If you have a hybrid automobile, you charge it regularly and charge your phone battery each night.
However, if you feel like you’re always running on fumes or could use a recharge yourself, you may have what doctors refer to as “low energy.”
“Low energy is a feeling a patient has when he or she feels tired and fatigued throughout the day,” said board-certified internist with Medical Offices of Manhattan and LabFinder.com contributor Dr. Jared Braunstein.
Lower-energy days are common, but experts say chronic bouts are problematic.
“Everyone experiences low energy at some point, but if it starts to impact your life negatively or at inconvenient times, you may need to take a closer look at what’s causing your symptoms,” said a medical editor at GoodRx, Dr. Karla Robinson, MD.
But, some people with low energy often experience it chronically.
“Usually, by the time a person realizes they have low energy, things have not been going well for awhile,” says psychiatrist and board-certified Medical Director at Community Health of South Florida, Inc., Dr. Howard Pratt, DO.
Sometimes, low energy results from some health issues, including sleep apnea. However, other times, Pratt and other primary care doctors say habits may also be to blame for low energy.
How to Know if You Have Low Energy
There are no definitive criteria for low energy, but physicians say people with low energy often experience trademark symptoms.
“If you have low energy, you may have trouble feeling refreshed, even when you first wake up,” says Dr. Robinson. “You may find yourself dozing off easily during the day or finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks.”
Low energy is often persistent and chronic. “Typically, this drop in energy is something that has been bothering them for some time,” says Dr. Pratt. “One common indicator is that things that they would have normally been able to do without difficulty in the past have become much more difficult to accomplish.”
What habit contributes the most to low energy?
Dr. Braunstein says poor sleep hygiene, which includes going to bed and getting up at different times, is the worst habit for sapping energy. Pratt agrees that poor sleep hygiene involves more than unpredictable bedtimes and wake times and is problematic. “[Good sleep hygiene is] about using your bed for sleep only,” says Pratt.
Dr. Pratt says people often use screens, like phones or TVs, before bedtime, making falling and staying asleep more difficult.
Why is poor sleep hygiene negative for energy levels? It can trigger poor sleep. You are naturally likely to feel fatigued if you don’t get quality sleep — particularly if it is chronically happening.
“When you don’t get enough restorative sleep, your body and mind don’t have the opportunity to recharge, leading to fatigue,” explains board-certified family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, Dr. David Cutler, MD.
“Continued poor sleep hygiene is easy to fall into as we are often prone to take our cell phones to bed with us, but it means we never develop a set sleep schedule and can find ourselves trying to make up for lost sleep on weekdays, oversleeping or drowsing throughout the day,” says Pratt.
How to improve your sleep hygiene (and up your energy!)
Lean into your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle by having a consistent bedtime — including on weekends, says Pratt.
“If we don’t go to bed at a certain time and wake up at a certain time daily, we are disrupting our sleep cycle,” Pratt said, referring to the body’s circadian rhythm, the natural sleep-wake cycle.
The same can be said for technology, especially cell phones. A 2020 study suggested people who spent less time on their phones for a month were more likely to experience longer and better quality sleep. Research from 2019 found people who used their phones before heading to bed were at increased risk for poor sleep.
“Scrolling on your phone long after you’ve turned your lights off can make it much more difficult to fall asleep,” explained Robinson. “Blue light signals your brain to be on, plus you might find it hard to wind down if you’ve been consuming particularly exciting or engaging content.”
The result is low energy and an unpleasant ripple effect. “Over the long term, this can complicate our performance at work and other activities and can diminish our overall health,” said Pratt.
So, power down your phone when you head to bed and keep it out of reach to charge so you can recharge.
Other reasons you may lack energy
Poor sleep hygiene isn’t the only reason why people experience low energy. Here are some other reasons:
Your diet needs some changes
Dr. Braunstein says skipping meals can zap energy because it leads to low blood sugar; however, what you eat matters. “Not consuming enough nutrients can leave you feeling sluggish,” says Cutler. “Nutrient-rich foods provide the energy your body needs to function optimally. Carbohydrate-rich diets can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, which may result in feeling low energy.”
Robinson recommends eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains high in fiber as often as possible to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes and keep energy flowing.
You are stressed out
Can’t stop your thoughts from spinning or staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that happened during the day or might happen tomorrow? In what should be no surprise, it is likely affecting your energy.
“High levels of stress or chronic anxiety can be mentally and physically draining even when they don’t interfere with sleep,” said Cutler. “Constant worry and tension can sap your energy over time.”
You are dehydrated
Braunstein says poor fluid intake can lower blood pressure and flow to the brain. Pratt agrees drinking fluids is critical, but you should avoid trying to get your daily fluid intake in immediately before bedtime.
“Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day while being mindful that most of this liquid intake isn’t happening right before going to bed, which will likely mean waking up mid-sleep to go to the bathroom,” says Pratt.