7 Easy Ways to Have Energy After Work
If it's a workday, chances are you hardly have an ounce energy left by quitting time. About 40% of workers report feeling fatigued at work on any given day. I've definitely been there; too little sleep, too much stress, and the feeling that you just can't get enough done can wear you right down until all you can think about is sliding into bed, pulling the sheets over your head, and staying there...forever.
The irony is that that cycle only drags down your overall productivity, not to mention your health and happiness. Plus, there's something just a little sad about spending all afternoon counting down to the end of the workday only to slog home, collapse onto the couch, and spend all evening watching other people doing fun and exciting things on reality TV. (See also: Beat Back the Zombies: 4 Ways to Avoid Sleep Deprivation)
Want more energy to enjoy your own time? Here are some things that have worked for me.
1. Turn Off Your Brain
When you feel exhausted, exercise seems like the most counterintuitive thing you can do, but it isn't, especially if you have a desk job. Think about it. If you work at a computer, chances are the only muscles you use all day are the ones that type emails, answer the telephone, and turn you head to gaze longingly out the window. That means that even if you feel tired, what's often really fatigued is your brain.
I try to get a run in after work. And while some days it feels like I barely have the energy to slip on my shoes, once I'm out the door, my body doesn't feel tired at all. It isn't long before the rest of me is ready to tackle a few more hours of the day, too. So turn off your brain, slip into jock mode, and do something that'll get your blood pumping. It'll energize you immediately, and also improve your health so that you have more energy all day. It may even help you sleep more soundly come bedtime.
2. Hit Reset
If you really are sleep deprived, a short nap can significantly improve your energy levels — and help you pay back some of the sleep debt you've been accumulating. I say a short nap because while it may be tempting to pass out for hours, that can leave you feeling like a zombie, not to mention disrupt the sleep you get at night. In other words, it'll make you feel more tired.
So how long should you nap? A 1995 study by NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board found that a 26-minute nap was ideal for improving alertness among air-traffic controllers. For best results (and less fiddling with your alarm clock) aim for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Have an Appetite for Energy
Blood sugar levels greatly affect energy levels. (Anyone who's seen a seven-year-old's birthday party knows that.) So, if your energy is flagging after work, chances are you haven't fueled yourself properly during the day.
The best fuel comes from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and protein, because they release energy more slowly into the bloodstream than, say, whatever's beckoning from the vending machine. Eat a healthy breakfast, pack a lunch, and bring nutritious snacks to fend off an afternoon crash. If your blood sugar's stable, your energy levels will be more stable, too. Studies show you'll probably also make better decisions. One study of parole board members in the Israeli prison system found that men whose cases were heard after the board had eaten were significantly more likely to get parole. Yikes!
4. Tuck In Early
I've often had trouble sleeping, so I know about that weird thing that happens when you're totally dead exhausted. Right around bed time, you get a surge of energy that keeps you up eating cereal and watching late-night TV until well past your bedtime. It's kinda fun...until you wake up the next morning feeling (and looking) like you've aged at least 15 years.
Remember how your mom used to tell you to get to bed — NOW!? Give yourself the same tough love and set a bedtime that's at least seven hours from your early morning wake-up call. Then, try to spend an hour or so beforehand winding down with a good book, a bath, or an episode of your favorite TV show. (Unless it's on HBO. That stuff will keep you up all night.)
5. Skip the Caffeine High
Caffeine's a crutch; you can limp along on it for quite a while (it got me through college), but it isn't a solution. If you trade coffee for sleep for too long, eventually it'll be a case of the lights are on and nobody's home — your tired, bloodshot eyes will be open, but you'll only be doing stupid things faster and with more energy. No need to cut caffeine out entirely though. It has some health benefits, and there's some evidence that moderate caffeine intake can help you live longer. Plus, let's face it. There will always be days when it's what makes life worth living.
6. Be Good to Yourself
I tend to take on too much, saying yes to too many projects and then finding myself scrambling around trying to get it all done. It's hard not to be exhausted when you put yourself in that position. There's an old saying that you can sleep when you're dead, but personally, I'd rather enjoy it. I've learned that if I want to do that, I have to remind myself that my to-do list is arbitrary and that sometimes, rest needs to be bumped to the top.
7. Consider the Cause
They say that sleep is a cure-all, but for everything that sleep can't cure, there's prescription medication. It's important to consider that sometimes fatigue has a medical cause, such as iron deficiency, sleep apnea, or depression, among a long list of other things. If you think your exhaustion may be a sign of something more serious, go visit your doctor.
If you think all these suggestions seem simple, you're right. They are simple. But that doesn't make them easy. Changing habits is hard, even when we want to (and let's face it, we often don't). Of course, the other option is to continue staggering around like the walking dead. And let's face it: Even that gets pretty tiring after a while. Now if you'll excuse me, it's almost my bedtime.
Where do you find the energy to get through the day (and then some)?
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