Today we want to talk about your energy level and answer three of your most common questions about energy. (Next month, we’ll tackle a few more.)
Ask anyone who’s ever succeeded on a diet or similar change-your- life health plan about the benefits, and they typically say the same things. Some may say their clothes fit better. Some may say their sex life got hotter. And some may even say that with every footstep the world’s seismographs got quieter. But you know what almost all of them say when asked about the biggest change they felt? More energy.
Yep. Stronger, zippier, peppier, happier—with a can-do attitude and enough confidence to conquer the world. Oftentimes, people in that scenario have a hard time explaining what more energy really means—except for the fact that they feel better getting up and going rather than lying down and snoring. But that key phrase—more energy—lies at the heart of what feeling beautiful is all about. You can be in the best relationship in the world and have celestial-quality facial features, but if you’d rather lie on the couch watching 12 hours of trashy reality shows than moving, living, loving and passionately doing, then, well, your life may feel about as satisfying as a one-bean dinner. And isn’t that what feeling beautiful is about—having passion for life and the energy to act out that passion?
So that’s what we’re going to talk about now—how to increase your energy so that you don’t just manage life but bathe in it. We all have varying degrees of energy levels. Some people are perpetually peppy, some people are about as animated as an anchor, and many of us live life in the large gray area in between—as we battle bouts of fatigue, sluggishness, and the occasional aches and pains that slow us down. Our goal here is to make sense of all those gray areas and help you understand how you can manipulate, tweak and nudge your biology to make yourself feel better.
So let’s answer a few questions SUCCESS readers sent in and give you some tips so you’llhave great energy for the next 40 years. Let this column—and the one next month—serve as your literary caffeine; drink up!
Q: Why do kids have so much more energy than adults? Is there a way to tap into that youthful energy later in life?
A: To see how your energy levels dip, let’s look at how energy works. The energy in your body is stored in molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as well as phosphocreatine. These molecules are like packets of chemicals, including a sugar called ribose, an ingredient in DNA structure called adenine and derivatives of B vitamins. Ribose—which you’ll learn more about in our answers to other questions—serves as the lumber of your energy-producing house, while the other substances help support it (like hammer and nails).
The nutrients and genes inside your cells, combined with other substances such as hormones and chemicals from your nerves and brain, act like fuses and switches to control the power factory you have. Once you crank out enough ATP, your body can crank out activities.
Free radicals are a natural consequence of producing ATP over time, so the energy you’ve produced over the years has also led to aging as a result of free-radical damage.
So first and foremost, kids have fewer injuries from free radicals that were generated as they produced ATP from food in the past.
Second, kids get a heck of a lot more sleep than adults do. Three- to 6-year-olds get at least 10 to 12 hours a day. That’s almost double the average 6.7 hours American adults get on a typical weekday.
Third, kids are still learning and figuring out how the world works. They need the extra energy to explore, fall down, pick themselves up and absorb all the new information that is old news to us adults.
To tap into the youthful energy, make sure you get six to eight hours of sleep a night—undisturbed. Exercising can help you sleep, but it also gives you more energy. And don’t forget about your diet. Eating poor-quality food can slow you down more than rush hour in L.A.
Q: Why does my energy lag halfway through the afternoon?
A: Your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) dips between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. It’s not clear why, but it may be an evolutionary leftover from a time when afternoon naps were conducive to survival or daily life. (Too bad we can’t take advantage today!) That being said, this energy lag can be exacerbated by diet and sleep habits.
While most people probably blame your afternoon energy slump on the huge sandwich and hearty soup you called lunch, little research supports the theory that eating certain foods makes you more tired than you normally would be if you ate other foods. In fact, research shows that the post-lunch dip can occur even when people skip lunch completely. However, the post-lunch dip may be exacerbated when you don’t provide your body with a steady, balanced supply of complex carbohydrates, protein and heart-healthy fats, or when you eat a large, heavy meal at lunchtime.
If you have regular energy lags halfway through the afternoon, it also may be an indication that you have poor sleep habits or even a sleep disorder. Make sure you’re getting six to eight hours. You want to turn off electronics an hour before bedtime and keep lights off during middle-of-the-night trips to the throne room.
Q: Is it true that some people are “morning people” and some are “night people,” when their energy and creativity seem to be at their peak? How can we change this about ourselves or take advantage of our peak times?
A: Yes! “Morning people” and “night people” actually do exist, and their brains may even be wired differently. Morning people’s and night people’s brains are most excitable at different times of day. Interestingly, these differences may be around 50 percent genetic. To complicate this situation even more, your chronotype (the time of day when your energy and creativity seem to be at their peak) actually changes with age. For the most part, not surprisingly, people in their late teens and early 20s are usually night people.
When it comes to making the most of your chronotype, the key is identifying when you work best and taking advantage of that time. If you work better in the early morning, don’t try to stay up late getting that last piece of work done. Get some ZZZs and finish it in the morning when you’re fresh and ready to work. In general, if you feel yourself starting to fade, try to take a walk and get your blood flowing. Sitting at your desk staring at your computer for eight hours straight is definitely not conducive to energy and creativity streaming through your veins.