Between holding down a full-time job, squeezing in a workout, and scheduling happy hours into every leftover opening in your day -- being a semi-functional adult is exhausting. Even if you’re getting enough sleep, feeling your energy drain throughout the day is totally common. It’s also totally avoidable. We talked to three health experts who shared their best tips on staying energized from your morning coffee to your Sleepytime tea -- and you won’t have to change too much to work them into your routine. So, if like the rest of us, you’re ready to get through a workday without a nap in the supply closet, read on:
Get some sun (or any other type of light) as soon as you wake up
Before we mortals invented the 60-minute hour, we depended on the giant ball of fire in the sky to keep time. Because of that, natural sunlight in the morning jumpstarts your internal clock, making you feel more awake and ready to start the day. But don’t trust us, trust Rebecca Scott, PhD, sleep specialist and research assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center--Sleep Center. She says about 10 to 15 minutes of natural light within two hours of waking up will help ward off early-morning grogginess and keep you feeling more awake throughout the day.
If you’re getting up so early that getting sunshine isn’t possible (or it’s so dark and gloomy out you want to hide under the covers) flipping on all the lights in your place can mimic the same effect.
Do some sort of physical activity in the morning
If you exercise regularly, doing that daily workout in the morning leads to more energy throughout the day and better sleep at night, according to a study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. (Plus, no more bailing on your workouts after a seven-meeting work day.)
Dr. Jennifer Haythe, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, adds that working out in the morning, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, can help improve your focus, concentration, and reduce stress. “Harness those benefits early on in your day and you will feel brighter and calmer throughout your work day,” she says. Don’t know where to start? A few yoga poses could be enough to boost your mood, while high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions are typically shorter than an episode of Archer and pack a serious punch.
There’s no shortage of HIIT exercises you can do to blast your blood sugar back into circulation, but since it’s morning, focus on a total-body circuit to get energized. Compound movements -- particularly bodyweight -- like pull-ups, push-ups, rows, and squats will give your body a wake-up call, while a high-speed Tabata track of lateral slides and mountain climbers can get the blood pumping.
Keep breakfast light on the carbs
If you want to avoid feeling tired at your desk (or cracking into your lunch before noon), Dr. Haythe says breakfast should be a protein-packed affair. Besides making you feel full longer, opting for some eggs over a donut will mean you’ll be able to run circles around the fools who munched on Cap’n Crunch. “Carbs spike your blood sugar levels which is often followed by fatigue and lethargy,” Dr. Haythe says. So, nix the bagels and croissants for a poached egg over arugula, or hard-boiled eggs if you’re running late. Along with ditching the carbs, she also suggests steering clear of sugar-ridden energy drinks, sodas, and bottled caffeine drinks: “While you may get an initial boost in energy, the post-sugar crash is NOT worth it,” she says.
Take a cold shower
While just the thought of hopping into even a lukewarm shower when it’s 6 degrees outside is enough to make you shudder, doing so can simulate what happens to your body when you exercise. That means you’ll reap some of those fat-burning, energy-boosting benefits without having to do a single rep. According to a study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, being cold helps your body create the protein FGF21 -- which is involved in the production of good “brown” fat that boosts your metabolism. It also helps burn “white fat,” which is the bad stuff everyone is always trying to lose. (FYI, that’s also what happens when you exercise.) Dr. Haythe warns that you shouldn’t try to freeze yourself for these benefits, though -- so try a cool shower, not an icy one.
If you aren’t ready to jump in that chilly tub, reach for a cold glass of water when you feel a slump in your day, says Dr. Lyssa Menard, a clinical health psychologist and professor at Northwestern University. Your body will work to warm you up, and you’ll stay hydrated.
Eat green stuff for lunch
If you want to feel like you could run a mile at any point in the day, you need to be fueling up on food that will help store energy -- like kale, collard greens, spinach, and other leafy greens. These all contain vitamin K, which can help keep your brain sharp when you’re trying to not fall asleep on your quest to inbox zero. Besides vitamin K, Dr. Scott adds that most of these leafy green veggies are superfoods loaded with phytonutrients -- a.k.a. the things that keep plants healthy and alive. Scott says these are key for feeling more energized: “They are good carbohydrates and won’t make you crash. It will help keep you stable in terms of energy.”
Go outside during the workday
When your chances of catching a glimpse of sunlight conflict with the hours you’re supposed to sit at a desk, it’s easy to feel drained in the middle of the day. Vitamin D is key to feeling energized, and Dr. Scott recommends heading for a quick walk when you need a boost in the afternoon. Not only will it refresh you for your work projects, but you’ll be reminded that it’s still daylight, i.e., not the time to face plant into your desk.
On top of the energy boost, you may actually feel more alive, as University of Rochester researchers found that spending 20 minutes in nature a day helped increase feelings of vitality. Which is... different from energized? Maybe?
Try out some mini-meditation by focusing on a simple task
After you’ve been staring at the same spreadsheet for four hours, you’re going to feel drained. That’s because when you’re groggy at work, it’s normally because you can’t focus or are just plain bored by what you’re doing, says Dr. Menard. To fix it, she suggests just focusing on completing a simple task for about two minutes. It could be looking at a piece of abstract art, making a cup of tea, or brushing your teeth. The trick is to only focus on the task at hand to give your mind a quick boost. Doing so is actually a form of meditation (what Menard calls a “mini” session -- just without the yoga mats and “omming”) -- and University of California researchers have found that meditating can help increase your attention span.
When you feel tired in the afternoon, reach for cinnamon tea
Three pm is hands-down the worst hour of the day. You still have work to do, but you’re exhausted, and you’re starting to daydream about binging four hours of Netflix under two blankets. So, you reach for a cup of coffee or a sugary snack to muddle through. According to Dr. Menard, that’s because your brain knows it will give you the fleeting jolt of energy you need to finish out the day. Instead, she suggests you make a cup of cinnamon tea.
Cinnamon, according to a study by the American Diabetes Association, can mimic the effects of insulin by keeping your blood sugar levels in check. Dr. Menard says it can help manage your sugar craving -- but that doesn’t mean dump it on a sugar-filled, calorie-heavy latte. The caffeine and sugar will leave you crashing well before you make it to happy hour.
Change your perspective while you stretch
The fastest way to get an energy boost is to get your heart pumping, and for better reasons than a quickly-approaching deadline on a last-minute request from your boss. While you can’t exactly go on a 3-mile run in the middle of the workday, taking a quick stretch or exercise break will give you some of the benefits of completing an actual workout. The best ones, Dr. Menard says, are ones that also change your perspective -- literally. Heading into a position like Downward Dog will have you taking things in from a completely different angle. Holding a plank for about 10 seconds, if you have the space, will have a similar effect -- plus the added benefit of a quick core-building exercise.
Anticipate your afternoon slump
There’s a reason why the Spanish invented the afternoon siesta and Google has nap pods in the office. It’s because it is super common to feel tired in the afternoon, says Dr. Scott. Around 1 to 3pm, your body temperature starts to drop, thanks to your brain releasing some melatonin -- a chemical that helps you fall asleep. Because an afternoon nap isn’t really feasible in an American office (again, unless it’s Google), Dr. Scott suggests you start paying attention to when that slump normally hits you, then prepare to counteract it. About a half hour before your keyboard starts to look like the world’s softest pillow, go for a walk, talk to your coworkers, or take a quick stretch. A semi-active, short break will get your body temperature back up and help ward off that looming sleepiness.
Give in and use a standing desk
While you probably have already heard about how sitting all day is slowly killing you, a lot of people have been slow to adopt the standing desk. Why? Because it makes you feel like someone who takes pride in making their own granola and lugs a yoga mat to work. But, embarrassment be damned, Dr. Scott says that making sure you aren’t sedentary all day will help ward off fatigue, and using a standing desk will help you break up your day. Those quick breaks to adjust your desk, change your point of view, and stretch your legs will have you feeling better at the end of the day than if you were to just sit at your desk for eight (LOL, 10) hours. Besides that, new research from Texas A&M suggests it will make you more productive at work, as well as burn calories. Want to know how to use yours without straining your neck or pissing off your coworkers? Read this.
Stop checking your emails after work
The quickest way to toss and turn until 2am? Open an email from your boss with the subject line “FYI, for tomorrow.” Dr. Scott says the blue light your phone emits can trick your brain into thinking it’s daylight, and the social and professional reminders that come through can make it nearly impossible for your brain to actually rest.
Need more proof? Researchers at Michigan State University found that participants who monitored their smartphone for business after 9pm were more likely to sleep poorly and feel less energy at work the next day. Instead, Scott says you should find a routine that tells your brain it’s time for bed, that doesn’t involve checking Facebook. That can be anything from reading a book to watching your favorite show on Netflix, as long as it’s on a TV and not a tablet you’re holding three inches from your face.