Updated: Nov 4
By Beth Howard, AARP, Oct 2023
Healthy tricks for quickly getting a boost when you feel tired. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men in the United States regularly feel tired or exhausted. But there’s often a simple solution.
“Your energy level during the day could be related to many things, including sleep, fitness and food,” says Deirdre Conroy, clinical professor of psychiatry and clinical director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan.
If your doctor has ruled out anything serious for your energy slumps, such as a health condition or a medication side effect that could be making you tired, give these eight proven energy boosters a try:
1. Snack right
Instead of reaching for a candy bar or latte to fend off fatigue, try a balanced snack. “Food is energy for the body, and the right foods can give you steady, ‘time-released’ energy,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a nutritionist in Chicago and author of The Superfood Swap.
The best snack, Blatner says, is a combo: a piece of fruit or carrot sticks (or other produce) plus protein, such as a handful of nuts, Greek yogurt, string cheese, cottage cheese, hard-boiled egg or roasted edamame. The body uses fruits and vegetables for immediate energy, while the protein provides longer-lasting, steady energy to keep you invigorated until your next meal.
Can coffee be a good pick-me-up? Blatner recommends a cup of matcha green tea instead — it has a third of the caffeine, reducing the jitters.
2. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration is one surprising reason you may be lacking pep. It slows circulation and makes your heart work harder to pump oxygen to the brain and the rest of the body, causing sluggishness and a lack of focus.
The average woman should consume approximately 2.7 liters (11.4 cups) of water (that includes in beverages and food) every day to stay hydrated, according to the Institute of Medicine and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Men should get about 3.7 liters (15.6 cups).
“For extra hydration, consider adding an electrolyte tab to your water since water with electrolytes can help hydrate cells faster than plain water alone,” says Blatner. Milk, juice, herbal teas, and decaffeinated coffee and tea can also help raise your water quotient.
3. Get moving
There’s clear evidence that exercise can make you more energetic — and you don’t have to go all out to get the benefit. University of Georgia researchers found that sedentary people who complained of fatigue were able to increase their energy levels by 20 percent and decrease their fatigue by 65 percent by engaging in regular, low-intensity exercise like aerobic workouts. Cycling and resistance training also do the trick. Check out our Staying Fit page for a series of 10-minute workouts.
Study author Patrick J. O’Connor, a professor of kinesiology at Georgia, attributes the energy boost to “exercise-induced changes in activity in brain neurons and circuits that underlie feelings of energy and fatigue.” It’s likely that neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine and histamine are part of the process, he adds.
Need a quick power surge? A 15-minute walk can make a difference, whether you’re hoofing it on the trail or on a treadmill, according to research from Northern Kentucky University.
4. Take a power nap
If you feel yourself nodding off after lunch, go ahead and put your head down. A midday snooze can be an excellent pick-me-up, according to Conroy. “If you tend to sleep well at night, and you would like to get through a slump in the day, a short nap can be really restorative,” she says.
The key is to keep it brief, no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Sleeping an hour or longer during the day could have the opposite effect.
“You don’t want deep sleep during the day,” Conroy says. “Otherwise, you might feel worse when you wake up. Save the deep sleep for nighttime.” If you have sleep woes like insomnia, avoid napping altogether and pick a different way to increase your vim and vigor.
5. Bend a little
If you don’t have time to get out and exercise, try stretching to rev up, suggests Claire Morrow, a senior physical therapist at Hinge Health, a digital musculoskeletal clinic. “Any kind of movement in the middle of an afternoon slump is going to help your energy,” she says. “Stretching is one form.”
Dynamic stretching is especially good at getting the job done, Morrow says. Dynamic stretches are movement-based and take your joints through their full range of motion, improving circulation throughout your body. These stretches should get your blood — and energy — flowing.
Thoracic extension over chair
How to do it:
Sit in a chair with your hips as far back as possible.
Interlock your fingers and place them behind your neck with your elbows gently pressed toward each other.
Supporting your neck and head with your hands, gently arch your back over the back of the chair as far as you can and hold for several seconds.
How to do it:
Start standing, leaning your back and arms into the wall for support with your knees slightly bent, elbows bent and palms facing forward. (If your shoulders or chest are tight, your arms don’t have to touch the wall. Just keep them out to the sides.)
Reach your arms up toward the sky, straightening the elbows if possible.
Lower your arms back down.
6. Commune with nature
The sights and sounds of the natural world can help to restore your get-up-and-go, research shows. People got a second wind when they went outdoors to either rest or exercise in view of green space, trees and a lake. It’s even better if you can hear birdsong, which studies show can lift your mood.
“Participants who spent time outside demonstrated increased energy, decreased tiredness, and increased positive mood compared to participants who spent time inside,” according to study author Kimberly H. Breitenbecher, a professor of psychological science at Northern Kentucky University.
7. Keep blood sugar steady
Erratic rises and drops in blood sugar can leave you feeling tired and drained. Unfortunately, “as people age, our bodies have more difficulty keeping blood sugar levels steady,” Blatner says. “You don’t have to follow any specific low-GI diet or know the glycemic index of any foods. Instead, just focus on eating less sugar and fewer refined grains — like white bread and rolls, flour tortillas, etc. — and more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, and nuts and seeds.”
Eating regular, balanced meals also stabilizes blood sugar, Blatner says. That means filling half of your plate with fruits and veggies, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with whole grains and/or starchy veggies, along with some heathy fat (nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil). And avoid skipping meals.
8. Get up at the same time each day
Establishing a regular sleep schedule is one of the most important ways to stave off lethargy later, Conroy says. Rising at the same time every day (even on weekends) is key to the process.
“Studies show that if you are starting your day at the same time each day, you are regulating your circadian rhythm, your body’s clock,” Conroy says. “You’re getting exposure to light when your eyes open. And that really helps to regulate all the systems in your body and your energy levels, increasing alertness.”
Don’t force yourself to go to bed at a specific time, she adds. As long as you’re waking up on time, a regular sleep routine should fall into place. So open the curtains and let the sun shine in!