Story by SANDRA S. SORIA
Q: Like most people, I feel like I could use more energy. In general what are the best ways we can fuel our days?
A: Good nights make for good days, so one of the first places to look is how well you are sleeping. If you wake up already feeling tired, you’re going to be looking for quick fuel—caffeine, sugar—all day long. Many people struggle with non-restorative sleep. If this is a chronic problem for you, make sure you to talk to your health care provider to see if a formal sleep study is appropriate.
Q: Getting restorative sleep is one thing, getting to sleep in the first place is another. Any ideas for turning off the brain when I turn off the light?
A: Our days and nights are regulated by our internal circadian clocks. If you find it hard to fall asleep, lying in bed until after midnight every night, you might want to try taking melatonin one to two hours before your desired bedtime. That means taking it at 8 or 9 p.m.if you want to be asleep by 10 p.m.
Q: Melatonin is a hot topic right now, how does it work?
A: Melatonin cues the body that it’s dark. Humans are typically active during the day. When darkness falls, melatonin is secreted, our body temperature begins to fall, and we start to feel sleepy. Because of modern technology—lights, computers, and televisions that emit blue light—we delay darkness, which can disrupt our biological clock. Use blue light blocking glasses at night, set computers and tablets for nighttime use, make your bedroom cool and dark, etc. Melatonin is most effective for this type of delayed sleep pattern.
Q: Are there other natural remedies to help us nod off?
A: Some people have what I call the wired and tired kind of sleep problem. By that I mean, at 6 p.m. you’re dragging and so tired you can hardly think but by 9 p.m. when you land in bed, your eyes pop open and you’re wide awake. It’s like getting your second wind right when you want to fall asleep. is can be the result of your cortisol levels being higher than they normally should be, often as the result of persistent stress. Normally, cortisol peaks about 30 to 45 minutes after you wake up in the morning, and then slowly goes down throughout the day.
Q: That sounds frustratingly familiar. What’s the answer for that?
A: Well, typically not melatonin. I generally recommend ashwagandha, an adaptogen that helps your body adapt to stress, lowering evening cortisol levels over time and helping you fall asleep naturally. Many patients have told me that after taking ashwagandha for a few weeks, they were sleeping better than they’d slept in a long time.
Q: Those are good recommendations because I feel like I get in a vicious cycle of relying on caffeine to get me through the day, and then that doesn’t help me at night.
A: Unfortunately, a lot of people live on starter fuel. A couple of cups of coffee can be useful in the morning but caffeine has a relatively long half-life, so limit its use to before noon. The other popular starter fuel is sugar. Sugar, in its many forms, elevates blood sugar, making you feel more energetic, unfortunately, it doesn’t last. Many people get stuck on the roller coaster of feeling tired, filling up with sugary carbs, feeling more energy, crashing, feeling tired, filling up with sugary carbs, etc.
Q: So, how do we stop that roller coaster? Because I’d love to get off.
A: Cut way back on highly processed, nutruent-depleted carbs and added sugars. Focus on the complex carbs found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Eat some protein and fat with every meal. Avocados, nuts and seeds, eggs, and Greek yogurt are a few healthy choices. Eat a lighter lunch if you typically feel tired in the afternoon. And drink lots of water. Stay hydrated!!! Even mild dehydration can increase your feelings of fatigue.
Q: Ok, so more sleep, less sugar…what else will boost my energy?
A: There are basically four pillars for energy. Besides sleep and nutrition, there is exercise. A fit body is simply more efficient with its fuel. And you want to ensure you’re covered when it comes to any micronutrient gaps that might be in your diet—for most of us, a multivitamin is a good idea.
Q: Why are supplements so important—shouldn’t I get everything I need through diet?
A: It would be great if you could get everything you need in your diet and you should strive to do so. But some nutrients, like vitamin D are hard to get in the diet. And vitamin B12 is hard to absorb from food as we age. Many medications can interfere with our ability to absorb or use key nutrients. Oral contraceptives cause B6 levels to plummet, for instance. The B-vitamin family plays a key role in converting the food we eat into the energy our bodies can use, so being low in any of them can leave us feeling tired. Vitamin C—which you chew through when you’re stressed—is needed to make L-carnitine, which allows the body to use fat for fuel. Fatigue and irritability are two of the first signs of low vitamin C. Another nutrient that can impact energy is iron, something that affects far more women than most people realize.
Q: So, if I pop a multivitamin I’m good?
A: Make sure you look for the multivitamin that’s right for you. If you are pregnant or a menstruating female, you should take a multivitamin that contains iron. But if your multi contains iron, it shouldn’t be loaded in calcium or magnesium, which block the absorption of iron. That’s why I formulated MegaFood Multi for Women, with iron and without calcium and magnesium. You take these separately, at least two hours apart from your iron. If you are over 50 years of age, your multi should be higher in vitamin B12 to compensate for the body’s declining ability to absorb it from food. In other words, look for a well-crafted, quality multivitamin that meets your particular needs.
Q: What about that final pillar—exercise. What is the best way to exercise that actually increases your energy, which seems kind of counterintuitive?
A: The more fit your body, the more resilient it is to stress and better it’s able to burn fuel. Moderate intensity exercise improves fatigue in most people within just four weeks. Find what you love. Play tennis, ride your bike, go for a hike, take a yoga class. Get a fitness tracker. Walk seven to ten thousand steps per day most days of the week. If you can walk outdoors, that’s even better. Studies show that people get additional mental health benefits when walking or exercising outside, compared to in a gym. But however and wherever you can increase your movement—do it. Being physically active isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.
Q: This might seem like a lame excuse, so to speak, but I have chronic inflammation which makes exercise difficult sometimes.
A. I understand. Before I had my hip replacement in 2006, it was becoming increasingly painful to walk any distance. I had to exercise in a swimming pool and use an elliptical. I had the hip replacement done so that I could re- main physically active, which I am now able to do. I also watch my weight. Being overweight dramatically increases the risk of knee arthritis, while weight loss can improve the pain. Add more anti-inflammatories to your diet. I love cooking with turmeric and drinking golden milk. Turmeric supplements can be helpful for those trying to improve their mobility by lowering inflammation and increasing function.
Q: And turmeric will help? That seems like a miracle pill!
A: Nature is miraculous. There are many compounds in foods, spices, and culinary herbs that can turn down the fires of inflammation in our bodies. Excess inflammation in the body will eventually deplete your body’s resources. Turmeric is a powerhouse when it comes to inflammation and can be a great addition to the diet or lifestyle through supplementation. So, if you are looking for more energy start with the basics—regular physical activity, restorative sleep, a minimally processed, low-glycemic-load diet with adequate fat and protein, and a quality multivitamin that is suited to your life stage. If you’re doing all these things and still feel tired, make sure you talk to your health care professional.
Learn more about Dr. Low Dog—including her online courses or visiting Medicine Lodge Ranch—at drlowdog.com.