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How to combat tiredness at work

Key points

  • Keeping active on a regular basis will give you more energy and make you feel less tired.
  • Try not to drink more than three cups of coffee a day.
  • Make sure you drink enough fluids throughout the day to keep you hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause headaches and tiredness.
  • Cut down on alcohol. It can disrupt your sleep, leaving you feeling jaded and unable to focus the next day at work.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain your energy levels and prevent you from feeling tired at work.
  • Make time to unwind. Stress and anxiety can lead to insomnia and therefore tiredness at work.

Everyone gets tired from time to time. Perhaps you haven’t been sleeping well or have had a few late nights recently. You may simply have a back-to-back schedule, juggling your social life and work, which may leave you feeling exhausted.

If you’re feeling tired, work can sometimes feel impossible. You may have trouble concentrating, find it difficult to make decisions or feel less motivated – all of which can affect how productive you are at work.

Tiredness will generally pass after some rest or a good night’s sleep. But feeling tired often and for long periods of time can take its toll, affecting your health and quality of life.

To help combat tiredness, adapting your lifestyle in general is a good place to start. We’ve put together some top tips to help you feel more alert, and therefore productive, both at work and in general day-to-day life.

Rethink your drinks

Some days it might seem like the only thing that’s keeping you going is coffee. But drinking too much caffeine can make you feel more tired in the long run and affect your sleep.

Try not to drink more than three cups of coffee a day. Remember, caffeine is also in some teas, soft drinks and most energy drinks. Why not swap one of your daily coffees for a peppermint tea or decaffeinated coffee if you enjoy regular hot drinks?

As caffeine takes several hours to work its way out of your system, steer clear of caffeinated drinks in the run up to bedtime. A better night’s sleep will help you feel more alert the next day at work.

Make sure you drink enough fluids throughout the day to keep hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause headaches and tiredness. Keep a bottle or glass of water on your desk or near you at work so you don’t forget to keep your fluids up. How much you need to drink a day will vary depending on your diet, environment, how much exercise you do and your age. But aim for six to eight glasses of fluid a day as a general guide – equivalent to about 1.5 to 2 litres.

Cutting down on alcohol will also help to keep you hydrated and more alert at work. A glass of wine now and then in the evening helps many people unwind after a hard day at work. But alcohol can seriously disrupt your sleep, leaving you feeling jaded and unable to focus the next day at work. If you’re regularly going over the recommended daily limit, consider cutting down and see how much better you feel during the day. Try two alcohol-free days a week and notice whether you sleep better.

Eat regularly and keep snacks healthy

It may sound simple but eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain your energy levels and prevent you from feeling tired at work.

Start your day the right way by making time to have breakfast. By the morning, you’ve gone several hours without food, so refuel by having a healthy breakfast to kick start your day. If you don’t have much time in the morning, eat some cereal or fruit when you get to work or even at your desk. Skipping breakfast can lead to a drop in blood sugar levels during the morning, causing you to feel tired and lethargic.

Regulate your appetite, keep your energy levels up and maintain concentration throughout the day by having regular, healthy snacks. Some healthy ideas include:

  • fruit, either fresh, dried or canned
  • a low-fat yoghurt
  • a pot of rice pudding or low-fat custard
  • a cereal bar
  • a slice of fruit loaf or malt loaf

Sugary snacks, such as cakes and biscuits, might give you an immediate boost of energy. But this wears off quickly leaving you feeling tired and sluggish. Eating healthy snacks at work will help keep your mind sharp and on top of your work load.

Other tips for eating well at work include the following.

  • Make your own lunch so you can plan a healthy meal and avoid the temptation of unhealthy options when you’re feeling at your hungriest.
  • Carrot sticks and a healthy dip is a great snack to keep to hand for when you get peckish.
  • Instead of bringing cakes into the office on a birthday or special occasion, why not stop at the grocers and pick up a selection of colourful fruits?

Stay active throughout the day

If you’re tired, the last thing you probably feel like doing is exercise. However, in the long run, keeping active on a regular basis will give you more energy and make you feel less tired.

Exercise has endless benefits, both physically and mentally. It can improve your mood and sleep quality, and reduce anxiety and stress – all of which can be causes of fatigue and tiredness.

If you don’t do much exercise, try starting with just a small amount and build it up. Walking is easy and free, and a great type of exercise to fit around your busy day at work. Or how about cycling to work or taking up an evening class?

Aim to do some physical exercise each day to gradually improve your fitness and strength. Try to do 150 minutes of physical activity a week – this might sound a lot if you work full time and have children. But doing 15 minutes brisk walking in the morning and the evening five days a week will clock up your minutes before you know it.

Below are some simple ways to stay active throughout your day at work and help combat tiredness.

  • Make the most of your lunch break – get out of the office and power walk to some music or ask a colleague to join you.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift, and walk over to speak to a colleague instead of emailing.
  • If you use public transport, get off a few stops before and walk the rest of the way to work or home.
  • Suggest a walking meeting with a colleague if you think it’s appropriate. Tracking how far you walk each day can be a great incentive to get fit and keep fit. Download our Groundmiles app to help you walk further.

Also make time to unwind and relax. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, can really help to shake off stresses and worries from your day. And stress and anxiety can be a cause of tiredness and fatigue, especially if it’s interfering with your sleep.

Get a good night’s sleep

Consider how well you’re sleeping at night. If the answer isn’t very well, it’s worth assessing your sleeping pattern and environment to see how you can improve it. To help you feel more awake during the day, follow these top tips to a good night’s sleep.

  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day. Even at the weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet and a comfortable temperature.
  • A comfy mattress and a regular bedtime routine – giving yourself plenty of time to relax and wind down – can also help.
  • Try not to exercise too close to bedtime as it can make you feel invigorated and more awake.
  • Don’t use screens in the run up to bedtime, such as phones, TVs, tablets and laptops. Using these electronic devices before bed can actually keep you awake. This is because the type of light that emits from these screens activates your brain.

Stress and anxiety are major causes of not being able to drift off or sleep well through the night. This in turn can leave you feeling tired and sluggish the next day at work. If you think stress or anxiety is interfering with your sleep, try writing your worries down on a note pad before you go to bed. This can help to empty your mind.

Plan and prioritise

Planning your time can really help you manage your days and weeks. This applies to both your work life and home life. Try breaking up your workload and household chores into manageable chunks to complete each day. Prioritise more important tasks and leave less crucial jobs to another time.

Aim to fit in some exercise and plan your meals ahead to make sure you’re eating healthily. Importantly, make time for yourself to relax and wind down – enjoy a warm bath, catch up with a friend over coffee or head out for a long walk.

Reviewed by Alice Rossiter, Bupa Health Information Team, April 2014.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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