How To Optimize Your Energy Levels
I’m a morning person. I know, I’m annoying.
I’m one of those people who goes to the gym before the sun’s up and generally gets the bulk of my to-do list dealt with before lunch. But here’s the thing: afternoons are a wasteland. My focus fades; I’m tired and restless at the same time; I have a piece of fruit or a bar on hand just to keep me awake. Sure, I could drink a coffee, but then where would I be? Lying in bed at 10pm staring at the ceiling, watching the clock tick closer to midnight, knowing that I am going to wake up at 5am regardless. 😑 See? Annoying. To you and to myself!
My best friend is a night owl. Has an amazing social life and sleeps til noon! (Also, a student. The freedom!) He never misses parties because he has to “do a thing,” and is much, much cooler than I am.
And while these may appear to be mere lifestyle choices, they are also dependent upon our chronotypes.
Chronotypes are the body clocks that influence our sleep and wake cycles, and generally determine how our energy rises and falls throughout the day–or just a fancy way of saying you’re a night owl or an early bird.
A Quick Breakdown of Chronotypes:
- Bears tend to sleep and wake according to the sun, feeling most energetic during the daytime and having no trouble falling asleep at night. Their peak productivity occurs in the mid-morning and dips during the mid-afternoon slump. They represent 50% of the population.
- Wolves (also known as night owls) go to sleep and wake later than others. Their peak productivity happens in the middle of the day and in the evening after everyone else has already logged off. Wolves represent 15-20% of the population.
- Lions (also known as early birds) wake up early and are most productive in the morning. They get most of their productivity in before noon, so they’re naturally tired by the evening and go to sleep early. Lions represent 15-20% of the population.
- Dolphins are light sleepers who have difficulty following a regular sleep routine due to more frequent nighttime awakenings. They’re most productive in the mid-morning to early afternoon. Dolphins represent 10% of the population.
I am a lion, and it can be tough out there, I’m telling you! I have to be super careful of how I spend my energy in the mornings to make sure I have enough to get everything done. If I push too hard at the gym, maybe I don’t have any juice left for errands or friends, or maybe I give into my boredom / hanger and make easy / terrible food choices. I never know what could happen! But I do know that by the time five o’clock rolls around, I’m counting down the hours until I’m “allowed” to go to bed. Meow.
So, What to do? OPTIMIZE. Rawr.
ENERGY = CURRENCY
No matter how we slice it, there are things we’d rather spend our energy on more than others, times we wish we had more, and still no good way to borrow it from people who seem to have too much! (Looking at you, toddlers!)
If we’re limited to working with what we’ve got, the best we can do is optimize based on our own needs and behavior patterns, lifestyle and its demands.
Whatever your chronotype, the total amount of energy you have is determined by your personal balance between exercise, diet and sleep. Exercise too little or too much, you’ll be tired. Sleep too little or too much, same result. Eat too little or too much...you get where I’m going with this. So how can we make sure we’re getting just the right amount while getting everything else done in a day?
Work With Your Circadian Rhythms (Not Against Them)
Understanding your natural flow will give you a head start on the day, and cortisol is one of the main determinants of our energy. We’re talking about your naturally produced hormone that gets you through the day - not the overproduction that leads to “adrenal fatigue” / HPA axis dysfunction. Cortisol levels are normally lowest around 3 a.m., then begin to rise, peaking around 8 or 9 a.m. and slowly declining over the course of the day.
Your individual cortisol levels will vary according to your chronotype, and you can learn to optimize based on when your natural cortisol peaks and valleys occur.
Cortisol + Diet
Here’s an interesting fact about cortisol: cortisol works in a seesaw relationship with insulin. That is, if one is high, the other is low. Both cannot be high or low at the same time. So, if you want to make use of your morning cortisol spike and keep your energy high, eat a breakfast with a low glycemic index. When you eat a breakfast that focuses on protein and healthy fat, you will minimize the insulin spike that comes with eating carbohydrates. By keeping insulin low, you’re maintaining higher cortisol levels and surfing your cortisol wave as long as possible!
In the evening, you can do the opposite to unwind. Make that insulin spike work to your advantage by including some complex carbs with your dinner. When your insulin rises with digestion, it will push down cortisol levels in your body, priming you for sleep. This is what is effectively referred to as “carb coma,” and the actual culprit behind those Thanksgiving naps much more so than tryptophan!
Cortisol + Caffeine
In most healthy people, cortisol is naturally the highest first thing in the morning (around 8 am). Coffee causes a cortisol spike, which is part of why you feel like you can conquer the world when you drink it.
However, when you have coffee in the morning (before 9 am), you’re raising cortisol levels higher than normal. Over time, this means your body will produce less cortisol on its own in order to compensate for the coffee, making it harder and harder to wake up without caffeine.
If you want to get your circadian rhythms in check, hold off on that morning coffee until around 9 a.m, so you don’t short circuit your body’s ability to produce cortisol on its own! Finish by noon, so that your cortisol levels will decline in sync with your body’s natural rhythm, and be producing melatonin and primed for sleep in the evening.
Just a quick FYI to all the afternoon coffee drinkers out there: when you drink afternoon coffee, you’re changing your body’s cortisol levels and its ability to sync with your circadian rhythm—this can impact both your time of sleep and your quality of sleep!
Speaking of Sleep…
If you missed our email on better sleep, click here to get caught up!
Sleep determines the quality of our energy during the day, which determines our level of activity, which determines how well we sleep! I know, it can be an exhausting cycle! Striking that perfect sleep / activity balance is a highly individual process, but well worth the investment and effort of self-awareness and discovery!
As a general rule, most things that you do to improve your sleep will give you more energy. The two work hand in hand to help you stay healthier, perform at your best, be more productive, maintain a healthy weight and avoid getting hangry!
Ways to Improve Your Energy and Your Sleep
As an admittedly crappy sleeper, I’ve tried everything! These are the things I’ve found to be most helpful on my mission for blissful sleep!
1. Meditation. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard it a thousand times. But meditation is one of the first things I tried that I felt that night and had the kind of deep, dreamy sleep that I once assumed was reserved only for college students who still had no idea of the effect their short-sighted decisions would have on the rest of their lives! 😱 Two 20 minute sessions and I slept without sleep aids for the first time in two years. Just saying - give it a shot. Headspace and Calm are great apps if you want to try it out.
2. Exercise. Again, we know you know, but it’s not just exercise, but also when, what type, and how much. I exercise more for the endorphins than anything else, and it’s been the one thing (second only to my diet) that has mostly cured my high school ADHD diagnosis, and feeling energized, happy and productive all day after a morning workout 100% makes it easier to sleep at night.
When starting a new exercise regimen, some things to keep in mind: Find what works for your body. I love barre classes, but I find that I feel much better after a HIIT workout. I love HIIT, but if I go everyday, I don’t recover effectively, and end up feeling fried. As much as I love to sweat it out, alternating intense workouts with yoga or dance, and switching things up between cardio and strength workouts keeps my body happy and my mind interested. The best workout is the one you’ll do consistently!
Timing is also important. I like working out in the morning or at lunch because I find that if I workout in the evening, it takes a while for my heart rate to come down so that I have enough time to unwind for bed. Again. I’m a morning person, so this works for me! If you find that your most productive time for work is in the evening, maybe you work out in the late afternoon, or you find that exercising during that 3 p.m. slump energizes you for the rest of the day. Find what works for you!
3. Nutrient and Meal Timing. As Michael Pollan says, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” As always, you have to find what works for you, but there is a mounting body of evidence that suggests lighter meals in the evening will help you sleep better. Actually, I’ve found that lighter meals all around make me more energized and productive. And, if you time your nutrients with your circadian rhythms, as we wrote above, you can optimize your cortisol clock to work for you! Be mindful of sugar (always a crash!) and heavy food at any time, and see how you feel after a lighter meal, but always give your body what it needs to recover!
4. Adaptogens + Supplements. Here’s where Rasa fits in! External stress upsets the normal secretion of circadian cortisol, which is the main cause of sleep-related problems. Adaptogens help you be more resilient to stress by regulating your cortisol production. Studies have shown adaptogens ashwagandha and eleuthero to be particularly effective at regulating circadian rhythm dysfunction to improve sleep1. (This study is interesting and easy to understand, so definitely check it out if you want to learn more!)
Supplements may also be effective for helping you sleep better and have more energy. The two I have found to be most helpful are Vitamin D and Magnesium.
Research2 links vitamin D levels to sleep quality. In fact, several studies34 associate low levels of vitamin D in your blood to a higher risk of sleep disturbances, poorer sleep quality and reduced sleep duration. Vitamin D is best taken with a meal containing healthy fats to maximize absorption. It’s always good to get your levels checked when you have a physical, so you know what your starting point is and if supplementation might help.
Magnesium protects metabolic health, stabilizes mood, keeps stress in check, promotes better sleep, and contributes to heart and bone health. Few dietary elements have more influence over the body than magnesium! Most important for energy and sleep, magnesium plays a key role in energy production, activating ATP, the energy molecule that fuels your body’s cells, and helps control your body’s stress-response system and hormones that elevate or diminish stress.
More Tips + Tricks
- Zero app for reminding you to be through eating a few hours before bed. A great app for intermittent fasting, Zero lets you set nifty timers that will ping you to begin your fast (even if that’s just until you wake up in the morning.)
- Less app for mindful alcohol consumption. Regardless of how little or much you drink, some mindfulness never hurt anyone! Set limits, track alcohol-free streaks, and be more aware of how alcohol affects your sleep and energy levels.
- Happy light! Light therapy (also known as bright light phototherapy) has been proven effective for treating winter blues, sleep disorders related to circadian rhythm, irregular sleep schedules, jet lag, and general healthy light deprivation. I have this one, and it has done wonders to improve my energy and mood when the winter nights get long!
- Keep the bedroom for sleeping! (And sex 😏) When we work in the bedroom (so easy to just pull that laptop into bed!) we start to form an association between those two things, which can make it hard to turn off and unwind in the evenings. If you keep your bedroom dedicated to rest and sex, your mind will only associate it with those and be primed for both when you enter!
- The Five Minute Journal is one of my favorite happiness hacks for focusing on gratitude before sleep and what went right in your day. This is a proven technique for greater happiness which no doubt leads to more energy and better sleep. I mean, c’mon. 😊
Any favorite tips for sleep and energy? Leave them in the comments! We 💛to hear from you!
Author: Catie Webster