En­ergy

Why do some peo­ple leap from bed in the morn­ing fully rested while others hit the snooze but­ton?

Fashion (Canada) - - CONTENTS - By Olivia Stren

Olivia Stren seeks help for her con­stant state of sleepi­ness.

When my son was born, he greeted the world with a soft cry—and a big yawn. I knew in that in­stant that this was my child be­cause I have never been what you’d call a high-en­ergy per­son. At sum­mer camp, my favourite ac­tiv­i­ties were crafts (you can’t, say, jog while braid­ing gimp) and “rest.” In the sixth grade, I at­tended a French school that re­quired stu­dents to study a third lan­guage, so I took Ger­man.

“Ich bin müde” (trans­la­tion: “I’m tired”), I would an­nounce when I got home from school, draw­ing out the “ü” sound as if even the word were re­clin­ing and in mid­stretch. In high school, I took Span­ish.

“Es­toy cansada” (again, “I’m tired”), I would chime in the af­ter­noons, ready to lie down and watch Y&R like a re­tiree. I still re­mem­ber those lan­guage text­books: The Ger­man ones con­tained chap­ters de­voted to ski­ing-re­lated di­a­logue, while the Span­ish ones in­volved primers on how to ex­press be­ing in love at a restau­rant. If I should ever find my­self in the Bavar­ian Alps search­ing for a ski lift or wish­ing to take a lover over paella, I would be at a loss for words—but I would be able to com­mu­ni­cate my need for a nap.

Life and suc­cess, it seems to me, come down to en­ergy, and I never seem to have any of it. I’ve lived with a level of stan­dard­ized ex­haus­tion for so long that I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t al­ways

“müde,” “cansada” or “stanca.” (I also took Ital­ian when I was an un­der­grad.) I have for­ever been fas­ci­nated by high-en­ergy peo­ple, con­sid­er­ing them with the same cu­rios­ity I might an alien or that most in­trigu­ing sort of per­son who “for­gets” to eat. (What?) Dif­fer­ent phases in my life have brought with them dif­fer­ent rea­sons for fa­tigue: in­som­nia, ane­mia and baby-re­lated sleep de­pri­va­tion. My GP once told me that for ev­ery missed night of sleep, you need a week of good sleep to re­cover. This is de­press­ing. I could live to be 300 and there still wouldn’t be enough weeks. I of­ten think about try­ing to do some­thing about it—in the same way that ev­ery win­ter I re­solve to em­brace the el­e­ments and, say, take up snow­shoe­ing— but then I con­clude that I’m too tired. This past fall, in the in­ter­est of gen­eral sur­vival, I sum­moned the en­ergy to visit Dr. Natasha Turner, a Toronto-based natur­o­pathic doc­tor and New York Times best­selling au­thor of The Su­per­charged

Hor­mone Diet and The Hor­mone Boost (a guide to in­creas­ing strength and hoist­ing en­ergy).

The morn­ing of my visit, I eat a bowl of overnight oats. (I im­pressed my­self by pre­par­ing them the night be­fore.) As I stir the chia seeds into the al­mond milk, I feel al­most odi­ously vir­tu­ous, like some saintly, gluten-free com­bi­na­tion of Gwyneth Pal­trow and Mother Teresa. Af­ter sum­ma­riz­ing my sit­u­a­tion (some vari­a­tion on “ich bin müde”) to Turner, I add, de­fen­sively, “I eat well.”

“What did you have for break­fast this morn­ing?” she cross-ex­am­ines me. Thrilled by this line of in­quiry, I an­nounce with pride, “Overnight oats!” “There are much bet­ter op­tions,” she says. “You’re sab­o­tag­ing your en­ergy with that kind of starchy-carb break­fast.”

Turner rec­om­mends eat­ing four high­pro­tein meals and re­strict­ing starchy-carb eat­ing to af­ter 4 p.m. “Eat­ing pro­tein in the morn­ing ig­nites your thy­roid hor­mones, sets your dopamine level for the day and prevents crav­ings and the af­ter­noon slump,” she ex­plains. “Starchy carbs, on the other hand, can cause blood sugar highs and lows that make you foggy and tired and give you crav­ings.”

Though this sounds like a very sen­si­ble di­rec­tive, it is also, frankly, dev­as­tat­ing. There are few things in life more de­light­ful than morn­ings spent in the com­pany of a carb, and my mind wan­ders to a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world—one with­out toast. “You can have toast in the evening,” she con­soles me, adding that a diet free of carbs low­ers testos­terone and sero­tonin and in­creases stress hor­mones. I tried go­ing car­b­less once and was never more stressed in my life. I spent ev­ery spare minute fan­ta­siz­ing about lin­guine.

Turner dis­avows the com­mon ar­gu­ment that eat­ing starchy carbs early in the day gives us the whole day to burn them off. “Have starch in the evening be­cause it’s go­ing to help you sleep bet­ter,” she ex­plains. “In the morn­ing, do you just wake up or do you have to hit the snooze but­ton?” I don’t even un­der­stand the ques­tion. “Of course I hit the snooze but­ton,” I re­ply. “Well, I just wake up—when I’m up, I’m up,” she says with the pep of, well, bread pop­ping up in the toaster. “For break­fast, I eat a bag of salad and three fried eggs. It is AWE­SOME. And you can chew a lot. It’s so nice to chew in the morn­ing!”

You can chew on a crois­sant, I think to my­self, but, while I chew on the prospect of break­ing up with my favourite break­fast, Turner as­sures me that my prob­lem is hardly un­usual—fa­tigue is her clients’ chief com­plaint. “So many peo­ple say they’re tired, and the com­mon re­sponses are ‘It’s just part of ag­ing’ and ‘It’s nor­mal.’ But the im­por­tant thing is to not dis­miss it as nor­mal,” she says. Fa­tigue can serve as »

a flag to a po­ten­tial im­bal­ance. The trick is iden­ti­fy­ing it.

For starters, Turner or­ders blood work to mea­sure things that could be im­pact­ing my en­ergy: red blood cells, vi­ta­min B12 and fer­ritin (iron), to name a few. She also uses a med­i­cal-grade bioimpedance ma­chine to mea­sure my wa­ter lev­els (hydration, body fat and mus­cle mass), es­tab­lish­ing that I am de­fi­cient in mus­cle but suf­fi­cient in fat (how com­fort­ing). “The amount of mus­cle you have af­fects your me­tab­o­lism and your en­ergy,” she says.

Another com­mon cul­prit, adds Turner, is a dys­func­tional adrenal sys­tem. “The adrenal glands al­low you to get out of bed in the morn­ing and adapt to all the stres­sors in your day.” She con­ducts an or­tho­static blood pres­sure test to as­sess changes in my blood pres­sure from when I’m ly­ing down to when I’m stand­ing up. “When you’re adapt­ing to stress well and your adrenal glands, [which are lo­cated on top of your kid­neys], are work­ing well, your blood pres­sure should go up about 10 points when you stand up,” she ex­plains. I stand up, and my blood pres­sure, which is nor­mally 110/70, doesn’t budge.

Cor­ti­sol, dubbed “the stress hor­mone,” is pro­duced in the adrenal glands. I have read about the dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects of high cor­ti­sol on the body (belly fat, anx­i­ety, headaches, de­pres­sion...), but I haven’t heard of an adrenal sys­tem that is, as in my case, ap­par­ently, asleep at the wheel. “Even my adrenal glands are OOO,” I tell her. “Yes, your high-cor­ti­sol years are be­hind you, and now you’re on the other side,” she says. “You’re in burnout. Adrenal fa­tigue hap­pens if you’ve been in a high-stress sit­u­a­tion for months or years and your body can’t keep up with it. Your cor­ti­sol pro­duc­tion starts to ta­per off, and you feel to­tally burned out. Preg­nancy alone and chronic sleep de­pri­va­tion will do that to you.”

My blood work comes back and con­firms that I am, in­deed, low on cor­ti­sol. The nor­mal range is 138 to 540 nanomoles per litre, and I am 146—on the low end of “nor­mal.” Turner says lev­els should op­ti­mally be be­tween 300 and 400, but when I share this in­for­ma­tion with my GP, she is non­plussed. Adrenal fa­tigue is not a med­i­cally ac­cepted di­ag­no­sis and is of­ten dis­missed by the med­i­cal com­mu­nity as be­ing al­ter­na­tive hokum.

I’m also, ap­par­ently, de­fi­cient in iron. The nor­mal range is be­tween 20 and 200 nanograms per millil­itre, and I am at six. “You should be 84,” Turner tells me. She sends me home with a small city of sup­ple­ments (iron, vi­ta­min B12, adrenal ex­tract and zinc), as­sur­ing me that with the di­etary changes and sup­ple­ments, I should start to feel more en­er­gized in a few weeks.

“What about ex­er­cise? Should I be do­ing SoulCy­cle?” I ask, my cor­ti­sol lev­els ris­ing from their slum­ber in an­tic­i­pa­tory fear of her an­swer. “You’re too de­pleted,” she says. Be­ing told by a health-care pro­fes­sional not to go to SoulCy­cle is more ex­hil­a­rat­ing than any en­dor­phin high. In­stead, Turner or­ders me to par­take in strength train­ing—ex­er­cise that trig­gers growth hor­mones, which, in turn, help to build mus­cle, tighten skin and in­crease en­ergy. “Ag­gres­sive high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise is only go­ing to fa­tigue and stress you,” she says. “You need to do ex­er­cise that will re­plen­ish your en­ergy re­serves.” Hear! Hear!

I fol­low Turner’s in­struc­tions and book some ses­sions with per­sonal trainer Michael Conroy. “Fire up those growth hor­mones!” says Conroy as he ush­ers me through 40 min­utes chore­ographed with 12 to 15 rep­e­ti­tions of lunges, chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and other weight-bear­ing moves. I’m told to do each se­quence un­til the point of fail­ure. I’m no stranger to fail­ure—this I can han­dle.

A cou­ple of months into my new reg­i­men, I be­gin to feel more en­er­gized—although I do ex­pend a great deal of en­ergy in the morn­ing pop­ping sup­ple­ments and quaffing my weight in New Zealand-whey-fu­elled smooth­ies while mak­ing eyes at French pas­tries. My iron lev­els have also gone up sig­nif­i­cantly. Then my two-year-old gets sick with ton­sil­li­tis and wakes up at 4 a.m. one morn­ing, flame-cheeked and strug­gling for breath, with a fever of 40.5ºC and the bark­ing cough of a sea lion. We end up tak­ing him to emer­gency via am­bu­lance—he has croup. The whole episode is fright­en­ing—and tir­ing. He’s now on the mend, but I’m still con­va­lesc­ing.

I’m still try­ing to fol­low Turner’s pre­scrip­tion, if a bit more loosely. I’ll ad­mit that I have not main­tained the strength train­ing, I have yet to bounce out of bed and I still man­age to only be alert and ef­fi­cient for about 20 min­utes a day. In my de­fence, though, among the chal­lenges of hav­ing a tod­dler is that it’s hard to get through the day with­out, say, a few Shred­dies pass­ing your lips be­fore night­fall. Plus, re­sis­tance can be so ex­haust­ing.

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