The kitchen looked like a war zone. It was 10 A.M., and last night's dirty dishes were still piled on the counter. I was in my bathrobe, my son was in his pajamas, and I didn't have one speck of energy or motivation to handle the five thousand things demanding my attention. As I shuffled along, picking up dishes, I moaned softly to myself, Why am I so tired?
Thankfully, we don't have to drag ourselves through life constantly running on empty. In fact, the Bible actually promises us "abundant" life. John 10:10 says, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly"(NASB).
Obviously, prolonged, extreme tiredness may be a symptom of a larger problem such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or depression. In those instances, you should seek medical help. But what about the otherwise healthy body that daily desires an afternoon nap or a fresh burst of energy (that's not caffeine-induced)? I've discovered a few tips that have increased my energy. If you've been dragging lately, they may energize you too.
Get to Bed, Sleepyhead
Sleep is essential for rebuilding your body—so stop feeling guilty about insisting on having enough of it! But how much sleep do you really need? Experts say it depends on the person. Ideally, you should be able to wake up without an alarm clock. If you're constantly jerked out of a deep sleep by the alarm or if you usually feel drowsy during the day, you need more sleep. In order to get it, try these sleep-friendly habits.
- Establish a firm bedtime.This practice helps overcome what my husband calls "bedtime inertia": that feeling of being glued to the couch and too tired to get ready for bed. Since our alarm goes off at 5:45 A.M., my husband and I try to start our bedtime preparations at 9:30 P.M. and settle into bed by 10 P.M. A set bedtime also makes it easier to turn off the TV, another prime sleep-snatcher.
- Allow yourself to wind down. When I go at it hard all evening, then flop into bed, it's difficult for me to fall asleep, even though I'm exhausted. My mother used to talk about being "too tired to sleep." Now I know what she meant! I've learned I need some time to unwind before I hit the sheets. Sipping a cup of herbal tea or warm milk can soothe frazzled nerves or an over-wired body. Others find a warm soak in the tub for ten or fifteen minutes an hour before bedtime works wonders, too. I've been doing the soaking routine for some time now and definitely feel more rested in the morning. Try recording your evening activities for a week—chances are, you'll find things you can eliminate so you can add some needed wind-down time.
You Are What You Eat
What we eat—our diet—plays a part in our ability to sleep. Even our best efforts to catch some zzzs can be for naught if we eat or drink the wrong thing too close to bedtime. For example, coffee is a known sleep-killer, but what about hot chocolate? Or regular tea? I tend to think of a nice cup of tea with warm milk and honey as soothing, not stimulating. Consequently I've made the mistake of drinking it late in the evening. But as I stare into the darkness hour after hour, the effect of tea's caffeine becomes quite evident!
Other simple diet tips help ward off tiredness. Loading ourselves up on chips, sweets, and other non-nutritive foods will do nothing for our energy (not to mention our waistlines!). And we should get plenty of something that costs nothing and has no calories: plain old water. Mild dehydration can cause fatigue. I notice a real difference in the way I feel depending on whether or not I'm getting somewhere close to the recommended six to eight glasses (that's eight-ounce glasses—roughly a half gallon).
Thankfully, it isn't necessary to make extreme changes in our diet in order to reap a harvest of heightened energy.
Work in a Workout
Unfortunately, most of us think of exercise as something we do to thin down those thighs. "No time for that!" we say. "We'll just wear baggy jeans." But once we realize exercise is essential for health, with improved looks a side benefit, it's easier to get motivated.
Covert Bailey, who's written extensively about exercise, puts it very simply: "Exercise is good medicine." Exercise gives you more strength and stamina, helps you sleep better, and gives you more energy.
It sounds odd, but it's true: You have to spend energy to get energy. Think of it this way. A marathon runner doesn't prepare for his twenty-six-mile run by resting up. He trains. Your life is a marathon, too (don't we all know it!), and your own exercise program is the training you need to run the race successfully.
Many extremely busy women fit in exercise because they realize its benefits pay them back many times over. My friend Cecilia carries the numerous responsibilities of being a pastor's wife, mom of three, and part-time employee. Yet she's the most energetic woman I know. She carves time out of her busy schedule every day for a brisk half-hour walk. When Cecilia started her walking program she only did it three days a week, but soon made it a daily practice. "On the days I walked, I felt so marvelous that I decided to do it every day," she says. Cecilia braves even the worst weather, often praying while she walks and sometimes convincing her husband or daughter to join her. "If I didn't walk, I'd lie down on the couch and rest when I come home from work. Why not use the time building up energy?" Why not, indeed?
For those of you who, like me, don't like walking in blizzards, or who find it impossible to get outside and exercise, some type of machine is helpful (and excuse-destroying). I use a cross-country ski machine, bought used, which gives both an upper- and lower-body workout. As a result of using it, these days I have more strength for hefting the dishes—and my fast-growing son, Gideon.
The recommended minimum for exercise is three times a week, thirty minutes per workout. You can exercise any time of day except after a heavy meal (it interferes with digestion) or within an hour or so of bedtime (it interferes with sleep).
It's a struggle to make exercise a regular part of your schedule, and you'll probably have a few aches and pains at first. But it's well worth it. Start out with only ten minutes, then work up. Many beginning exercisers start out by doing too much and give up in despair. It's taken me awhile to get into the exercise habit, but I now regularly stride away on the ski machine and have reaped great benefits. I sleep better at night, feel better during the day, and have lost a few pounds, too. And, I get more done because of the time I spend on that machine.
So there you have them—some tried and true ways to increase your energy. While I'm still not Superwoman, my energy level is much higher than it used to be. I've started participating in the crazy games my husband and son play in the evenings instead of collapsing on the couch after dinner. And I'm able to get through Sunday afternoon without taking a nap—a real accomplishment for me. So give these ideas a try. They may be the energy boost you need.
Deborah R. Simons is a freelance writer living in Virginia.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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