What to Eat When You're Exhausted (and Need to Wake Up Fast)

These energizing foods to eat when you're tired include lots of complex carbs and protein to perk you up fast. (Nope, no coffee in sight.)

Nowadays, "always tired" has become both a personality trait and a fitting description in everyone's Instagram bio. Between hectic schedules and related stress, non-stop electronic use, and disruptions like snoring, it's no surprise few people are getting the seven to eight hours of slumber needed. Despite being told time and time again that sleep is essential to overall health—logging enough hours helps maintain weight and keeps you focused—35 percent of adults report getting an average of less than seven hours of sleep per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since about one-third of adults report insomnia symptoms, per the American Psychiatry Association, it's clear that sleep can be a struggle.

But there's one more bonus to getting enough shut-eye: It can help keep food cravings in check. When you're not catching enough Zzzs, the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin go all out of whack. How? Leptin controls our perception of fullness, and it takes a nosedive when we're sleep-deprived. Ghrelin, on the other hand, experiences a spike. And since ghrelin regulates our perception of hunger, that means you're less in tune with feelings of fullness while your hunger cues are amped way up. Consider it the perfect recipe for caving to cravings.

Now, if you're dragging after a late night or early wake-up, it's totally normal to feel more hungry than usual or mysteriously drawn to the vending machine. But rather than white-knuckling it or giving in to those urges, follow this eating plan with healthy choices that perk you up, not make you crash. And to prevent your future self from passing out in your desk chair, start making a list of "Foods to Eat When Tired" and stash it in your drawer for easy access. (Wait, should you avoid eating before you hit the hay?)

Have small, frequent meals and snacks.

Eating every 3-4 hours can help you maintain stable energy. Aim for a combo of protein and complex carbs with some healthy fats to lend some staying power. This is not the day to embark on an ambitious low-carb plan. Your brain needs that glucose. Opt for these foods to eat when you're tired.

  • Oats with ground flax, blueberries, and chopped nuts
  • A slice of whole grain toast with avocado and an egg
  • Veggie omelet and whole wheat toast or side of fruit
  • Salad with chicken, mixed veggies, and lentils, dressed with oil and vinegar
  • Baked fish with sauteed greens and roasted sweet potato

And a few healthy snack ideas:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit (News flash: You can make hard-boiled eggs in the oven.)
  • Sliced veggies and hummus or guacamole
  • A piece of fruit and a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter
  • 1/4 cup almonds or walnuts and fruit
  • 1 ounce of cheese and 1/2 cup of grapes
  • Plain Greek yogurt with cinnamon and berries

Step away from the cupcake.

Processed and sugary foods and drinks won't do you any favors when it comes to improving energy. You might get a short-lived buzz from the sugar, but you'll find yourself quickly crashing shortly after. Unfortunately, we're hard-wired to crave concentrated energy sources (hello, sugar and fat), but seeking out balanced meals and snacks will get you a lot further and help you avoid the crazy rollercoaster ride. (Look to these low-sugar snacks for inspiration of foods to eat when tired.)

Go easy on caffeine.

Take it from someone who learned this one the hard way—caffeine jitters are no joke. A more moderate approach? Have a small cup (think 8 to 12 ounces) in the morning and then one more mid-morning or around lunchtime if you're dragging. But cut yourself off after 2 pm. The last thing you want is to get yourself wired and make it hard to settle down for sleep that night. Instead, reach for milder alternatives that have a smaller caffeine boost, like black or green tea and matcha.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Tired cells are thirsty cells, so give them what they need to work with. Drink water like it's your side-hustle, and add lemon or lime slices for refreshing flavor. You can also boost your intake by reaching for water-rich fruits and veggies, including watermelon, cucumber, celery, and lettuces.

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