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Consumer Reports

Getting that zing back

Supermarkets and drugstores offer supplements, candy bars, potato chips and other snacks with supposedly energizing vitamins, herbs and stimulants. Sales of caffeine-charged energy drinks have doubled since 2004, despite — or maybe because of — the waning economy. All of which raises the question: Why are Americans so tired?
According to the editors of Consumer Reports On Health, one answer is that while newer “energy” products, as well as the traditional cup of coffee, may give you a temporary buzz, they can leave you feeling more fatigued in the long run. Another is that many of us are just too busy, and our 24/7 access to entertainment and information can also be an energy drain.
Here is Consumer Reports On Health’s practical, proven advice on how to get your zing back:
Slow down to sleep right
Much of our national energy deficit stems from a simple lack of sleep. Nearly 50 percent of the people in a 2008 national survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center said they frequently had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or regularly woke up too early. Here are some approaches for getting a good night’s sleep.
Fight busyness. It’s no surprise that the more harried we are the less we sleep and the more tired we feel. So as much as possible, try to eliminate nonessential activities from your day — and night. Instead of drinking a cup of coffee so you can stay up to watch late-night TV, for example, take some time to relax before bed.
Adopt good habits. Other steps that can lead to more and deeper sleep include turning off the TV before you fall asleep; getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends; increasing your activity in the afternoon; getting outdoors more during the daytime and increasing your exposure to bright, indoor light; and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, exercise and nicotine in the evening.
Nap. A 15- to 20-minute nap can boost mental and physical performance as well as mood, and it usually doesn’t interfere with nighttime sleep. However, if you have trouble falling asleep at night or sleep fitfully, keep your naps short and take them before 3 p.m.
Use the right drugs. Sleeping pills should be reserved for people seeking short-term help for a bout of sleeplessness stemming, for example, from international travel or temporary stress. In those cases, people could consider an over-the-counter sleep aid containing the antihistamine diphenhydramine (Nytol, Sominex and generic), since one of the side effects of that medication is sleepiness.
Pump Up Nutrition
Dietary strategies and lifestyle habits can provide a lasting benefit in the battle against fatigue. Consumer Reports On Health recommends the following:
Start strong. People who skip breakfast are more likely to feel tired and irritable than those who don’t, while breakfast eaters tend to be more productive, concentrate better, and have greater strength and endurance. Choose foods that combine complex carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat to release energy gradually over the entire morning.
Power snack. A well-balanced and well-timed mini-meal such as fruit, low-fat cheese, and whole-grain crackers will supply more sustained energy than an energy drink or candy bar.
Burn energy to build it. Expending energy in physical activity can actually generate more. A study of female college students, for example, found that just 10 minutes of moderate exercise elevated both their energy level and mood.
Get checked out. A simple blood test can check for iron-deficiency anemia and other common medical causes of fatigue, including a liver or thyroid condition or an underlying infection. Other energy depleting conditions include sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea, as well as diseases of the heart and lungs, rheumatoid arthritis, and sometimes even cancer. In many cases, better treatment of those problems can boost your overall energy level.