We believe that one of the main priorities as a business owner is to look after your workforce, and as we celebrate ‘International Happiness at Work Week 2021’, we have been highlighting how you can do this. Renowned Neurophysiologist, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains how you can increase your energy levels through the simple things, which can make the biggest difference to you and your workforce’s happiness.
We are working longer hours, juggling multiple demands and responsibilities, often with progressively blurred work/life boundaries, so it’s no wonder that so many are feeling more lethargic than ever. The business world can be hugely rewarding but also exhausting in equal measures. If you want to feel on top form and perform at your best, it’s vital to manage your energy levels naturally and sustainably, rather than prop yourself up with caffeine, adrenaline or other short-term fixes.
Taking a bigger picture view of overall wellbeing means thinking about all the choices you make throughout the day and knowing how this will influence how lively you feel and your overall quality of sleep. This involves eating, drinking, breathing, moving in ways that will enable you to optimise your body and mind and maximise your get-up-and-go.
Don’t stress about sleep
Stress hormones, like cortisol, send our bodies into survival mode, making it more difficult to achieve good quality rest at night. Even if you think you are sleeping for long enough, during times of pressure we tend to have lighter REM sleep and lower amounts of deep, restorative sleep. This is why you might struggle to get out of the bed in the mornings even after eight hours of sleep. On the flip side, there are those who find it difficult to drift off at bedtime and have a tendency to lie there worrying about how short their night’s sleep will be. While sleep should be a priority, agonising over it only compounds the problem. Instead, it is more beneficial to look at your energy levels as a whole.
Eat right, on time
Aim to eat breakfast within half an hour of waking. This does more than just balancing your blood sugar levels and keep your energy levels on an even keel. It also prevents your body from depending on survival energy mode, otherwise known as the fight or flight mode or sympathetic nervous system. This is when your body produces more stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, leading you to feel anxious, defensive and ultimately, exhausted. It was useful to our hunter-gatherer ancestors when fighting off predators, but not so helpful when it comes to dealing with an overflowing inbox.
Eating breakfast switches on your safety mode or parasympathetic nervous system. In this sustainable energy system, we produce feel good hormones – we feel safe and calm.
It’s also important to eat healthy food regularly throughout the day to maintain energy and encourage deeper sleep at night. To sleep well, we need a balance of serotonin and melatonin in our system. Adequate amounts of vitamin B6 and tryptophan are needed to boost these hormone levels and they are found in chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk so include these on the menu as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Think about drink
Cut down on caffeine and drink at least two litres of water every day. You’ve probably heard this before, but you will see your energy levels increase if you follow the advice. Every cell in your body needs to be bathed in fluid in order to function at its best. Caffeine has a direct impact on reducing sleep quality, so minimise the amount you have and avoid it after 3pm. Up your fluid intake by drinking more water, herbal teas and dilute fruit juices.
What’ a more effective pick-me-up than coffee is doing some breath work. This doesn’t have to be complicated, simply taking a few moments to make a conscious effort to focus on your breathing at regular times throughout the day can give a great energy boost. Slow down and lengthen your exhale; inhale long and low into your belly and repeat this a few times.
Exercise… but not too much
Regular exercise is one of the best ways of reducing stress levels and improving sleep. Exercise helps produce the chemical adenosine, which promotes sleepiness and enables melatonin to work more effectively. But overtraining can produce too many stimulating hormones which can make it harder to get to sleep quickly, especially if you work out in the evenings. If your body’s battery power is depleted this will impact on your mental energy and ability to focus deeply.
Build recovery into your day
The ultradian rhythm is a rhythm that occurs several times a day, roughly every 90-120 minutes – this is your Basic Rest Activity Cycle. The ultradian cycle oscillates throughout our daily 24-hour circadian cycle and determines the limits of our ability to concentrate. When we work in relentlessly linear fashion and against the limits of our ultradian cycle, we become more tired and eventually more prone to burnout. Instead, working with your body’s energy rhythm will help boost your productivity and by building short periods of rest into your working day, you will be more synced to this cycle. Use your rest times to eat, move, breathe mindfully and deeply or reconnect with nature or loved ones. Taking breaks from technology also gives your brain a chance to reboot and process information – this helps improve your sleep quality at night because your brain has filing work to do at night.
We all have our unique energy patterns – times when we concentrate best and times when and we feel more sluggish. By allowing yourself to get into healthy habits and self-care routines you will be pleasantly surprised to see the positive lift in your overall energy.