Want regular energy levels to support different kinds of activities
February 6, 2016 9:18 AM   Subscribe

To do the things I want and need to do, I need a steady baseline of reliable physical energy. The way I do things now - in bursts, with a fair amount of reliance on mood and inconsistently available physical energy (through serial immersion in different kinds of projects, with downtime required between efforts) is not amazingly effective. Have you gone from that kind of rhythm to something more regular, that allows you to (e.g.) easily switch between kinds of activities, on demand? How?

Basically, I want to be able to wake up, feel amazing or at least good, and go until the end of the day.

Possibly relevant:

Sleep, food, exercise, etc info (to anticipate responses to this question).

- I'm a night owl who's working on maintaining a regular routine for sleep - it's working, in that I'm awake at the right times (finally); mental focus isn't 100% there when I want it to be. I'm used to doing things at night. Regular wake times are happening, but if I don't manage to get 8 hours, and e.g. get more like 4, I'm shot for concentration the next day.
- I do work out (gentle exercise is what I can do right now), usually late afternoons or evenings. I think morning exercise might theoretically be better, but it's a bit ambitious - my body is stiff for the first hour I'm awake; moving is physically painful and feels generally jarring (upsets my stomach for some reason, also I just feel out of sorts and jangly if I do it too early).
- Food is fine, I have a balanced diet. Could be more regular about meal times. Not hungry very early in the day
- I smoke, but am aiming to quit this month. From past quits, I know this will make a huge difference to general well-being
- I'm sometimes thrown by pain from one thing or another. Key ones: 1) Chronic soft tissue injuries. I'm better than I was about being careful with movement and not going too far with exercise, but sometimes, pain comes unexpectedly, or I need more recovery time from a workout than I accounted for. NSAIDS don't help, resting and massage do. Definitely cramps my efforts when it comes up, though. 2) Dysmenorrhea - managing this with NSAIDs, but I lose 2-3 days a month no matter what. Not getting enough sleep affects pain levels

Even with all that in place, though, I'm not sure how it will affect the bursts of energy vs. downtime pattern, have had that since I was a kid. Interested in people's experiences with this.

Also: I want to balance creative activities, more analytic "left-brain" type stuff, and "getting by" things. I find I'm able to give my best to one of these on any given day, and the one it ends up being really depends on my mood. If I'm in a pointy, left-brained mood, my creative juices dry right up. If I'm feeling loosy-goosey and feel like following a creative impulse, efforts at the other stuff aren't great. (If I'm tapped out, nothing's happening at all.)

I'm crap at multi-tasking, much more inclined to dive deep into one thing and then do something else. My rhythms (don't judge please, or ok do - came up on my FB feed) are just bursty. But this sucks, I'd like to be able to turn the taps on and off at will.

So if you're like this, how do you manage your body and mood to optimize and energize a balanced life?
posted by cotton dress sock to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: much more inclined to dive deep into one thing

I feel there's a compulsive element to this. Not sure what to do about it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:21 AM on February 6, 2016

Response by poster: (Also, lest it come up: I'm not bipolar, per a bunch of qualified people. Anxiety-prone [but not actively atm, mostly fine with this], perfectionistic, have some attentional issues. Sensitive to external and internal stimuli [e.g. pain]. I think my energy pattern is largely a temperament thing; I also think it must be at least somewhat amenable to improvement.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:29 AM on February 6, 2016

at the risk of sounding like an annoying diet-evangelist: i started eating a low carb diet, with plenty of fat for satiety, and found that the "burst of energy then crash" pattern went away. i am free of the 3pm doldrums, mental fog, etc. i'm steady and capable all day.

i too have a.d.d., perfectionism, anxiety. all seem mitigated since cutting out most carbs and added sugar. i thought i ate a fairly balanced diet, but sugar is added to so many of our seemingly healthy foods. it really surprised me.
posted by iahtl at 9:44 AM on February 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have you checked your iron and vitamin D levels? I could not figure out why the hell I was so exhausted. Went for a checkup, and not only was I severely anemic, my Vitamin D levels were single-digit. (You should have seen the doctor's face when he saw that particular test result.) A month on supplements made a world of difference.
posted by Tamanna at 9:46 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry to be back again :/ Thanks for your answers! Just to quickly respond - iron is fine, though I have in the past been (severely) Vit D deficient - slayed me for sure! Have been supplementing since, and that's better. I'm still not where I want to be, though :/

Carbs: grossing 100-115 g / day, netting 75-80; I stick to whole grains, legumes, beans. The only sugar I explicitly *add* to food is in my morning coffee; don't consume many fruits, though I am eating carby veg like e.g. carrots for the antioxidants - I'm trying to get my micronutrients mostly from food - and because they're tasty; keeping dairy in because I love it & need calcium & the extra protein.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2016

How's your hydration? I feel more draggy if I'm not well-hydrated. Drink lots of water, especially if you are having coffee in the morning. I jazz my plain water up with slices of citrus fruit or, when it's in season, watermelon.

I find that having a small, protein-intensive snack (like string cheese, yogurt, or almonds) and taking a walk in the fresh air really perks me up in the afternoons, and helps stave off the mid-afternoon slump. I live in California where this is do-able year-round; depending on the climate you may have a harder time. But if you can get some natural light and fresh air every day, it really helps.

Speaking of natural light, I find that getting outside and having some sun on my face first thing in the morning is good for my sleep and mood. Again, YMMV depending on climate - if it's snowing or pouring, it's harder, and one reason why people invest in therapy lamps. Can you get your hands on a natural-light therapy lamp? These can help with resetting the body clock (many night owls can't follow their natural inclinations because the work world is set up for morning people).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:05 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only thing that made a difference for me is also a very low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. I aim for 20-40 net carbs/day. I've never had such consistent energy and clear-headedness. If I get sloppy about accurate tracking and measuring, I feel the slump coming back.
posted by quince at 10:09 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's some unfamiliar language in your question, so please consider the possibility that I've misunderstood what you want. In particular, I'm more familiar with "physical energy" as, like, cardiovascular or muscular endurance, and it sounds like you're asking more about feeling alert and enthusiastic and clear-headed.

I feel better when I'm sleeping consistently and eating a low glycemic index diet. (And, presumably, not smoking, although I've never tried and you say you're going to quit anyway.)

You mention trying to maintain a regular routine for sleep despite being a night owl. Does that mean you're forcing yourself to get up early? I've had to do that for periods of time, but for some reason it works better to accept that I'm not a morning person and prioritize consistency over earliness. So I try to sleep midnight to nine six days a week.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:38 AM on February 6, 2016

If I only got four hours of sleep, my concentration would be shot, too!
posted by yarntheory at 10:43 AM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: OP: I'm a night owl who's working on maintaining a regular routine for sleep - it's working, in that I'm awake at the right times (finally); mental focus isn't 100% there when I want it to be. I'm used to doing things at night. Regular wake times are happening, but if I don't manage to get 8 hours, and e.g. get more like 4, I'm shot for concentration the next day.

This sticks out to me. I spent the last year doing a lot of reading on the (researched) effects of sleep loss and sleep debt. See also here. Even after we spend a few days catching up on sleep debt, recent research strongly suggests that while it helps reduce tissue inflammation and daytime sleepiness, it doesn't really help our attention levels right away. From the Forbes article, which discusses a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology:

"Attention levels, which dropped significantly during the sleep-deprivation period, didn’t return to baseline after the catch-up period. That’s an especially big strike against the theory since attention, perhaps more than any other measurement, directly affects performance. Along with many other draws on attention—like using a smart phone while trying to drive—minimal sleep isn’t just a hindrance, it’s dangerous, and this study tells us that sleeping heavy on the weekends won’t renew it."

Not along ago, I spent a solid three weeks catching up on my own sleep debt by forcing myself to get eight hours of sleep each night. By the time the three weeks were over, I felt like I had just discovered the cure to what had felt like a chronic case of the flu. It took being fully (or near-fully) recovered from sleep debt for me to realize just how much it had affected my energy, focus, even my ability to perceive how tired I still was. Another work published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment discusses how there are suggestions that sleep debt ("SD") impacts our to self-evaluate the decrease in our cognitive performance:

It has been suggested that the self-evaluation of cognitive performance is impaired by SD. During 36 h SD, the subjects became more confident that their answers were correct as the wakefulness continued (Harrison and Horne 2000). Confidence was even stronger when the answer was actually wrong. In another study, performance was similar between sleep-deprived and control groups in several attentional assessments, but the deprived subjects evaluated their performance as moderately impaired (Binks et al 1999). The controls considered that their performance was high.

My point is, it's a move in the right direction that you're working on improving the consistency of your sleep. Don't discount the impact that one night of four-hour sleep can have on you in the long term, especially if it happens as frequently as once a week or more. When I recovered from my sleep debt, my "morning grog" disappeared, my energy levels not only increased but also stabilized, and I was able to be more productive (as well as more accurate) at whatever I was working on. Of note, I have ADHD, and resolving my sleep debt has had just as big of an impact on my executive functioning as years of therapy + stimulant medication combined. I still struggle, but now I don't feel like I have chronic flu symptoms/brain fog.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:54 AM on February 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: In particular, I'm more familiar with "physical energy" as, like, cardiovascular or muscular endurance, and it sounds like you're asking more about feeling alert and enthusiastic and clear-headed.

Good point, I'm collapsing it all together. Yes, I want to feel more consistently alert, enthusiastic, and clear-headed. For me, this has (historically) been bound up with my physical well-being. It feels very much like a whole-body issue. It's the difference between a) feeling like you're walking (and thinking) through molasses and b) not only having mental focus (and stamina), but the energy to carry out tasks, and efficiently switch between types of activities (vs. feeling fatigued after a bout of effort). Not sure if that helps :/

edit: Thanks so much for sharing your experience and research, nightrecordings! I think this may be an important piece of the puzzle!
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:54 AM on February 6, 2016

Vitamin D supplements are one thing, but I find that I feel amazing if I get some sunshine after not getting any for a while. Maybe work in some outside time. Also, it's great for anxiety and general well-being.
posted by amtho at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I discovered that me being a night owl was really rooted in health problems. But I always had health problems, so it was a long journey to discover that.

One of the earliest issues that I discovered that was a big turning point was that I discovered a mold issue in my apartment, specifically in the bedroom. I was going through the dissolution of my marriage and I thought I was sleeping elsewhere to avoid the future ex, but I eventually realized I was primarily trying to avoid the mold. Mold is more active at night and people are more vulnerable when they sleep. When it was at its worst, I was routinely going to bed at 7am. After discovering the mold problem and just outright throwing out some items that were impacted, I suddenly could get to sleep before 7am and I began feeling better rested, instead of feeling like "The longer I sleep, the more tired I am." So, you might check for any mold issues in your home.

I also took co-q-10 in the morning for a few years. People are prone to deficiencies and this is the chemical resposible for cellular energy.

Someone once told me magnesium helps the body make co-q-10 and is lots cheaper. But I have been unable to confirm that.
posted by Michele in California at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The smoking is a huge one. Whether you plan to vape, Carr, white-knuckle, or cold-turkey, you will notice the difference in a week. I'm not even talking about cancer and COPD. You will sleep better because oxygen works better. Your diet will benefit you more because the components of tobacco inhibits nutritional absorption and actually destroys vitamins in your body.
posted by rhizome at 11:55 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chronic pain is an energy sap, and a physical therapist can help where NSAIDs don't. Specifically, I recently had a couple of sessions of dry needling and wow, what a difference. I still get referential pain as the day goes on, but getting up in the morning doesn't hurt and that's so very nice. Plus, now I can safely get into the meat of PT to help reinforce joints that otherwise tend toward overuse injuries.
posted by teremala at 11:56 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, keep monitoring your vit D, and make sure you're taking it at times and with the right additions (calcium) so your body can absorb it fully. Also check B12 levels, that plays a huge part in alertness. Try sublingual pills for this, I take one every day.

If you're having muscle pain and cramping after exercise, supplementing with magnesium with help a TON (just go slow with the dosages, it has some, er, other notable side effects). Cramp bark tincture, taken daily for a few months, will help with dysmenorrhea.

But the sleep debt thing needs to be handled as a priority. Training your body to a different rhythm than you are used to just takes a long time. Be patient with yourself. If you start taking melatonin at night, it will increase your serotonin during the day, which will help you feel alert. Melatonin will also helps you shift and regulate your sleep schedule.

I struggle with this a lot, and everything above has made a world of difference for me. Good luck :)
posted by ananci at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work out a lot and I find that exercising often actually screws up my sleep schedule pretty badly. I'll come home from the gym at 8pm after two hours of intense activity and start making dinner, eat dinner at 9pm, then have a huge surge of energy right before I'm supposed to go to bed. I had a problem for a while where I would wake up at 3am for no obvious reason and find it impossible to go back to sleep. So I don't think that working out is the panacea that it's made out to be. Yes, you sleep better when you're physically exhausted, but riding the wave of endorphins can be tricky. Exercise does help with energy levels, of course, but I think sleep is hard to balance when you have a lot of energy.

I think the biggest things you can do right now for your sleep are:

a) QUIT SMOKING. Do it now. It is not as hard as it's made out to be.
b) Fix your diet. The standard Western diet is terrible. Double your fresh vegetable and fruit intake, and see how far that gets you.
c) Force yourself to go to bed earlier. You can use melatonin for this if you need to. It is harmless but loses its effectiveness after a few uses.
d) Run for 15-20 minutes first thing in the morning.
posted by deathpanels at 7:23 AM on February 7, 2016

Response by poster: Ah ok, just to clarify, my diet isn't quite the SAD. SAD is like 120+ grams of carbs. What I do is a moderate carb diet, which includes 20-25 g of fiber, daily, mostly from veg/beans & legumes /grains. (Yes, I have maybe a half-cup of purple rice or potatoes a day, both of which my digestive system loves. Pasta or whatever is rare.) It isn't possible to eat fewer carbs and get the micros I need through food (which is still cheaper than getting them via supplements). Also, more importantly, afaic, I'm not taking a multivitamin because synthetic beta carotene (i.e. that found in e.g. supplements) - but not what you'd get from say a carrot - has been linked with increased lung cancer risk in both current and former smokers in a bunch of studies (some big). Yes, dairy has carbs, but I love yogurt, and I'm not bothering with calcium supps. I also enjoy the food I eat, that's important. I'm really glad people have been helped by keto etc., but I'm honestly really happy with my diet.

The sleep issue is ongoing - working on it, believe me. Running can't happen because I've got a schwack of chronic overuse injuries (& neuropathy, in a foot). No impact allowed, ever again. I do regular PT for it all, though. The timing of exercise is an issue, though, definitely! Maybe morning exercise will be achievable once the sleep is addressed, this is possible.

Completely agree about the smoking. Not even a question, it's toxic. That's next.

(Something I sort of folded into my question, which may really need another question, is the thing about letting mood and frame of mind drive things, vs. planning activities ahead of time and adapting mood & attention to that pre-defined goal. What I basically want is to develop robust enough energy and attentional resources to be able to do a few kinds of things in one day. Effectively. As it is, it's either something creative, or something pokey, or practical stuff, and it's me getting carried away by that &/or tiring out before I do the other things I have to do that day. I'll see how it all goes, though.)

Thanks, everyone!

posted by cotton dress sock at 3:18 PM on February 7, 2016

(Something I sort of folded into my question, which may really need another question, is the thing about letting mood and frame of mind drive things, vs. planning activities ahead of time and adapting mood & attention to that pre-defined goal. What I basically want is to develop robust enough energy and attentional resources to be able to do a few kinds of things in one day. Effectively. As it is, it's either something creative, or something pokey, or practical stuff, and it's me getting carried away by that &/or tiring out before I do the other things I have to do that day. I'll see how it all goes, though.)
I think what you're describing actually comes from discipline, not from doing whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. Moods are notoriously unreliable. If you wait around for your muse to strike you, you may never actually do anything. I find my muse has a way of showing up if I stick to a routine.
posted by deathpanels at 9:27 AM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I prefer other words for that, but I know what you mean, and don't disagree that I need to work on scheduling and establishing more regular habits.

Here's the thing (that I've been very bad at articulating so far! Flaky stuff ahead): I think for a lot of people, certainly for me, it takes a bit of time to gear yourself up to thinking and feeling in a way that's conducive to [pick a creative activity]. I.e. to be loose and open to whatever analogic or metaphoric connections or motifs want to happen, and to feel free and playful or experimental enough to follow them; also just to think in the terms of [given creative activity]. Once your head is in that space, you start to see/hear motifs and connections everywhere - that is the filter through which you take things in - and you want to put them together. (My main creative activity is also kind of physical. I guess everything is, but this is very body-rooted, so there are, like, a certain amount of feels that go into it, or come out of it.)

Doing pokey stuff involves being very sharp, focused, and directive about your thinking. Search, classify, organize - impose. Totally different feeling, physically, also. Practical stuff, different body-feeling state again.

Moving easily and efficiently between these different states in one day, when I'm sleep-deprived, have a limited amount of energy to start out with, and am dealing with chronic pain from a bunch of things (some steady, some unpredictable), is not easy for me. Like I have just enough in the tank to really get into one of those activities on any given day, efforts at one of the others are bound to be crap.

Also, I think there are better and worse times for activity in general, per diurnal rhythms - there's a curve, isn't there. And my circadian rhythms are still out of whack. You've experienced how exercise can throw things, for example. Something I need to experiment with, I guess, is when the best time is to do what, given that I'm effectively drunk from sleep deprivation half the week and often in pain.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking from my own experience: A couple years ago, I got a sleep study, and I was found to have severe sleep apnea. (I had suspected I had apnea but had no idea it was that bad - I was waking up about 70 times an hour.) I got a CPAP and my life, both sleeping and waking, changed for the better. Tackling the sleep debt I had racked up from the apnea meant that I found the self-discipline and focus to do boring, detail-intensive tasks. I still don't love to do them, and still procrastinate, but I'm so much better.

I think that dealing with your sleep issues, and sleep debt (and as a poster pointed out, catching up can take quite a while), is going to help with the self-discipline and energy issues. I would put sleep as a priority now. If you can catch up on your sleep debt, and keep a consistent sleep-wake time, I'm betting you will have the energy and discipline you now lack. And it will make quitting smoking so much easier. Nicotine acts as a stimulant. You are going for the stimulants because you are exhausted.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:19 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Beautiful piano playing please   |   Show me the money Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.