Health: Tips for managing fatigue

Worried you’ll nod off after a restless night? Here’s your friendly wake-up call.

By Donna Fleming
Photo: Paul Suesse / Bauersyndication.com.au

Get some light

As soon as you are up and dressed, go outside and soak up some daylight. Natural light resets your body clock, which is likely to be confused thanks to a lack of sleep, and helps to ward off tiredness. If you start to fade later in the day, try spending another 10 minutes outside in the sunlight, as it can give you a boost. A Belgian study found that light affects the areas of the brain involved in paying attention, so you’re more likely to be able to focus if you’ve been exposed to light – even if you are feeling very tired. Sunlight may also be able to help curb drowsiness in the afternoon.

Have a coffee or an energy drink

Caffeine temporarily interferes with the chemical signals of sleepiness sent to our brain, so we feel more alert. But it is important not to have too much or it can end up making things worse, leaving you with symptoms such as the jitters. You shouldn’t have more than two caffeinated drinks a day – one is preferable.
If you are not a coffee drinker or can’t stand energy drinks, try sniffing coffee beans. Korean researchers have found that the aroma of coffee can alter the activity of genes in the brain, reducing the stress associated with being sleep deprived. Don’t have a caffeine hit after 4pm or you may find it difficult to sleep that night.

Drink plenty of water

Being dehydrated can make the signs of tiredness even worse. Water can help prevent headaches and make you less drowsy. Also, having to get up from your desk frequently to go to the loo after drinking lots of water is a good way to stop you dozing off!

Have a light, healthy lunch

If you are extremely tired, resist the temptation to eat a carb-laden lunch – stodgy food will make you even more tired. Salads with plenty of vegetables and protein will help you feel much more alert.

Say no to afternoon tea

When we’re tired, many of us crave a sugary snack in the afternoon. Don’t give in to temptation. It may give you a temporary boost, but it will also lead to your blood sugar levels plunging after an initial high, leaving you even more tired and grumpy. If you feel like you can’t get by without something sweet, have a piece of fruit. Bananas are particularly good at boosting energy.

Have a nap

Putting your head down for 40 winks can be tricky if you are at work, but if you can nod off in a quiet, private space or even curl up in your car, you will be able to function much better. Try to have your sleep between noon and 3pm if you can – napping much later can throw your body clock out and make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you go to bed that night. Similarly, don’t sleep for more than 20-30 minutes or this will disrupt your circadian rhythms. You’re also likely to start going into deeper sleep, and when you wake, you will be groggy.

Keep moving

Movement stimulates the brain to stay awake. If you can, get out at lunch time for a brisk walk – even 10 minutes will help, although it is better to do 20 minutes or more if you can. If you are very sleepy, distracting yourself by being physically active can help to over-ride the sleep drive.

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