Daytime sleepiness can affect all of us from time to time, but regular feelings of tiredness can really impact your quality of life. As a mum, you’re expected to be constantly on the go, so maintaining your energy levels is crucial if you’re to enjoy parenthood and tick everything off your “to do” list. But what does science tell us about avoiding daytime sleepiness?
First Things First
You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that a bad night’s sleep can result in greater feelings of tiredness during the day. Perhaps rather more surprisingly, many people suffering from poor sleep quality aren’t even aware of it. For example, experts have found links between feelings of tiredness during the day with relatively common complaints such as asthma and snoring.
Such individuals often don’t wake up consciously in the night, so aren’t aware that they’re being affected. By reducing their quality of sleep, however, tiredness later in the day is commonplace. Poor sleep quality has also been linked to conditions like mild depression which can often go undiagnosed.
The first step if you’re struggling with ongoing tiredness should therefore always be a visit to your doctor. They’ll be able to double-check that there is no underlying medical cause of your tiredness, before you start implementing lifestyle changes.
Assuming that you’re physically fit and healthy, there are still a whole barrage of elements that can cause daytime tiredness. For example, you’ve no doubt experienced a mid-afternoon energy slump, especially after a large meal, but what causes this lack of energy and what can be done?
Get Your Five a Day
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has two potential benefits for feelings of tiredness. Firstly, vegetables are packed with slow-release energy which can help to keep you going all day long. Studies show that these “complex carbs”, which are broken down more slowly than simpler sugars such as those found in fizzy drinks, keep your blood sugar levels more even. By avoiding peaks and troughs in your blood chemistry you’ll feel more energetic for longer.
Secondly, and just as importantly, a huge range of vitamins and minerals can have an impact on your energy levels. Many of the B vitamins, for example, are responsible for the breakdown and utilization of the energy your food contains. Consuming a wide range of fruits and vegetables ensures that you’re also getting regular doses of essential nutrients, which in turn can help keep your body firing on all cylinders.
You’re busy. I get that. And skipping breakfast is increasingly common among parents. But your mother was right – it really may be the most important meal of the day. In one study school children were asked to carry out mental arithmetic tests, and their results were correlated with whether or not they had eaten breakfast. The results showed that the kids who didn’t eat breakfast had to work much harder in order to complete the test.
Another study, this time on adults, varied the meals that participants enjoyed. Some went without breakfast, some without lunch, and some unlucky souls got to miss both. Unsurprisingly, statistics showed that the less people got to eat, the greater their lack of energy and motivation.
So start the day off right and eat a wholesome, hearty breakfast.
Swap Fat For Carbs
Here’s an interesting one. You know the feeling of lethargy some time after gorging on Christmas dinner? It seems that it might not just be related to the volume of food you’ve eaten. Instead, the macronutrients your food contains may also be having an impact.
In one study, night shift workers were provided with meals that were either classed as “low fat, high carbohydrate” or “high fat, low carbohydrate”. They were then tested throughout their shift for symptoms of tiredness. The researchers found that those who enjoyed the extra carbs were much more wide awake than the fat-eaters. Carbohydrates have also been shown to help improve performance among long distance runners and cyclists, suggesting that reducing your fat intake and increasing your carbs may keep you going for longer.
That said, remember that there are different types of carbohydrates, and the best for energy all day long tend to be “slow release” sources of energy like wholegrains, beans, pulses and vegetables. A bowl of porridge for breakfast, for example, is likely to be much better than a sugary snack for keeping you going.
Eat More Regularly
We know that driving when tired isn’t a good idea, but how does our food impact this? In a test, volunteers were given either a “light” meal of around 300 calories or a “heavy” meal of over 900 calories. They were then put into a driving simulator and asked to complete a deliberately monotonous two hour drive. Throughout, the scientists monitored the number of potentially dangerous mistakes made. They found that those individuals that had eaten more were far more likely to drift into other lanes.
In another study, energy levels were monitored after a big meal, to see when energy slumps occurred. They found that energy levels fell significantly roughly 3-4 hours after the last meal.
These elements suggest that if you want to stay energetic all day long it might be wise to have a larger number of smaller meals, spaced just three hours or so apart, rather than relying on just a few big meals each day.
Wean Yourself Off Caffeine
Traditionally, caffeine has been the most socially-acceptable “pick me up” for a lack of energy. Scientists have indeed shown that a strong coffee can help to wake you up, and of course drivers are advised to use it as a tactic for staying awake on the road.
More recent studies, however, suggest that many of us could be doing more harm than good. Scientists are now starting to realize that while a shot of caffeine may provide a short-term energy boost, it can also disrupt sleep later in the day. As a result, you may feel more tired the next morning, meaning more caffeine is required, and so on.
While caffeine may have its place in more severe cases of tiredness, the current thinking is that weaning yourself off caffeine, which should increase your sleep quality, may actually be a great way to maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Our busy modern lives mean that many of us aren’t getting all the nutrients we need. Recent studies, for example, suggest that 62% of women aren’t getting the recommended daily dose of iron and an astonishing 83% may not be getting enough zinc. This is where supplementation can come in handy, representing a practical way to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs.
The good news is that there is evidence to suggest that some supplements may help with energy levels. We’ve already mentioned that B vitamins may help to support your metabolism.
Magnesium is a second supplement with strong evidence to suggest it may help to support your energy levels. The European Food Safety Authority has claimed that magnesium “contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue” so may make a suitable addition to your supplement regime.
One final option is known as “acetyl l-carnitine”. This is a natural substance occurring in the body, and helps to produce the energy molecules your body needs. Some people believe that supplementing with acetyl l-carnitine may support this process, ensuring your body has ready access to the energy it needs.
As you can see, scientists have been working hard to understand daytime sleepiness, and we now know more than ever before about how to avoid it.
Firstly, make sure there are no underlying health conditions that may be leading to feelings of fatigue. Smaller, more frequent meals that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates are possibly the next most important element. Supplement this with a range of plant-based foods to boost your vitamin intake, give up the caffeine and consider whether supplements may help.
Before you know it you’ll be feeling ready for anything that life (or your family!) throws at you!
This article was written by Simply Supplements, who stock a huge range of supplements including acetyl l-carnitine. Find out more here.