“Coffee keeps me going until it’s acceptable to drink wine.” Sound familiar? Fatigue is the single most common reason people seek my help. Moms especially are experts at gritting through challenges and discomfort, but when the fatigue no longer responds to coffee and sleep is elusive despite exhaustion, they hit a wall.
Modern life has taught us that we can overcome nature and control almost all aspects of our environment with electricity, air conditioning, telecom, packaged foods, refrigeration, you name it! We then take this same knowledge and attempt to control ourselves by pushing through and glossing over natural rhythms with stimulants and sedatives to make ourselves feel fully “On” or
“Off” exactly when it suits us.
See how this might be a problem?
To reach peak performance we must, in the words of my wise midwife after 4 hours of pushing, “be good stewards of our energy.”
Our circadian rhythm is about 24 hours long, and not one of us gets any more hours in the day. However, there are ways to biohack the natural ultradian rhythm, the cycles which occur naturally several times within each day.
The most important here is the 90/20, where research has shown the human brain to be optimally productive for no longer than about 90 minutes before needing a 20-minute rest. Now, we can’t all design our lives around this, but you can take strategic bathroom breaks, water breaks, and go outside to “breathe real air” breaks. In times of intense duress, I have taken smaller snack meals instead of a full lunch, finding it easier to take 10 minutes to ‘rest and digest’ 2-3 times in the workday instead of one 30+ minute break. By taking small breaks we maintain flexibility of the cortisol stress system, much like doing sets of exercise instead of one long sustained movement- because that would be exhausting and unproductive, right? Right.
The other critical piece to the conservation of energy is to use it when you need it and not when you don’t. You don’t need to be fully ‘on’ to wash your face or drink your coffee, nor in the evening when you’re winding down for bed. Visualize getting on and off the highway – we don’t go zero to 75 and then grind to a halt. We on ramp, and we off ramp. Give your mind the same courtesy as your car.
Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine function like a credit card for energy. They are fine to use if you can pay the debt in the next day or so. For example, you can’t drink four grande lattes 5 days a week and try to ‘catch up’ with sleep on the weekend. You can have 8-16 ounces of coffee or tea before about 2pm to enhance productivity in those hours then rest in the evening before bed. Most people have a daily caffeine limit of about 200mg, the amount in 16 ounces of regular brewed coffee. I’ll throw basic detox in here as well – drink your water, don’t eat past your hunger, avoid excess fragrances and chemicals, and breathe clean air as much as is possible. Your body works better when it’s not busy detoxing your entire environment.
An adaptogen acts as a tonic for stressed-out adrenal glands, helping mitigate the effects of chronic stress and providing a greater sense of well-being. Some of the most well known are ashwagandha, ginseng, maca, reishi mushroom, and holy basil (Tulsi). There are great teas and coffee alternatives now, along with supplements that are very effective. A couple of personal favorites are Pure Encapsulations Energy Xtra and Female X Booster which has the added benefit of some libido oompf.
One of the most powerful energy and mental clarity boosters is oxygen! There is a type of yogic breathwork called Kapalabhati, also known as breath of fire or skull shining breath. Traditionally this is practiced early in the morning on an empty stomach, but I find it to be an effective afternoon pick-me-up also. Do not use this breath if you experience wheezing or dizziness.
Blow your nose first, and start with 25-30 cycles: close your mouth, this is only nasal breathing. Take a full inhale and exhale. Inhale, then forcibly contract your abdomen such that it pushes air out of your nostrils. Do this rhythmically 25-30 times. Each ‘in between’ air will rush into the nostrils passively while you are relaxing the abdomen. (I find this much easier to watch a video of than read how to do). At the end, take a deep full inhale and relax, primed for meditation or your activity.
If you aren’t getting regular exercise, it’s a critical must for proper energy reserves! If you find yourself feeling exhausted despite these tips, or even gentle exercise leaves you feeling gassed for days, please seek help as there are many hormonal, nutritional, and medical reasons for fatigue we would not want to miss.
Doctor Elizabeth Sierakowski is co-owner of Essential Health, where medical providers work to optimize human health & longevity and provide the kind of care we all deserve with real relationships, empowerment to heal yourself, and strategic planning for your future. Dr. Sierakowski is an expert in whole-person medicine, hormone balancing, gut healing, anti-aging, and daily performance optimization.
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