Do you feel that you or members of your family often lack the energy or motivation to live life to the full? You are not the only one. Of the hundreds of adults and kids who come to see me at my clinic one of the biggest complaints is fatigue. Often this is just a short-term complaint and going to bed early for a few nights may be all that is needed. Yet for others, of all ages, the tiredness is chronic, demotivating and de-habilitating.
The great news is that there are plenty of sure-fire ways to get most people back on track and feeling vital, bursting with energy and ready to take on the world. So let’s get going and transform you into a fatigue fighting machine – naturally
TIP ONE: GET ADEQUATE SLEEP
Ok this may seem obvious, but how often do you take a note of how much sleep you, as an individual, need to wake up refreshed, how much sleep you are actually getting and even more important how good is the quality of your ZZZZ’s? If you are reading this article I am guessing you are not getting an adequate amount or the quality is poor.
Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as many of you probably know. Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning or you simply need to improve the quality of your sleep, the good news is that there are plenty of sure-fire ways to get most people back on track and feeling vital, bursting with energy and ready to take on the world. So let’s by with checking out your sleep health and how to get back on track…
Major causal and risk factors that can contribute to insomnia in adults include;
- Substance abuse: caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs, long-term sedative use, stimulants; nicotine can cause restlessness, while quitting smoking can cause transient insomnia.
- Disruption of circadian rhythms: shift work; travel across time zones; visual loss; circadian rhythms are part regulated melatonin release.
- Menopause: insomnia is present in 30% to 40% of menopausal women. It may be due to hot flushes and night sweats, anxiety, and/or change in progesterone levels.
- Hormonal fluctuations: Such as high levels of cortisol; hyperthyroidism; and low progesterone (progesterone promotes sleep).
- Ageing: Brings about a normal decrease in depth, length, and continuity of sleep. Many factors are responsible, including the biological changes of ageing, underlying medical conditions, increased sensitivity to environmental factors, more medications leading to greater potential for side effects, neurologic disorders that may cause confusion and disorientation, increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, and grief.
- Medical conditions: gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), polymyalgia, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, heart disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obstructive sleep apnoea.
- Psychiatric and neurologic disorders: stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Certain medications: decongestants and bronchodilators, and beta-blockers may lead to a variety of sleep disorders including mild, transient insomnia.
- Other: high fat diet, lack of exercise,
food sensitivities and blood sugar disorders (insulin sensitivity and Diabetes)
have all been linked to insomnia.
It is important to address these separately with your health professional
Top tips for healthy sleeping
For more information about these suggestions from sleep diets, supplement and herbal medicine support suggestions, relaxation techniques and ways to manage stress and other conditions that may be causing sleep issues as well as more sleep tips, and to check out my Sleep Programme – visit What can you do when you can’t sleep?
TIP TWO: HEAL YOUR GUT
Energy levels can be tied to the health of your gastrointestinal tract, and if you’re frequently tired or feel bloated, you may want to get your gut in shape. The digestive system includes the entire path that food and nutrients take on their journey through the body, from the mouth and oesophagus to the small and large intestines. The best of diets is not much better than the worst of diets in delivering our required nutrition if the digestive system is not functioning properly.
TIP THREE: EAT WELL – CHANGE
YOUR DIET – MAKE NOURISHING FOOD CHOICES
- Eat a natural and plant- based diet as often as possible
Cut down on packets, tins, processed foods because the majority are more likely to be depleted of vital nutrients, through processing and long term storage, often loaded with sugar, full of synthetic chemicals, overloaded with food colourings and preservatives and are not living foods. Whereas live foods – raw, uncooked fruits and vegetables, and sprouted grains, nuts and seeds (or lightly cooked) are full of essential nutrients, are unprocessed, only contain natural sugar, and do not contain synthetic man-made additives.
- Clean Out Your Gut.
Energy levels can be tied to the health of your gastrointestinal tract, and if you’re frequently tired or feel bloated, you may want to get your gut in shape. A common problem I see is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and leaky gut syndrome, which occurs when the lining of the intestines weakens so much that its contents escape to the bloodstream, causing fatigue, headaches and food sensitivities and gut inflammation. As a starting point to fix this, get the body’s pH balance to equilibrium – avoid using aspirin, cutting out alcohol for two to four weeks, and eat a plant-based diet of fresh foods.
- Eat regular meals
See what works for you but I recommend eating small amounts every three to four hours to avoid over-eating at meal-times and to keep your blood sugars up in between meals. Snacks like fruit and nuts, cheese, a couple scoops of cottage cheese or an egg will satiate your hunger and boost energy levels. Avoid soy products, which act like oestrogen in the body, use smaller plates, making meals beautiful with colour, and to try replacing grain with quinoa – a plant protein. After time it may work better for you to increase times between meals. Experiment.
- Eat more protein
Eating lots of protein is essential for staving off fatigue, especially early in the day when your cortisol levels are high. At breakfast eat eggs, have a slice of steak or salmon on the side or add protein powder to your oatmeal or smoothie. Otherwise, if you eat only carbohydrates, you’ll crash early and hard.
- Drink more water and less alcohol
Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing. Instead try a herbal tea such as chamomile or lemon balm to help you to relax.
Without water there would be no life. It is undeniably the most essential substance on earth and is essential for human to function on a daily basis. Water is needed to help carry nutrients and oxygen to cells, both of which if are in low supply can lead to fatigue and nausea. On average its recommended adults have about eight cups of water per day and men approximately ten cups per day. But it does depend on how much water you are getting from the rest of your diet and the amount of exercise and or sweating going on.
- Consume less sugar.
The world is anti-sugar at the moment and for good reason.
Simply there is too much sugar in our diets and research has shown that not
only can sugar leave you with sweet cravings, fluctuant blood sugars and energy
levels, evidence shows it can also increase tooth decay, is linked with weight
gain and increasing the risk of certain cancers, diabetes and even heart
disease. In terms of fatigue…well you may think the sugar gives you an energy
lift BUT that is short – lived and you will be even more tired after a sugar
You might not add 5 teaspoons of sugar to your tea, but are you really aware of the sugar you guzzle down in drinks? Beverages are one of the largest contributor of sugar in Kiwis diets, making up 17% of our sugar intake! Compare that to ‘sugar and sweets’ which contributes 10%. The World Health Organisation now recommends adults limit their amount of free sugar they have each day to 26g or 6 teaspoons. On average Kiwis consume 96-120g or 24-30 teaspoons of sugar a day, with 16-20g from beverages. Free sugar, includes added sugar, and those natural occurring in fruit juice and honey.
TIP FOUR: INCREASE YOUR MAGNESIUM INTAKE (AND OTHER ENERGY BOOSTING NUTRIENTS)
Fatigue can arise form an array of nutritional deficiencies including magnesium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and B12 deficiencies. Additionally lower levels of essential fatty acids, l-carnitine or magnesium could be the culprit; these nutrients give direct support to mitochondrial functioning – an essential pathway for the production of cellular energy.
Magnesium is one of the six essential macro-minerals that comprise 99% of the body’s mineral content. Magnesium helps build bones, maintain normal muscle and nerve function and is essential to the production of energy from food, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis .Magnesium has been shown to have therapeutic value in treating conditions such as headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma, and sleep disorders. And in recent large scale study, magnesium has been linked to a reduced incidence of conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Hundreds of studies have been published supporting magnesium’s benefits toward health. Magnesium rich foods include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and more.
B vitamins have an important role in changing carbohydrates, protein and fat to energy. They also help form red blood cells. Vitamin B6 also works together with the mineral iron to stabilise levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that, if raised, can increase the risk of heart disease. Vitamin B6 is assisted by vitamin B12 and folate. Vitamin B12 is also important for healthy blood and nerves. Together, folate and vitamin B12 contribute to the making and functioning of our genetic material (DNA), so they impact every cell in the body. Most B vitamins have a number and a name. The B vitamins are; B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6; B7 (biotin); B12 (cobalamin) and folic acid. B vitamins need to be eaten daily as they are not stored in the body, but used as required. Because any B vitamins we don’t need are flushed out through our urine, it is difficult to consume too much. You can get B vitamins from proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also have B vitamins. Many cereals and some breads have added B vitamins. Not getting enough of certain B vitamins can cause diseases. A lack of B12 or B6 can cause anaemia and lead to fatigue
Iron is a mineral in the human body. It is one of
the components of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood
carry oxygen throughout the body. If you do not have enough iron, your body
cannot make haemoglobin, and you may develop anaemia, a disorder that occurs
when there is not enough haemoglobin in the blood. When you develop anaemia,
you are said to be “anaemic”. Some symptoms of anaemia include
feeling tired, weakness, pale skin and frequent infections. All of these signs and symptoms can occur because your heart
has to work harder to pump more oxygen-rich blood through the body.
The iron in food comes from two sources: animals and plants. Iron from animal sources is known as heme iron and is found in various meats and fish. Iron from plants is known as non heme iron, and is found in certain vegetables and in iron-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non heme iron.
The “sunshine” vitamin is a hot topic. You may have recently found out that you are deficient or know someone who is. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is now a global public-health problem affecting an estimated 1 billion people worldwide. The most well-known consequences to not having enough vitamin D are rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. These are far from the only problems associated with a deficiency. The consequences are numerous and include skeletal diseases, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, infections, cognitive disorders, and/or mortality. A symptom can be lack of energy. Concern about vitamin D deficiency has re-emerged in New Zealand as a result of health messages to reduce sun exposure and encouragement to use ultraviolet (UV) sun screens, reducing the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is in oily fish, such as canned tuna and salmon, eggs, lean meat and dairy products. There are now margarines, milks and yoghurts fortified with vitamin D available in New Zealand. Unlike any other nutrient, most vitamin D (up to 80%) is formed as a result of sunlight exposure on our skin. The most recent national surveys showed about one in three New Zealand children had too little vitamin D in their blood; nearer a half of adults. During summer, being outdoors before 11am and after 4pm should allow enough sunlight to be absorbed to meet your vitamin D needs. We still need to practice good sun protection (sunscreen, hats and coverage) during the summer months. In winter, longer periods are required, around 30 minutes per day, with those people living in the south island of New Zealand needing more exposure because of the lower UV levels.
FOUR: GET MOVING.
Exercise is vital and especially how regularly you do it. Everyone needs to make sure they huff and puff around 30 minutes 3-4 x a week. If you don’t already have an exercise programme in place start off slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity. Choose something you enjoy and make it fun – walking the dog, going for a bike ride with the whole family, joining the gym with a friend. Doing it with someone else can really help to keep you motivated. Make sure you check with your health practitioner if you have a pre-existing medical condition before you start an exercise programme. And remember to get your kids playing outside in winter, rather than stuck in front of the telly or on the computer.
Exercise is great because it counteracts stress which is a real immune depressant. It makes sure oxygen and nutrients are delivered to where they need to be, it helps get rid of the body’s waste products and it increases stamina and energy levels. Exercise helps make sure our immune system is ready to defend the body.
Yeah, yeah, you’re too tired to exercise, right? Well studies show that the more you move, the more energy you’ll have. Often people don’t push their bodies hard enough. While it’s true that any exercise is good, try to really sweat. I recommend High Intensity Training (HIT) – where you work at nearly 100% capacity for 45 seconds, rest for 90 seconds, and then repeat for 20 minutes. It helps burn fat for the next 36 hours and increases metabolism. It is recommended that aduts carry out at least 30 minutes exercise a day – but do remember this is the MINIMUM amount, Of course this depends on your fitness levels. You may wish to talk to your GP or health professional before you embark on an exercise regime to ensure you keep yourself safe
Being active does revs you up. It all counts — even a 10-minute dance party with your kids, or a pass at your garden, or a few yoga poses before bed. Research shows that adults who fit in as little as 20 minutes of exercise a day felt less fatigued. More is better, of course. If you’re embarrassed about going to a gym then exercising at home with workout DVDs, exercise equipment or by running in the neighbourhood may be the way to go
TIP FIVE: LEARN TO BE STILL – BREATHE OR MEDITATE
Neuro Linguistic Programming and or Emotional Freedom Technique can be used to help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your low energy levels and perhaps insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to increase energy and feel more rested. There are many different techniques:
- Breathe!!! A few nice deep breaths can be so relaxing. It can be a quick and easy stress reliever and energy lifter. You can do this anytime, anywhere and it’s not visible to others. And the good news can be that because you are less stressed, your hormones and metabolism will start to balance – having you full of energy and healthier in the process. Word has it that when people are stressed, they tend to take short little breaths
- Visualisation – involves imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you’re imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen the waves–you get the picture. The more vivid the visualisation and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
- Relaxation Response – A mind/body technique based on the principles of Transcendental Meditation.
- Mindfulness – A type of meditation that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present.
- Yoga – combines deep breathing, meditation, and stretching.
- Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to help improve fatigue.
TIP SIX: REDUCE STRESS AND THROW AWAY ANGER
Stress is the way the body responds to an external or internal influence (a stressor). A stressor can be either positive or negative. For example: a feeling of fear if you are chased by a ferocious dog or excitement when winning the lottery. Regardless of why you are stressed your body responds in the same way.
HOW CAN I REDUCE STRESS?
- Learn to breath: When you think stressful thoughts we tend to hold our breath. Sometimes when we are very stressed or panicked we hyperventilate. See Tip five for a more on breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Change your attitude
- Become an optimist. Choose to have a positive attitude and make that glass half full.
- Set positive goals, especially relating to health and fitness – begin an exercise programme, plan healthy meals and shop accordingly.
- Use positive affirmations to improve your self-esteem and create a healthy state of being, for example: “I will take responsibility for my health” or “I have an abundance of energy”.
- If you are having problems with being positive or setting exciting goals for yourself the future it may be worth seeing a life coach who can assist you in leading a more fulfilling and positive life – which in itself can keep illnesses at bay.
- Decrease stimulants (caffeine, chocolate, energy drinks). These enhance the stress response.
- Decrease alcohol – it’s a depressant.
- Take specific stress support supplements stocked by Sheena Hendon Health– these products can only be prescribed by a qualified health practitioner
- Take Vitamin B-complex – needed for energy production.
- Take Vitamin C – used by the adrenals to make adrenaline.
- Take magnesium and zinc – also used by the adrenals. Magnesium helps to relax muscles.
- Limit salt intake – excess salt causes potassium to be lost in urine.
- Eat small, regular meals to regulate blood sugar levels and to give sustained energy.
4. Take Herbal Medicine
- To help relieve anxiety and tension. Herbs to use include nervines – skullcap, lime blossom, passionflower, hops, chamomile, kava, lemonbalm.
- Helps to relieve presenting symptoms, eg: meadowsweet for gastric reflux, lemonbalm for cold sores, valerian/kava/hops/California poppy for insomnia, St Johns Wort for depression.
- To help increase resistance. Herb to use include adaptogens – rhodiola, ginseng, withania, schisandra, gotu kola, rehmannia.
- To support the liver so it can cope with excess hormones and toxic load. Herbs to use include milk thistle, schisandra, globe artichoke, dandelion.
- Get out there and exercise: See TIP FOUR
- Get enough sleep: SEE TIP ONE
- Learn to laugh – Give yourself permission to have fun and really laugh. Go see a comedy, play with your kids, tell jokes, learn to laugh for no reason at all – check out http://laughteryoga.org.nz/ Take it from me it is really worth giving it a go
TIP SEVEN: MODEL ENERGETIC PEOPLE
(NLP) Modelling is the process of recreating excellence. We can model any human
behaviour by mastering the beliefs, the physiology and the specific thought
processes that underlie the skill or behaviour. It is about achieving an
outcome by studying how someone else goes about it.
So, let’s says we want to achieve a skill or excellence then we model someone good at the skill and aim to be that person. So a simple approach to becoming more energetic is to imagine being someone you know who is full of life or ‘be as if’ you are already an energetic person. Start to notice how that person olds their body, what they are saying, perhaps notice how they are energetic – what do they eat, what activity do they do, how stressed are they (or not).
The question to ask yourself is how do I need to be to be full of energy and motivated? Then work out HOW
Stand tall, head held high and give it a go
TIP NINE: GET YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH CHECKED
There are plenty of physical reasons for loss of energy and if your low energy levels have been going on for a while then you should consider getting blood tests. In particular thyroid issues and iron deficient anaemia as well as hormonal imbalances for women
Get Your Thyroid Checked Out
Although millions have a thyroid problem, only about half of cases are diagnosed. Hypothyroidism, the most common thyroid disorder, can cause severe fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, weight gain, hair loss and dry skin and impaired concentration. If you experience any of these issues, I suggest getting a simple blood test to check your TSH levels. Thyroid can be a particular problem for women — it often develops after childbirth and frequently during perimenopause
Iron deficient anaemia – See TIP TWO
Prepare For “That Time Of The Month”
Hormones can greatly impact fatigue, and PMS can hijack your energy if you don’t prepare for it. You’re losing fluid, your hormones are plummeting and you can get neck pain and confusion. Some of us become lunatics. To curb the fatigue that comes with PMS, fill up on fruits and veggies, eat more fibre and complex carbs, avoid salt and caffeine, exercise more and try yoga or pilates. Natural remedies like Japanese krill oil, magnesium supplements, chasteberry herb, vitamin B6 and licorice may also provide relief.
When it comes to perimenopause, the
transition to menopause, “fatigue” is better described as chronic exhaustion
and deep weariness. Usually, the culprit is a hormonal imbalance. Many of the
natural therapies that ease PMS will also help with both perimenopause and
menopause. Herbs like St. John’s wort, black cohosh, red clover, evening
primrose oil, valerian root and ginseng.
See https://sheenahendonhealth.co.nz/Female-hormonal-balance-naturally/ for more info
TIP TEN: GET MORE PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT TO GET YOU BACK ON TRACK
1. See a holistic health professional
If you can’t find relief through lifestyle changes and your general practitioner says everything’s normal, you may want to consider diagnostic testing or visiting a holistic health professional to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies. From a food allergies profile test to vitamin analyses, you’ll be able to figure out exactly why you’re so tired. You know your body, you know when there’s something not right. Don’t accept that fatigue is for life because more often than not it can be fixed.
Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine, 175(4), 494-501.
Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending herbs. St Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Craft, J., Gordon, C. Tiziani, A., Huether, S.E., McCance, K.L., Brashers, V.L., & Rote,
N.S. (2011). Understanding pathophysiology. Australia: Elsevier.
Fowler, Sharon, et al. 2008. “Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use
and Long‐term Weight Gain.” Obesity 16.8:1894-1900.
Hechtman, L. (2014). Clinical naturopathic medicine. Sydney, Australia: Elsevier.
King B. 2015. How to be sugar smart. Healthy Food Guide 120:36-42.
Ministry of Health. 2003. Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy adults. A background
paper. Wellington, New Zealand.
Murray, M., & Pizzorno, J. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Atria.
New Zealand National Sleep Foundation, (2016). Healthy Sleep Tips. Retrieved from
Nutrition Foundation. 2016. Vitamins. Retrieved from: http://www.nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/vitamins/vitamin-d Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium. National Institutes of Health. 2009. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium.asp. Accessed March 9, 2010.
Pizzorno, J., & Katzinger, J. (2012). Clinical Pathophysiology: A functional perspective. Mind Publishing.
Poggiogalle, E., Lubrano, C., Gnessi, L., Marocco, C., Di Lazzaro, L., Polidoro, G., … & Lenzi, A. (2016).
Reduced sleep duration affects body composition, dietary intake and quality of life in obese subjects. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 1-5.
Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2010). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Sheena Hendon Health (2016). What can you do when you can’t sleep? Retrieved from https://www.sheenahendonhealth.co.nz/Articles/Insomnia/
(SPCNM) South Pacific College of Natural Medicine. (2014). Chronic Fatigue.. Unpublished lecture notes, South Pacific College of Natural Medicine, Auckland,
Visser, P. L., Hirsch, J. K., Brown, K. W., Ryan, R., & Moynihan, J. A. (2015). Components of sleep quality as mediators of the relation between mindfulness and subjective vitality among older adults. Mindfulness, 6(4), 723-731.
World Health Organisation. 2013. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 92:780 http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/11/14-031114.pdf