Fatigue, Sleep, and Movement
When feeling fatigued, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is “How is your sleep?”. Is it taking you more than 10 minutes to fall asleep? Are you waking up or tossing and turning through the night? Do you wake feeling unrefreshed? Are you getting less than eight hours of sleep a night?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then your sleep will absolutely be a factor in your low energy. While improper sleep may not be the only cause of your fatigue, it certainly will affect it, as it will also contribute to countless other conditions: cardiovascular disease, fertility, all psychiatric conditions (anxiety, depression, mood), emotional irrationality, Alzheimer’s incidence, immune function, and even cancer incidence. Sleep allows the body to rest and repair, while the brain takes on the tasks of organizing, understanding, solving, discarding or saving bits of information we gathered through the day. Our bodies are incredibly active during sleep on the cellular level, and if we starve ourselves of this precious sleep, every system gets affected.
Discussing sleep with your Naturopathic Doctor can help sort out why your sleep isn’t optimal in the first place and treat that, while also providing sleep support in the meantime. Here are some tips to start your journey to a better sleep:
- Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Though many of us can “function” off of less, and some even say they function better, study after study shows that just is not true. There’s a very small subset of the population (less than 5%) who actually do not need eight hours a night. It is probably not you.
- Give yourself a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends. Stay consistent with your routine as best you can – your body will thank you.
- Create an enjoyable wind-down routine before bed: no screens 30-60 minutes before bed, no intense physical activity 3 hours before bed, avoiding bright lights, read for pleasure (not work!), meditate, or do some gentle stretching.
- Make your bedroom your peaceful sanctuary: keep the room tidy, cool, and make it a no-work-zone. Your bedroom should only be for sleeping and sex.
- Invest in good black-out curtains or blinds; your bedroom should be as dark as possible – even a bit of light coming from streetlamps outside can affect your melatonin production.
Exercise & Movement
When you’re feeling exhausted, exercise is usually the last thing you feel like doing, but is often what your body needs the most. Exercise increases blood circulation and improves oxygen exchange through the whole body. These effects alone will help boost energy levels and support mechanisms that may be causing the fatigue in the first place, like concerns with the adrenal and thyroid glands, or mood disorders like depression. Exercise helps lower cortisol levels (even though high intensity activity may temporarily increase them!), which helps improve adrenal and thyroid function.
There have been countless studies showing the benefits of exercise with respect to depression. Some highlight the role of exercise in addition to antidepressants, but some others show exercise to be as effective as as these medications. Regular exercise has also been proven to reduce insomnia and generalized fatigue, and even mitigate cancer-related fatigue.
It can be overwhelming when trying to motivate yourself to move, but many of these studies don’t require high intensity or long-duration
activity. Most show benefit from 20-30 minutes of daily exercise, and usually just mild to moderate exercise (leisurely walking to walking at a higher pace). So, start slow. Start with what you can manage, even five minutes at a time. Start gently. You don’t have to challenge yourself to intense cardio or weights at the gym – start with walking, stretching, or light weights at home. You can chat with your Naturopathic Doctor to decide how much and what form of exercise would be best for you. Be patient with yourself, and do your best to incorporate regular activity as part of your every day schedule.
- Blood circulation
- Better oxygen exchange (lungs, whole body – more oxygen to your cells, better ability to detox)
- Breast and colon cancer – exercise lowered chemo fatigue; 20 minutes/day (moderate-vigorous) (PMID: 29879968)
- Prostate cancer (PMID:28723375)
- Cancer-related fatigue – aerobic > resistance (PMID: 29445285)
- Sleep/insomnia (30 minutes/day)
- General fatigue – mild exercise (leisurely walk) vs. moderate (like hiking/fast paced walking) – both improved vs. control, but mild > moderate – 20 minutes 3x/week (6 weeks) (PMID:18277063)
- Depression: higher energy expenditure than lower (both improved, though)
- Some studies show as effective for depression as anti-depressants