CW: Health issues, Eating
When the nights are long, some of us feel more tired and fatigued as our bodies produce higher levels of melatonin in response. Although many of you might already know how to beat winter’s exhaustion (by eating well, exercising, etc.), today I will look into the scientific reasons behind energy-boosting tips.
1. Eating well
Most importantly, eating the amount of food that makes you feel moderately full. The signal of satiety reaches our brain with a slight delay and that’s why stopping eating when you are about 80% full will give your body the time to register that you’re full. Further, mindful and slow eating will result in even better digestion because, in fact, the whole process begins in our mouth as saliva can break down carbs. Additionally, the feeling of energy drop after a meal is commonly associated with a rapid rise and ensuing decrease in the levels of insulin. That spike is mainly caused in response to high-processed foods rich in unhealthy trans fats and glucose, such as microwaved, ready products. Insulin helps control blood glucose levels after a meal and another hormone, leptin plays role in the regulation of appetite. If you regularly provide your body with bad quality food, resistance to these two hormones can develop, creating a trigger for inflammation and the release of cytokines. These are the molecules that can act on a region of the brain responsible for fatigue, pain, and low mood. It is important to add that consuming too few calories and not providing enough nutrients also isn’t good for the body. The brain uses glucose as the main source of energy and is unable to function without it.
2. Limiting cortisol levels
Cortisol is an important hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which helps us dealing with stressful situations. However, when its levels are too high for too long, our hormonal balance becomes dysregulated. Under chronic stress, elevated cortisol disrupts the action of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, leading to negative effects on our mental health, digestion, and sleep cycle. Besides, a new theory suggests that adrenal fatigue occurs when glands function at a lower level due to burnout from prolonged production of the stress hormone. The depletion of adrenal glands would result in brain fog, low energy, depressive mood, and salt and sweet cravings. However, this has not been approved as blood tests can’t detect a small drop in adrenal production.
3. Engaging in physical activity
Moderate physical activity also impacts the well-being of our brain by creating new nerve cells, producing feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, and increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein supports the growth, survival, and differentiation of both developing and mature neurons, which results in improved cognitive performance. Additionally, physical exercise strongly supports the mitochondria, the micro-factory of energy within our cells. Proteins that are necessary for metabolic reactions in the mitochondria seem to be increased when the body undergoes aerobic exercise such as swimming, running, or cycling. Also, studies show that regular moderate-intensity exercise each week also helps with sleep duration and quality.
This is probably the most important step in getting rid of chronic tiredness, as without regeneration and good sleep quality the organism can’t recover from mental as well as physical exertion. Only during sleep, or more specifically the REM phase of sleep our memory can be consolidated and the brain develops long-term memory. The key to controlling the sleep-wake cycle is a hormone naturally made by our brain – melatonin. It might be surprising, but a precursor to melatonin is the happy hormone, serotonin, meaning that we need it to produce the sleep hormone. Exposing yourself to daylight for a minimum of 30 minutes a day is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin and the consequent production of melatonin at night-time. Another step to add to your routine would be limiting blue light from smartphones and laptops before going to bed, as it can suppress the secretion of sleep hormone. Additionally, intense exercising shouldn’t be done before bedtime because it can cause trouble with falling asleep due to the release of endorphins and the increase in our body temperature. Interestingly, a lack of sleep has been found to trigger decreased levels of leptin, which results in increased hunger and appetite. This leads to increased snacking, especially on unhealthy foods… And we are back to step 1, where you learnt how certain eating patterns can make you feel tired.
Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is figuring out a routine and sticking to it.
[Zuzanna Boguslawska – she/her]