Get More Energy...Naturally

Although the grocery store shelves are lined with energy drinks, do these beverages provide the best alternative to falling asleep at your desk midway through the afternoon? Is it really a good idea to pump yourself full of caffeine, sugar, and God-knows-what-else in order to stay awake? Are there any better choices? Choices that won't damage your health while keeping you awake?

Most of us use caffeine--in the form of coffee, tea, soda, or other drinks--to wake up in the morning and maybe throughout the day. Dropping caffeine from your diet will probably cause headaches and fatigue. But too much caffeine can actually backfire and end up making you more tired in the long run. If you're consuming more than 1 or 2 cups per day, and drinking those cups in the afternoon or evening hours, there's a good chance the caffeine is messing with your sleep at night. You may be used to the effects, and maybe you don't even notice how many times you wake up during the night, or how long it takes you to fall asleep in the first place.

Cutting back on caffeine is the first step to reclaiming your natural energy. You may not be willing to give up your morning coffee, but at least think about reducing your total consumption of caffeine. I've switched from coffee to black tea in the afternoons. My hubby has switched to matcha green tea and claims to be sleeping better AND having more energy during the day. I also drink decaf green tea in the evenings, which has all the health benefits of regular green tea but with zero caffeine. I recommend cutting back slowly, a little at a time, to avoid the headache of withdrawal.

And while you're cutting back on caffeinated beverages, also up your consumption of water. Dehydration causes many symptoms, one of which is fatigue. Try drinking 3-4 liters of water per day and notice what happens to your energy levels.

When we feel tired, we not only turn to caffeine to perk us up, but also to refined sugar. And sugar will certainly give you a burst of instant energy. The problem with the sugar fix is that it doesn't last. You get a quick lift, and then your blood sugar will just as quickly crash, leaving you in a foul mood and even more tired than before.

Instead of turning to refined carbs, try eating a snack high in both protein and fat. Make sure the carbs you choose are complex instead of refined. Good snacks might include carrot sticks with hummus, cheese sticks and an apple, or a turkey roll-up with guacamole. The combination of protein, fat, and complex carbs will last for hours, giving you sustainable energy instead of the crash.

And my favorite trick for extra energy? Take a nap! Lie down, set an alarm if you must, and shut out the rest of the world for twenty minutes. Or an hour! The latest research shows that naps are healthy, especially for our hearts.

I know this is not always possible. If you have to stay awake through your entire workday, you might not be able to use this tip. But maybe you can close your door and close your eyes for five (or even ten) minutes. Take some slow, deep breaths and relax all your muscles. It's not exactly a nap, but it will give you some extra energy to get you through the afternoon.

Other energy boosters? Natural light. Get outside in the sunshine whenever possible. Open the shades and let more light in. Even artificial light is better than none.

And lastly, get more exercise. It might seem like exercising would drain your energy, but the opposite is true. As long as you don't overdo it, exercise will give you more energy in the long run. Go for a walk or a jog, ride your bike to work, hit the gym on your lunch break, or go dancing with your friends. Fit activity in wherever you can. The better shape you're in, the more energy you'll have.

Do you have other tips for upping energy levels naturally? Leave a comment below!