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8 ways to perk up without a full night’s sleep

With waning light and seasonal shifts, energy levels naturally dip at just the time we ask more of ourselves—during the holidays. Try these natural pick-me-ups to support energy during this hectic time of year.

Holiday season = good sleep? Not usually. I don’t know about you, but since I slept poorly on a hard futon couch Thanksgiving week, it’s been this and that keeping me from resting well—events, late nights on deadline, kids' illnesses, and (my favorite) a faulty fire alarm that decided to go off in the wee hours. A full eight hours of sleep every night? Nope. Not even close.

With waning light, energy levels naturally dip—at just the time we ask more of ourselves. And yet there are plenty of natural pick-me-ups that can support you during this yearly sleep-deprived stretch between the last bite of turkey and the New Year’s Day coffee.

Adaptogens. Taking adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginseng can help level out cortisol levels (related to your body’s stress response); bolster your adrenal glands, which are partially responsible for energy regulation; and increase stamina. If low energy is more than seasonal, adaptogens are particularly for you.

Multivitamins. In addition to keeping up a nutritious diet, a good multi will cover any nutritional deficiencies caused by the more erratic eating patterns common at this time of year. Be sure that your multi includes ample doses of B vitamins (more on that next) and chromium. Chromium helps cells absorb glucose via the blood, leveling blood sugar and increasing energy.

B vitamins. Critical for metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, B vitamins can give you a noticeable energy boost after taking them, so take them early in the day. Look for a high-potency B-complex supplement that includes B1, B2, and B3—a.k.a. thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. (Learn more about B vitamins and others in 6 energizing supplements.) 

Green tea. Except in very high doses, caffeine isn’t as bad as we once thought—only bad in that we use it to prop ourselves up after abusing our bodies in other ways. Certain caffeinated beverages are better than others. Green tea contains anti-inflammatory compounds as well as L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid that produces a calming affect in the body.

Vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D has been linked to depression. Because the body makes less of it via sunlight in the fall and winter months, it’s wise to increase your daily dose now. It’ll also bolster immunity—nothing zaps energy more than being sick!

Protein. Circling back to diet, one of the most important things you can do to stabilize energy is to eat healthy protein with every meal. It isn’t recommended that you get a lot of saturated fat, however, so I suggest opting mostly for plant-based protein foods such as quinoa, hempseed, almonds and other nuts, and whole soy products like tempeh and tofu. Get a good amount in every meal, but particularly in your first meal of the day. Supplement your diet with lean meats, low-fat dairy (Greek yogurt is great), and hard-boiled eggs when you’d like. (Get more energy-diet tips.)

Shun sugar. I know this is a tough one this time of year, but sugar can make or break your day. When blood sugar levels get an artificial boost from sweets or beverages, energy levels plummet not too long after. Even if you eat healthy later, you may not regain steady energy levels for hours. Depending on the severity of the swing, it sometimes takes me a whole 24 hours to recover. So if you do eat sugary treats, just make sure to include protein and fill up on fiber-rich foods (vegetables, whole grains, beans) with small amounts of healthy fats (nut butters, coconut oil, avocado) before you indulge.

Magnesium at night. Magnesium is critical for cardiovascular function and therefore energy. It also helps muscles relax so that you’re more likely to get a good night’s rest. Take 300-400 mg before bed. Consider other sleep supplements to make sure you are getting quality sleep while you are sleeping.

And it helps me to remember that incessant busyness is not a virtue. How to honor that in an overloaded schedule? It's difficult but it I find it helps to take 30 minutes every Sunday to block out rejuvenating activities in my calendar. That’s 30 to 60 minutes of yoga, meditation, or hiking at least 3 to 4 times per week. And go ahead and schedule that massage, acupuncture, or some other hands-on therapy!

What are your strategies to overcome winter fatigue? Share them in the comments below.

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