How to Gain Energy (and Your Sanity!)

By Jenny Steadman, Editor of Macaroni Kid Family Wellness June 16, 2018

Raise your hand if you are tired.

Raise your hand if you can't think straight.

Raise your hand if the family schedule is crazy.

Raise your hand if you just want to feel like you are keeping it all together.

Raise your hand if you are a parent. 

Yep, I thought so.

The good news: We are all in the same boat together.

The better news: I have some tips to help.

There are definitely ways to help make your days go more smoothly. Here are some tips that help me.

Scheduled Sleep
Scheduled sleep? What the heck is what? I know you don't need naps -- that is not what I mean. I am talking about getting your body into a rhythm. You know how kids thrive on routine? Well, guess what? So do you. Your body loves to be on a schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning (even on the weekends, if you can). I find that if I stick to a 10:30 p.m. - 7 a.m. schedule, my body is so happy! Find what works for you.

Dim Your Screens
If you are a late-night worker like me, then you are probably staring at a screen not long before you go to bed. The bright blue light from all of our screens signals our bodies that the sun is still up and to keep us awake. That's why sometimes you are exhausted but still can't fall asleep! Check out f.lux, an app that is easy to install on your computer. Tell it your zip code and it will start to add an orange glow to your screen at the appropriate time of the evening. It has helped me tremendously!

Deep Belly Breathing
I've written a lot about meditation in Macaroni Kid Family Wellness. It has truly been a lifesaver for me but, it's not for everyone. There is one thing that everyone should learn how to do though: Deep Belly Breathing (or Diaphragmatic Breathing).

Picture a baby sound asleep. How can you tell that the baby is breathing? Because his belly is rising and falling. This is how we are all supposed to breathe. Somewhere, in our busy lives, we learned to take short, shallow breaths that puff up our chest, not our belly. Try this simple exercise: Lie on your back and put your hands on your abdomen. Now, take a deep breath in. Did your stomach rise? If not, try again. Keep practicing until you get the feel of it. When you exhale, your stomach will go back down.

This type of breathing allows your lungs to fill and pushes your diaphragm down. It is said to massage the heart and lungs. This gets more blood and oxygen into your bloodstream and into your brain. If we all breathed like this on a regular basis, we would feel so much less stress! Try to incorporate a few minutes of deep belly breathing when you first wake up and before you go to sleep. Over time, it should become more natural throughout your day.

Less Caffeine
I know that this sounds crazy but, trust me, consuming less caffeine will give you more energy. I'm with you on this. I have caffeine-powered days. I'm exhausted before, and then productive after. That is the immediate effect. When we are talking about making your whole body work better all day long, we have to look at the long-term effect. Yes, there are many studies nowadays that say coffee is a superfood. I'm not going to go against that science! But, there is also proof that coffee is dehydrating. A dehydrated body is an exhausted body (more on that next). Caffeine can lead to sugar and carb cravings and also to reduced sleep. If you are an avid caffeine consumer, pay attention to when you consume the caffeine (maybe even keep a journal), what you eat later in the day, and how you sleep at night. You may find that it doesn't affect you at all, or you may be surprised at the harm it is doing to your routine. Everyone is different!

More Water
The bottom line is we all need more water. At a recent doctor appointment, they did a body scan on me that said all of my cells were dehydrated. This blew my mind because I drink a lot (or so I thought) of water.

Growing up we learned to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, but we are all different sizes, so that is a general amount. To be more specific, everyone should drink half their body weight (pounds) in ounces. For instance, if I weigh 150 pounds, then I should drink 75 ounces of water a day to stay hydrated. My favorite water bottle is 18 ounces. If I drink roughly 4 of these throughout the day, I'm good to go!

Our body craves water. If you feel thirsty, this is a late sign of dehydration. One of the first signs of thirst is actually a feeling very similar to hunger. Have the mid-afternoon munchies? Drink a glass of water or a hot herbal tea. Wait 20 minutes and see if you are actually hungry or if it was just thirst.

Less Sugar
No, I'm not going to tell you to eliminate sugar completely from your diet (though it will do you wonders if you want to talk about it!). But I am going to encourage you to read the labels of everything you eat out of a package. Check your cereal, creamer, salad dressing, chips, crackers, nut mix, drinks.... you name it. Look for words like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fruit concentrate, brown sugar, dextrose, corn syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup, and molasses, just to name a few. These are all sugar and do you know what it does? It goes straight into your bloodstream and it is your body's favorite form of energy. It is quick and easy to burn so your body does little work! It burns fast which is why we crash so hard. Do you know what your body is doing while it is burning all of that sugar? It is not burning fat. So, if you want to burn fat, which offers long, sustained energy (and weight loss!), lay off the sugar.

For more ideas on keeping your family strong and healthy, visit Macaroni Kid Family Wellness and subscribe to the free monthly e-newsletter.