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Combat Fatigue: Live Like a Child!

I’m amazed by kids.  Sure I’m biased by my 19-month-old daughter, Anna, who daily astounds me with her personality, adaptability and ability to make anyone smile.  Over the past year and a half I’ve learned the importance of “getting back to basics” and appreciating all the innate things that kiddos do before we adults can influence their behaviors with alternative agendas. I didn’t plan on writing an entire article about Anna, and in reality what you’re about to read is not all about her but about kids in general.  They can teach us how to live healthier lives and to combat the most common complaint I hear in my practice by far: fatigue.

At some point we’ve all experienced fatigue.  In my own life, following Anna’s birth, fatigue became a way of life.  Check that, exhaustion became a way of life.  Middle of the night feedings disrupted our sleep, which interrupted a regular exercise routine, which was all compounded by an unpredictable diet.  My wife and I were pretty beat up by the schedule and in the midst of it all, it felt like we’d never get back to “normalcy.”  But before Anna’s arrival, we did our homework and we were prepared to provide a flexible, yet predictable, structure that babies need to stay healthy.  We often hear comments of, “Wow, what a happy little girl, does she ever get upset?”  And my answer is, “Not really, not when she stays on her routine.”  I believe we can all learn from a youngster’s way of living to keep our mood up and combat our own fatigue.

A Regular Schedule

Of course I’m not suggesting naps throughout the day (like babies need) but, with a consistent nightly sleeping schedule, the body’s natural circadian rhythm is easily maintained.  The circadian rhythm is a term that describes the natural sleep/wake/eating schedule that we all have and are supposed to follow. It’s a complex system that is regulated by our exposure to light (or lack thereof) as well as a number of different hormones including melatonin and cortisol.  These hormones have a direct effect on core body temperature and blood sugar regulation, respectively.  The circadian rhythm is much like the sun that predictably rises and sets each day, and our bodies mimic this predictability to live effectively and efficiently.  However, with our brilliant intellect, we’ve invented ways to live outside of this natural cycle with lights during darkness and food at our disposal during any time of the day.  These wonderful conveniences unfortunately make it easier to stray from a regular eating and sleeping pattern, and it is during these times that the circadian rhythm is disrupted; fatigue begins to set in as a result of poor sleep and abnormal fluctuations in blood sugar.  I recommend getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep and doing your best to go to bed at the same time every night. With consistency, the body is able to maintain a normal circadian rhythm that can ultimately help you during waking hours.

The Most Important Meal

During her first year and a half, Anna enjoyed plenty of breast milk along with healthy solid foods (if you’re curious about my “Infant Food Introduction List,” click here and I’ll be happy to share it with you.)  Designed to contain the proper amount of fats, carbohydrates and protein, breast milk provides babies with all the nutrition they need for at least the first six months of life.  Finding this proper balance for children and adults is also critical for overall good health but when it comes to preventing fatigue throughout the day, breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day.  Although our normal metabolic functions slow down throughout the night, we still wake each morning having not eaten anything for 8-12 hours, depending on what time you eat dinner and then go to sleep.  A healthy breakfast helps balance cortisol and prevents you from an energy crash mid-morning after your blood sugar drops.  A study published earlier this year demonstrated the cognitive benefit that test subjects had when they consumed at least a 450 calorie breakfast of both protein and fiber.  Another group of scientists studied over 200 medical students and monitored their performance after skipping breakfast.  Not surprisingly, those students who skipped breakfast had overall increased fatigue.

Finally, there is ample literature to suggest that feeding babies every 3-4 hours not only allows them to consciously know that food will be coming, but their digestive systems will also not be overtaxed with too frequent or too spread out feedings.  The same is true for adults, and I frequently recommend to my adult patients that smaller meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day will stabilize blood sugar and prevent tiredness.

Belly Breathing

There are few things in this world more peaceful than watching a baby sleep with the rhythmic movement of their little bellies and the innocent, gentle noises they make. Babies naturally take deep breaths that originate from their bellies with both inhaling and exhaling, taking on a slow and relaxed state.  During our waking hours, we average about 15,500 breaths and for nearly every single one of them, we don’t think about it.  It’s a natural action but, unfortunately when we grew into adulthood, breathing becomes less from the diaphragm (muscle designed to facilitate breathing) and more from the accessory muscles of breathing.   This type of breathing is shallower, causes an increase in accessory muscle tension, and it prevents us from getting all the necessary oxygen our bodies need.  We know that the lower third of our lungs have the most efficient oxygen exchange sites.  It’s important to get as much oxygen to those parts of the lungs as possible.

Take some extra time each day to focus on your breathing.  A famous study done in the early 1980s demonstrated that adults who spent as little as 10 minutes a day focusing on their breathing had better energy and greater work performance.  Spend a little time each day improving your belly breathing by sitting in a comfortable location, with your spine in proper position and breathe in through your nose for a count of seven seconds.  As you inhale, your belly should expand outwards.  Then hold your deep breath for a count of four seconds.  Finally, exhale for a count of nine seconds, this time your belly moving inward.  You’ll notice that your exhale is a little longer than the inhale, which is intentional.  When you move to the next inhale cycle, you’ll notice some reflexive support from all the muscles that are necessary for proper belly breathing.

In summary:

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep and go to bed at the same time each day
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Spend 10 minutes a day belly breathing

By following these simple steps, you’ll be as happy as little Anna and smiling at the world with plenty of energy!

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