Kick fatigue to the curb with these proven ways to snap out of a fog and feel invigorated all day
Start the Day Early
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People who throw off the covers by 7 a.m. experience up to 25 percent higher levels of alertness throughout the day, compared to those who don't usually wake up until 10 a.m., according to a study published in the journal Emotion. (Bonus: The early birds also felt happier and healthier.) [Tweet this fact!] That's probably because morning larks' internal clocks are more in sync with society's 9-to-5 schedule, says Timothy H. Monk, Ph.D., director of the Human Chronobiology Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh. "Early risers tend to sleep more restfully throughout the night than stay-up-late types," he adds, "so they start the day feeling refreshed."
If you're not naturally a morning person, employing a few tricks can make it easier to rise and shine. For instance, place your alarm clock where you have to physically get up to turn it off, and flip on the lights, suggests Michael Breus, Ph.D., a Scottsdale, AZ–based clinical psychologist. "When your body senses light, it thinks it's time to wake up." Drinking a glass of water, jumping in the shower, or heading out for a run or a brisk walk can also help snap you out of an overnight fog.
Get Frisky First Thing
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They don't call it an afterglow for nothing! Sex speeds up your metabolism, brings oxygen-rich blood to your cells, and helps release built-up tension, all of which make you feel revitalized. Do the deed in the morning and it'll pack a longer-lasting energy punch as well: Physical contact, even if you don't climax, stimulates production of the stress hormone cortisol, which primes the body for action and provides a boost of alertness, explains Beverly Hills–based endocrinologist Eva Cwynar, M.D., author of The Fatigue Solution. "In well-rested people, cortisol is naturally highest when they wake; that's what helps them bounce out of bed feeling great." People who wake up groggy, however, may need a little extra help (of the between-the-sheets variety) raising those levels to where they should be, she adds. Sex also increases production of endorphins, so you'll head to work feeling exuberant—and that positive energy can stick with you all day.
Break for H2O, Not Joe
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A tall mug of coffee can sharpen your focus, but too much throughout the day could have the opposite effect: For every coffee-fueled energy spike you enjoy, you might also experience a crash three or four hours later. Instead of relying on multiple Starbucks runs, try to make cold water your energy-boosting beverage of choice, suggests Today show health expert Joy Bauer, R.D., a nutritionist and the author of Food Cures. "Invest in a cute water bottle that will put you in a good mood, and aim to refill it three to four times throughout the day," she advises. [Tweet this tip!]
Still need that cup of coffee to get you going? Unless you're an a.m. exerciser (studies show caffeine helps you work out longer and harder), skip your just-out-of-bed serving and save the java jolt for between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., says Steve Miller, a neuroscience researcher at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. That's when cortisol levels are starting to drop, and the stimulant will have the most effect.
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Eat an Extra Meal
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"Our bodies aren't meant to go for more than four hours without refueling on a substantial number of calories," says Nancy Clark, R.D.N., a Boston-based nutritionist and the author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. "Going from breakfast to lunch or lunch to dinner on just one small snack can leave your blood sugar low, which makes you feel unfocused and tired." To operate consistently on all cylinders, Clark suggests replacing morning and afternoon snacks with another full meal, for a total of four a day. Space them out roughly every four hours (for example, eat breakfast at 7, lunch at 11, another meal at 3, and dinner by 7) and plan for each meal to provide 400 to 600 calories, depending on how active you are.
Whenever you eat, always combine lean protein with complex carbohydrates and a bit of healthy fat: whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a sliced banana for breakfast, or a salad with grilled chicken and an olive oil–based dressing for lunch. "Carbs are your body's preferred source of fuel, while protein fills you up and helps build and repair muscle," says Clark. "Fat adds flavor and satiety, so you feel fuller longer and are less likely to experience cravings."
Down a Healthy Dose of D
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Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to chronic fatigue, muscle and bone weakness, and cognitive impairment, but many of us still don't get the 600 IUs our bodies need every day, says Bauer. In fact, the most recent statistics estimate that women's average daily intake is just 144 to 276 IUs. Deficiencies are most common in the winter, says Bauer, because the body synthesizes D from exposure to the sun's UVB light. Shorter days and weaker rays (plus, you're indoors much more) mean you're less likely to get enough—and more likely to feel run-down as a result.
You can get some vitamin D from food sources, like fatty fish and fortified nonfat milk or orange juice, but you may also need a daily supplement, especially during cold-weather months. Have your D levels tested at your annual physical (and separately in the winter if you're feeling particularly worn-out), and ask your doctor whether you should consider popping a pill. If you're deficient, she may recommend daily doses of at least 1,000 IUs taken with a large meal to bring your levels up to par.
RELATED: 11 All-Natural Energy Boosters
Commit to Exercise
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A good workout is often just what you need to recharge your batteries, but it can be hard to convince yourself of that when just getting to the gym feels like a Herculean effort. One way to push yourself? Reminding yourself of the instant payoffs—like how revived you'll feel afterward—is a strong motivator.
To reduce fatigue during your sweat sessions, plan them for the same time every day; in one study, a consistent workout schedule improved performance and increased the time it took for cyclists to reach exhaustion. The best workout is one that fits into your regular routine, says Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and author of The Exercise Cure—but research does suggest that morning exercise may provide the longest and most effective energy boost afterward.
Refresh Your Routine
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Whether you try a new workout or take a different route to work, exposing yourself to novelty puts your brain on high alert and increases its production of the feel-good hormone dopamine—which, in turn, causes energy levels to spike, explains Cincinnati-based psychologist David Niven, Ph.D., author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People. "You don't have to make a dramatic change," he says. "Aim for a departure from your usual routine that opens you to new experiences."
Even just changing your point of view—literally—can put a spring back in your step, he adds. Looking up while you walk rather than down at the ground, taking a laptop into a conference room instead of working at your desk, or uncluttering your home so you have more open space can all help you feel more creative, driven, and invigorated.
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What do your car, couch, and chair all have in common? Turns out, they're energy thieves. "Sitting for hours at a time prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching your organs, so you feel mentally and physically tired," says Metzl. Spending too much time on your butt doesn't just zap your zip, it seriously increases your risk for chronic illnesses—even if you exercise daily, reports a recent study from the University of Western Sydney.
A few ways to escape the desk-jockey doldrums: For every 30 minutes you sit, spend five minutes doing something that elevates your heart rate and gets your blood pumping. "In my office, we do group burpees every hour," says Metzl. "I'm sure it looks funny, but it makes us feel alive again." Or, try a standing desk. Besides helping you stay alert, it may even aid in weight loss: British researchers recently discovered that workers who stand for long periods torch about 50 more calories an hour than those who sit most of the day.
Take Some Sound Advice
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Up-tempo tunes can inspire more than your athletic endeavors; they can fuel your day-to-day performance too. "Music influences the pace of our movement," says Niven. "We're hardwired to subconsciously adjust our own rhythm to match what we hear." When you catch yourself yawning on the way to work or nodding off at your desk, pop on your headphones and select a song that gets your head bobbing and feet tapping, says Niven.
At the gym, choose tunes with around 140 beats per minute (like Lady Gaga's "Applause," for example), or use an app like Cruise Control ($5; iTunes) that speeds up the songs on your playlist to match your goal pace. For an added kick, sing or hum along. In one study, participants who actually made music while lifting weights (rather than just listening to it) perceived their workouts as easier.
Steer Clear of Complainers
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From the coworker who always has a sob story to the former roommate who constantly wants relationship advice, some people just suck the life out of you. "Trying to solve someone else's problems doesn't just take time, it also depletes mental energy," explains Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., an LA-based psychologist. These types of "energy vampires" tend to be chronic complainers as well, she adds, which can quickly sour your mood.
While you don't have to ditch these friends entirely, you should set boundaries, says Thomas. "When they launch into a tale of woe, explain that you only have 10 minutes, so they should give you the short version." After they state their needs, clarify what you can and can't do to help them out—and then hold your ground.