Why we’re tired all the time and what to do about it.
We all want to make the most out of our lives. We want to do the things we love, with the people we care about, for as many years as we can. But we get tired. We hit that midday slump, or struggle to get out of bed after a long night. During the constant shuffle of jobs and families and general life stresses, it can be easy to turn to tasty stimulants as a quick way to get through the day. Even if those things ultimately don’t help us feel more energetic or leave us with a nasty crash once they wear off.
But what if there were a way to actually make more energy, rather than fake it? It’s possible some basic biology here might be a better long-term solution for that energy loss we all feel as the years go on. And it all begins with our cells. Those tiny, weird microscopic seemingly irrelevant parts of our body that most of us probably haven’t even thought about since high school finals. Because energy production, at its core, begins and ends with these essential building blocks of life.
What Caffeine Is Doing To Our Bodies
Caffeine does a lot of things very well, but one thing it doesn’t do is give us energy. It’s a psychoactive drug that tricks our brains into thinking we’re not tired anymore. Instead of letting our brains rest in response to fatigue, caffeine blocks the signals to our brain associated with it and begins a series of chemical reactions that result in the release of a chemical called epinephrine. You may have heard of epinephrine because it’s most commonly associated with our “fight or flight” survival instinct.
When this response is triggered without any real threat (as it is with caffeine), it also sets off a bunch of other internal reactions like increasing our heart rate, alertness, and concentration.
That doesn’t make our favorite caffeinated beverages any less delicious. Our habit of getting that midday treat is sometimes a much-needed break from an otherwise busy day. But these chemical facts do explain how we can still feel tired all the time despite our constant surges of caffeine.
There’s More Than One Way To Be Tired
Another reason we still feel tired all the time is that not all fatigue is equal. There are a few different ways our brains and bodies can experience fatigue, and caffeine doesn’t address any of them.
There’s muscle fatigue, which anyone who’s ran a marathon will probably understand better than most. This kind of fatigue is from using up your muscles’ energy resources, and a common way to recover from it is to rest. Get more sleep or trade out marathon running for movie-marathoning on the couch. Believe it or not, sometimes that’s exactly what our bodies need.
What most of us probably experience on a daily basis is best known as general fatigue. It’s easy to pump ourselves full of stimulants to get through the work day, but this kind of tired has only one solution: sleep. The neurological signals related to alertness reset each day after a full night’s rest. The best way to address that daily malaise is to start with making sure we’re getting enough shut eye. It’s unfortunately both as simple and as complicated as that.
Then there’s mental fatigue. Plenty of factors can contribute to mental fatigue, including sleep deprivation, nutrition, activity levels, hormones, and our general health. It’s our mental fatigue that usually pushes us to quick fixes, relying on caffeine and sugar in their various forms (lattes, guarana, yerba mate, green tea, coffee, energy drinks, etc.) to give us the immediate spike in energy. Which is exactly where the problems begin.
The “Hidden” Exhaustion That Should Worry Us Most
There’s another kind of exhaustion we all experience but never really talk about. Cellular fatigue happens when the mechanisms in our bodies that create energy slow down due to a lack of resources. Our foods contain energy in a few forms, but sugars and fats are the most commonly used (and most energy rich) sources. We need those calories to live. If our cells don’t have enough energy to run well, then neither will we.
Making Energy That Lasts
There are a few ways our bodies can create the energy we so desperately need to live. It makes sense that supporting those mechanisms would help address every kind of fatigue we feel. Common tips like exercise and healthy diet are the two ways to increase how much energy our cells make, but we hear those tips so often it’s easy to ignore them or look for easier fixes. But it’s the reasons why diet and exercise increase energy that are interesting, and what that means for addressing our everyday fatigue.
Working out actually does increase energy. One of the big reasons why a little exercise can go a long way when it comes to energy is because of a little organelle known as the mitochondria. Our body responds to our energy needs. When we work out, we need far more energy than we do otherwise. One of the ways our bodies respond to that demand for more energy is to create more mitochondria. So yes, while working out obviously takes a lot of energy, it also creates a lot of it too.
Eating is the best way to make energy. Food is the reason why we have any energy at all. Energy-rich foods provide even more of that needed boost. This is all because of a molecule called ATP. Adenosine triphosphate is both the result of and the requirement for energy production.
Some vitamins encourage our cells to keep cranking out that much-needed cellular energy, and none do it better than the vitamin B3s. Found in meats, fish, fortified grains, mushrooms, and potatoes, it’s really the vitamin B3s’ ability to function as a coenzyme that gives them an edge when it comes to energy. Coenzymes help kickstart chemical reactions in the body, and one of those reactions is part of the process that creates ATP. Increasing vitamin B3 means giving your body more of the resources it needs to produce energy.
Taking supplements can make sense. NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a molecule that plays a critical role in all three of the main reactions that increase energy. It’s how ATP is created and then reused to create more ATP. Without enough NAD in our cells, all our other efforts to increase energy wouldn’t work nearly as well.
NAD levels naturally decline under stress and are actually lower in older adults. That suggests a healthy diet isn’t quite enough to maintain a youthful balance of NAD. Which is why some people are turning to a new form of vitamin B3 supplement to significantly increase their NAD levels.
The Long-Term Solution Lies Within
We’re all still going to drink our favourite caffeinated beverages because they’re fast and taste so good. But it’s important for all of us who rely on caffeine to recognize it’s not actually giving us energy. Because that knowledge is power. If we really want to feel a gradual, long-term improvement in our energy levels throughout the day, we’ve got to start with looking at the place where that energy is made (the cell), and the vital resources it needs to do its job (NAD).
Now we can all enjoy our caffeinated cup of choice, knowing that the power to create more energy also lies within our hands.