyone now expects a response immediately. A potential client wrote to me a few months ago explaining that they had contacted me by personal message on Facebook and I hadn’t responded, oh god I thought, I had forgotten to check that as well!!!! I didn’t realise at that point that I could get personal messages on that medium, but also I have no real idea how in the end I will field responses from all these sources. I can’t imagine I’m the only one feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that can arrive via emails, different devices, and ways of interacting with people there now is available. Never mind finding the time to do the work itself!

Are you still wondering why we are tired all the time?

Lot’s of us are also trying to cram as much as possible into our days; shopping, commuting for lengthy periods, multiple meetings, working, studying for the next qualification, taking the kids to the different after school things that are now happening, watching TV or playing computer games, and most people work more hours than they are contracted for, over delivering to perform well for their employer. We mostly have very full days, much fuller than we used to have, with less relaxation time, often my younger clients feel that relaxation time is a waste of time, in fact one of the kids said to me the other day how they had the rest of their life to sleep, because there is now so much to do. I probably felt the same at their age as well, but age and knowledge allows me to understand that relaxation and recuperation is important part of our overall wellbeing and that cramming less in now can be more fulfilling than life has ever been.

Stress is also a factor that is not only a daily issue now but for some a continual issue due to how stressful their jobs are. We start this stress accumulating from childhood with our testing of children throughout schooling, not just at exam time, the pressures on children have increased considerably in the last few years. But I find that many are now in jobs with stress levels that are high all the time, the pressures almost impossible for some to deal effectively with. Our lives have become very high in stressful things!

The use of mobile devices has also increased leaving us connected and wired in all the time, and it’s increasingly being shown to now impact on sleeping patterns, focus and concentration, originally you would hear the odd person who said they stayed up very late into the wee hours of the morning watching films and TV all night. But I hear of more people staying up later, talking to friends, interacting, posting pictures, playing games, reading on their devices, working late night on projects that need finishing and watching films etc on them. Research is showing that children who are using devices more in the day are having performance issues, as well as sleeping issues. Mobile devices are impacting on health, the back lighting of them affects the circadian rhythm of the body, and the light artificially keeps the body awake. The light switches off melatonin production, which will then impair sleep and the quality of sleep. This then knocks on with eating patterns and hormones, digestive issues tend to be higher in these people, because they are eating later, and the food isn’t digesting in the stomach or intestines over night. Which then has an impact on their weight, never mind feeling lethargic the next day due to not sleeping long enough and having restless sleep because their digestion is keeping them awake. This isn’t even going into the fact that the WHO classified mobile device radiation as a carcinogen! But unlimited access for children of these devices is leading to sleep deprivation research has shown, and I think now for many adults too this is an issue, with addiction to keeping connected growing.

Distracted potentially by the never ending alerts it’s hard to ignore for many now, and this distraction in itself changes focus away from what you are doing, leaving you effectively multitasking. Multitasking is tiring, and many of us do it all the time, single focus in work and life is almost impossible without cutting yourself off completely and telling everyone around you not to disturb you.

Coming back to the circadian rhythm for a minute though, a lot of people now travel extensively with work, often getting up early to travel, then regularly across time zones, and this is having an impact on the biological rhythms of the body. The body clock is one that is being changed now regularly by some people with no concept that it’s having a long term knock on effect with their health.

Diet has a big part to plan in fatigue of course, as does hydration which as many of you know goes without saying. If your body is dehydrated then you are going to be tired, because your body is going to struggle to function effectively.

Diet has a big impact as you can imagine on cellular energy systems as well as mitochondria functioning. We need the right food in balance to give us energy, then the body functions and systems need to be able to transport it effectively through the body, efficiently burn it, and efficiently store it for when we need it in the future. The amazing part of this is how the body needs to be able to adapt for when it’s fasting at night for instance, so the changing fluctuations of nutrients that are available. The balance that is happening between what is available and what is stored, and what is being used up is constantly changing and the body has to be able to adapt to this, including the ability to adapt to different fueling sources. In our society it’s not a problem getting the fuel, it’s often the type of fuel that we are eating that is the issue, which then impacts on our wider ability to utilise it, if the systems are not working due to not eating the right nutrients then there is problem releasing this food out of storage into the blood stream. So diet plays a massive part in this, and of course when energy drops you want to spend less time preparing healthy foods which feed the systems correctly, but this is the time when it’s needed most. But of course it’s less likely to happen, and the knock on effect of processed foods then leads to less nutrition, which is how the deficiencies happen. This then increases the body’s needs for energy, it searches for it, and we end up eating more carbohydrate foods, processed foods, ones which give fast energy, as well as high in sugar and fats, all those foods that we know we shouldn’t be eating but just can’t seem to stop ourselves eating the whole packet of once we’ve opened it. The body is working in the way it’s meant to, it’s trying to resolve it’s energy reserves and build them up, as well as provide energy at this very minute. But you end up over eating.

Allergies and intolerances can play a big part in energy issues, the inflammation they cause is tiring for the body to deal with, and the increased processed sugary foods, and the reduction in key nutrients that help with digestion lead to an increase in intolerances happening. They change the microbiome of the intestine, and the bacteria that is so needed. When I see people tired and needing energy I know they will tell me they are increasingly having bloating and other digestive issues, which then leads to the inevitable weight issues.

This shows that energy is a multi issue and so resolving it needs to have all areas considered to resolve it fully. Diet, lifestyle and work life balance all have to be addressed.


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