Do you feel like taking a sneaky nap as soon as you arrive at the office? Or do you start your day with plenty of energy but struggle to stay awake after having lunch? Either way, having low energy can cause problems. Being constantly tired at your workplace means you're more likely to make poor decisions or snap at your colleagues. It also means the quality of your work could suffer.

If you're running low on energy, there could be several reasons:

Underlying health problems

The first thing to do, especially if you're tired all of the time (and have been feeling that way for a while) is to check whether or not an underlying health problem could be to blame. Underactive thyroid – or hypothyroidism – and anaemia both cause unexplained, general tiredness. To find out if you have either condition, speak to your GP about having a blood test.

Skipping meals

Low blood sugar can also cause fatigue. If you go for too long without eating your blood sugar level can drop, and you may experience light-headedness, anxiety and feel like you have no energy. The simple solution is to eat regular meals – including a healthy breakfast – and if you're susceptible to feeling tired and shaky between meals, always have some fruit or other healthy snacks nearby.

Too much stress

If you tend to work a long day with very few breaks, you may not even realise you're tired until you collapse on your sofa at the end of the day. Some experts believe excessive stress at work can cause this type of exhaustion. The solution is to take more breaks at the office, at least one short break every 90 minutes. And don't forget to keep drinking: aim for at least 1.2 litres of water a day. When you're back at home, try to switch off: try our mindfulness meditation exercise if you find it difficult to wind down.

Poor sleep

Having trouble sleeping may also be caused by high stress levels. So try to relax more before going to bed – have a warm bath and drink some chamomile tea or a glass of warm milk. Also avoid taking daytime naps or falling asleep in front of the TV in the evening, as napping can make it harder for you to nod off properly at bedtime. Meanwhile, read our Good Sleep Guide for more ideas about getting a decent night's rest.

Overstimulation

Certain foods and supplements may give you a short burst of energy, but in the long run they can leave you feeling drained. Stimulants containing caffeine are the most likely culprits. Coffee is the world’s most popular stimulant, but watch out for other caffeine-loaded foods and drinks such as tea, soft cola drinks and chocolate.

Other stimulants include sugar, alcohol and nicotine, so cut down on things like sweets, cakes, biscuits and fruit drinks, and stick to recommended alcohol guidelines (no more than three to four units of alcohol a day for men and two to three a day for women). Giving up smoking will benefit your overall health too, so set a quit date today.

Unhealthy diet

Eating too much junk food isn't going to do your energy levels any favours because it means you're not getting the nutrients your body needs. A healthy, balanced diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day should see your energy restored to normal. Some foods, meanwhile, are thought to be particularly effective for boosting energy, including nuts, lentils and low-fat dairy foods, all of which contain energy-releasing protein. Eating iron-rich foods may also help, such as lean red meat, green leafy veg, shellfish, eggs and seaweed.

Lack of exercise

If you're tired all the time, the last thing you may want to do is exercise. But the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have – though be careful, as over-exercising has the opposite effect.

Exercise has a range of benefits, all of which affect your energy levels. People who exercise have fewer cravings for sweet or fatty foods and they may also experience less stress than those who are inactive. Even a short walk can help boost the flow of oxygen to your brain. But try not to exercise too close to bedtime, as it could stop you from getting to sleep.

Artificial light

Sunlight has a number of beneficial effects, including making you feel more energetic. When your eyes are exposed to bright sunlight, your production of melatonin – the hormone that makes you feel sleepy – is switched off. So if you're indoors under artificial lights all day long, you’re more likely to feel lethargic.

The solution? Sit near a window, if possible, and get outdoors during your lunch break. Even if the sun isn't shining, being exposed to natural light could make you feel more awake throughout the afternoon.

© CABA 2013

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