Feeling tired all the time? Experts explain why you feel more exhausted than usual and how to tackle it.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Annie Hayes
With no early morning work commute or school run to speak of, and few social commitments in the diary, many energy-sapping demands of our daily lives have disappeared under COVID-19 restrictions. And yet, despite being less active than usual, we find ourselves feeling especially sluggish and exhausted as we adjust to our ‘new normal’.
On the surface, we should feel more energised than ever. So, what’s behind this widespread lockdown fatigue? From sleep quality to stress levels, Jane Clark – dietician and founder of Nourish – explores the reasons why we may be feeling particularly worn out at the moment, and shares tips for shaking off the lockdown fatigue slump:
- You’re eating too many refined carbs
Have your eating habits changed since you started making all your meals at home? Or perhaps the change in schedule means you’re snacking more frequently. If so, that could be behind your daytime drowsiness.
MORE FROM NETDOCTOR
The refined carbohydrates found in white rice, pasta and bread, potatoes, cereals, biscuits and cakes tend to be quickly absorbed by the body, Clarke explains, and the effect they have on your hormones may cause you to feel drowsy after eating them.
‘While these can be great store cupboard staples and easy to make into a quick meal, choose a wholegrain version and always try to include some protein in the mix,’ she suggests. ‘It doesn’t need to be animal protein. A delicious trick I use is to add chickpeas to a tomato pasta sauce.’
- You aren’t getting enough exercise
It may be the very last thing you want to do when you’re feeling sluggish, but time and time again regular exercise has been proven to fight fatigue and bump up your energy levels.
Bonus points if you manage an outdoor workout, since your body produces vitamin D using energy from direct sunlight. This vitamin is vital for boosting energy levels, research from Newcastle University demonstrated.
‘Being in nature boosts our health and wellbeing, so exercising outdoors – whether that’s going for a walk or a HIIT session or in your back garden – is a real wake-up for mind and body,’ adds Clarke.
Vitamin D is essential for our general health and mental wellbeing. Check the NHS guidelines as to whether you are likely to be getting enough and whether you should be taking a carefully dosed supplement. Remember vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin – you cannot simply pee it out if you take too much, so taking care not to take excessive amounts is as important as not being deficient.
- You aren’t sleeping well
When your sleep pattern is disordered, you might struggle to get enough restorative deep sleep and REM sleep, which is essential for waking up feeling refreshed and energised.
A change of routine can affect your circadian rhythm, also known as your ‘sleep wake cycle’, which controls the hormones that make you feel alert during the day and sleepy at night. Getting less daylight than usual can affect your cycle, leading to lockdown fatigue.
‘Eating well and establishing a relaxing routine around bedtime can help,’ says Clarke. ‘I love a mug of lavender milk – lavender is renowned for its soporific qualities, and warm milk is instantly comforting.’
Getting up at the same time every day rather than having random lie-ins can actually make you sleep and feel better in the long term.
- You’re stressed or anxious
It could be down to a new routine – you might find yourself juggling the role of parent, teacher and employee simultaneously, rather than being able to separate them throughout the day – or you’re worried about a vulnerable or lonely family member who is self-isolating alone.
During these testing times it’s natural to feel emotionally exhausted. Stress and anxiety cause ups and downs in your energy levels. By adopting relaxation strategies such as breathwork or mindfulness meditation, you’ll reduce the time spent in these states during the day, so you are less drained overall.
- You aren’t eating enough
You may be less active during lockdown, but you’re still burning calories – most people require a minimum of 1,200 per day so your body can carry out its normal functions effectively. ‘Being undernourished means your body doesn’t get the fuel or the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain your energy and support your immune system’, explains Clarke.
Plus, skipping meals causes your blood sugar levels to fluctuate – and this may also disrupt your sleep. ‘Try to eat regular meals throughout the day,’ she adds. ‘A starchy evening meal, containing rice, pasta, potatoes or bread, can promote a good night’s sleep.’
- You’re dehydrated
Staying well hydrated is also crucial for maintaining your energy levels. Common symptoms of dehydration include thirst, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. ‘Constipation is another side effect of low fluid levels, which can leave us feeling uncomfortably bloated and sluggish,’ says Clarke.
Aim to drink at least 1.5 litres – and ideally 2 litres – of fluids per day. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink, as you may already be low in fluids by this point. Instead, sip on herbal teas, squash and diluted juice throughout the day.
- You’re bored
From fitness classes and coffee dates with friends to work meetings and shopping errands, our days were previously filled with a variety of commitments and interests. Not only did they keep us busy, but added structure to our day too.
When the days feel monotonous and repetitive and begin to blur into one – as they have during lockdown – it’s easy to feel sleepy and unmotivated. Instead, pick up a new book, learn a new recipe, upcycle your furniture or simply call a friend. Fill in your spare time and you’ll feel more energised for it.
Remember regular video calls with friends or family are the next best thing to seeing them in real life and can make you feel more connected and can really be a lifeline to the vulnerable.
- You’re drinking too much coffee (or tea!)
Many of us swear by a cup of tea or coffee to start the morning, but if you’re relying on caffeine to get through the day, it could be causing the opposite intended effect, instead resulting in lockdown fatigue.
‘Too much caffeine, whether it’s from coffee, tea or that added to energy drinks, can increase levels of anxiety, agitation and restlessness, and impact on sleep, leaving you both wired and tired,’ says Clarke.
Rather than going cold turkey, decrease consumption gradually. You could try swapping your afternoon cup of coffee with a decaf brew, or switch from full-strength teas to herbal varieties. If you decided to cut it out, making sure you keep your fluids topped up to prevent dehydration.