We’re in an energy crisis — and we’re not talking about the oil supply. According to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation, 84% of us experience sleepiness when it’s not time for bed. And for nearly half of us, that tired feeling happens between three and seven days a week. Along with sleeping the recommended hours a night, here are seven ways you can boost your energy.
Spend some time outside
There’s growing research that getting outside can give your energy levels a much-needed boost by helping you relax and lower stress. After time in nature, physical markers of stress, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, improve, which helps you feel more awake. In studies , people report feeling refreshed after as little as 10 minutes in an outdoor setting. So, it doesn’t take much. But it’s helpful to get outside regularly. Research on 20,000 people found that the benefits are tied to a dose of two hours per week, so aim to get out consistently, whether for a walk or to sit on a park bench.
And get some morning sunshine
You’ll score extra energy points by clocking some of your outdoor time in the morning hours. Your body has a sophisticated internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm , and morning sunshine helps calibrate this system. Sunshine sends signals to your brain to slow the production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, giving you the message to wake up. And when melatonin production winds down, you’ll produce more feel-good chemical messengers, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Plus, morning sunlight has been tied to falling asleep faster and better sleep quality, which equates to better energy throughout the day.
Eat a nutritious, plant-filled diet
You’re familiar with the advice to eat more fruits and veggies, but did you know your energy relies on a plant-heavy diet? According to a 2019 review, plant-based eaters experience less low-level, body-wide inflammation that can drain energy levels. So, strive to make 75% of your plate a mix of plant-based foods, including whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses, in addition to produce.
Limit added sugars
Don’t be swayed by falsehoods suggesting that sugar can perk you up. It’s nearly impossible to have optimal energy if you’re eating a sugary diet. And the average adult consumes 17 teaspoons per day —significantly more than the recommended six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men. All that sugar sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride, making you feel less energetic. Sugar also promotes inflammation, another energy drainer. And it’s been shown to disrupt your sleep, an obvious reason for lagging energy. In case you need more convincing, when researchers analyzed 31 studies on sugar and energy levels, they found people felt more fatigued within 30 minutes of having something sugary.
So, take steps to lower the added sugar in your diet. For starters, limit sugary drinks, including soda, and coffee and tea with sugar added. And reduce how often you eat cookies, cake, ice cream, and other sweets. If you like to eat dessert regularly, consider smaller portions.
The negative symptoms of insufficient fluid intake become apparent when you’re taking in just 2% less than needed. Even at low levels of dehydration, like this, you’ll feel fatigued and may experience confusion and irritability. That’s why it’s so important to stay hydrated, and water is the ideal fluid. In one study among healthy women in their early 20s, regularly drinking a low amount of water was associated with negative mood states, including fatigue, while regularly drinking adequate or high amounts was associated with positive mood states, including vigor. So, when you want to optimize your mood and energy, head to the faucet instead of the coffee pot.
Keep stress under control
Your stress response, also called the fight or flight response, occurs when your body dials up certain hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help you deal with a crisis. Rachel L. Goldman, a psychologist in private practice in New York City and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, points out that stress quickly depletes our energy. She explained that when you’re in this mode, your body needs to conserve energy to "survive" and that increased stress can interfere with sleep, so it’s the perfect storm for exhaustion. “When we have less on our plate or are less stressed, we have more energy to use because our body isn’t using the energy in other ways,” she said.
Since you can’t control every curveball life throws at you, make sure you have tools to help you cope with the stress that comes your way. Exercise, deep breathing or meditation, and therapy are helpful and healthy strategies.
Relationships can be draining and stressful, so be mindful of who you surround yourself with. Choose people that lift you up and don’t sap your energy.
Rachel L. Goldman, CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Spend time with a friend
When you feel disconnected from your friends or loved ones, it can trigger the stress response, leaving you feeling depleted, Goldman explained. “Friends, and feeling supported by others, are important for many reasons, but one reason, in particular, is that friendships activate the part of your brain that makes you feel good,” she said. Goldman said that being with friends reduces the stress hormone cortisol while also increasing the happy hormone dopamine. But, she added, it’s not necessary to have numerous friends. Instead, she suggests being cautious about surrounding yourself with just anyone. “Relationships can be draining and stressful, so be mindful of who you surround yourself with. Choose people that lift you up and don’t sap your energy.”