Why you are tired – how to build systems to ensure you are growing and recovering (10 minute read)
Overwhelming tiredness and lethargy are modern phenomena, almost built as badges of courage.
You can’t utter you are tired without 10 people telling you they are more tired, more stressed and listing reasons why their job is terrible.
Rather that join the crowd, read this article, rest better, and get huge.
Why you need to fix it
First of all, it’s not pleasant. For you, or the people around you. Interpersonal skills will, of course, change the course of relationships with your partner, your work colleagues or your boss. Being ‘tired’ and ‘fun to hang out with’ are rarely seen.
Mid to long term, the negative effects of ‘being tired’ all the time add up – and you may see yourself with a written warning, not getting promoted or arguing with your partner. This is bad. This is stressful. This is preventable.
Second, it’s killing your gains. You don’t grow in the gym, you grow during rest, when muscle repair occurs. Limited or restless sleep, chronic use of stimulants, and ‘tired’ eating will almost ensure no growth.
Lastly, it’s killing your motivation. Being extremely tired means
- You don’t show up to gym
- You cut gym short
- You don’t give full effort when you are there
We’re going to fix this in two ways. Making you more awake during the day, and making you sleep better at night.
Let’s fix this sleep thing, now
Core body temperature drops around 1.5°C to 2°C during REM. That’s pretty chilly right. Two things that are going to make that an easier process for your body
- No hot showers close to bed (even if it feels relaxing)
- Make sure you room is cool, and you are dressed cool
Your body needs to cool down. That’s why popping your foot out of the blanket feels so good. Cool dark room is your friend.
Next, learn from insomniacs. People with chronic sleep conditions have a known phycological issue called ‘conditioned arousal" or "learned arousal" where the brain associates the bed with fired up thinking rather than drowsiness. This makes falling asleep incredibly difficult.
This works both ways. If you say you are tired all day, you will feel tired. If you say you can’t sleep, you won’t be able to.
The fix is not to associate your bed with anything other than sex or sleep. That’s it. Don’t play on your phone and get fired up about a lifting video, don’t watch Netflix on your laptop. Yes, its fun, but think of your gains.
To put this in context, a lowered arousal level at the time of sleeping, can increase sleep levels by 30 minutes per day. Think about the days you go to bed saying ‘I’m sleepy, can’t wait to hit the pillow’ vs the days where you are thinking about something and your cognition is aroused. 30 minutes a day is 3.5 hours per week, and OVER 7.5 DAYS in a year. That’s a lot of time.
A practical way to fix this is don’t lie in your bed till you are tired. We recommend you lie on the floor of your house and do either 10 minutes of meditation (calm app is awesome) or 10 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing (just give it a youtube). Throw a fan on or aircon on cool, be a little chilly.
When you are lying on the floor, give yourself a little mental check-over. Lots of people we have worked with have improved sleep by stretching out whatever is sore/tight. For most of us, that’s a quick hammy stretch, lower back stretch and a pec stretch. We’ve all wiggled around in bed trying to loosen out tight muscles, so deal with it early.
Now you’ve slept, be MORE awake
Circadian rhythm is that annoying thing trying to make sure you are rested. It ‘sets’ itself with daylight. Ever shine your phone in your face in the middle of the night, and feel super awake? That’s your body’s natural response to light (also why you should have dimmers if you wake up to go to the bathroom).
As soon as practical in your morning, expose yourself to bright light, ideally sunlight. If not, put a quite bright bulb in your kitchen, and walk in there first thing.
Next, expose yourself to daylight as much as practical during the day, but particularly at lunch and late in the day sun (fight the 3pm snooze). 10 minutes is fine. 5 minutes is better than nothing.
Those two bouts of sun (lunch and 3pm) will make sure you have energy beyond 5pm, so you can get to the gym, and do actual work after 4pm.
The more you can expose yourself to sunlight, the more awake you'll feel.
Remember when your annoying aunty said to do jumping jacks if you are tired? Annoyingly, she is right. Getting your heart rate up is show to increase levels of arousal. When your heart starts pumping, it forces the body to wake up
Just stand up and do 10 squats, if you work in a cubical land, you can do them in the bathroom, or just own the fact you are fit AF, and do squats at will.
Dehydration can result in fatigue, so staying hydrated will 100% help. We recommend you drink so much you need to pee every hour, then you walk brisk as possible to the bathroom. This makes you look super busy and like an effective worker, it also gets that heart beat up.
We recommend 70ml per kg. So 3.5L for 50kg person, 7L for a 100kg person etc.
Lastly, we recommend you keep a food diary for two weeks. Nothing crazy, but most of us only eat from a few places at lunch, and make similar meals each day. Just write what you had for lunch and if you feel tired, fine or great 2 hours after the meal. Stop eating the things that commonly make you tired. Food tolerances change during life, so ‘I used to eat this every day’ isn’t a great excuse.
Quick Tips for tired days
If you are stressed, or annoyed, you will ‘short breath’. Six deep breaths will often make you both more relaxed, and less tired. Big long ones, into the diaphragm.
Bodyfat obviously plays a part. You are carrying more around, and fat on organs during sleep causes real issues. If you can manage to lose a few kg, you’d be surprised how much energy you have.
The first ten minutes of your day are the most important. Put your phone alarm on, and away from the bed, near the light switch. Snoozing will mess you up for the whole day.
Blue light from your phone is bad and good. Very bad at night, fine in the morning. If you are addicted to your phone, your melatonin production is lower from the blue light at night – consider adding a melatonin supplement.
Energy and arousal is a complicated recipe of hemoglobin production, cellular ATP production and thyroid functioning. If you are tired all the time, even if sleeping well, something might be off.
In general, we recommend people focus on the quality of sleep, rather that just the quantity. A totally dark, chilly room with a relaxed person is way better than a hot sweaty room, with lots of light and a tv on – even if that person gets way more hours.
I hope these tips help, and you are well rested and motivated for your workouts!
James is a Australia’s first (and only) IFBB physique pro, and also has a degree in medical science. Please like his page https://www.facebook.com/jcfcoaching/ for more great info.
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