A 24-hour energy guide to keep your spirits high.
Published: November 29, 2018
By: Sandra Gordon
Fantasy: You give everyone gift cards for the holidays, let the dust bunnies gather and forget all about cooking, cleaning, shopping and wrapping.
Reality: You’ve got more to do than ever, with hundreds of holiday cards to address, tons of family and friends to shop for and parties galore to attend.
Sound familiar? Then maximize your energy level by tweaking your daily habits. This 24-hour energy guide can help you power up your holiday prep so you can multitask more efficiently and feel calmer within the chaos.
7am: Let in the light
When you wake up in the morning, your circadian rhythm, an alertness cycle, peaks. Cells in your brain that influence vigilance fire rapidly.
“They tell your brain: ‘Get going! Get things done!’” says sleep-disorders specialist Alejandro Chediak. Still, it generally takes an average of about 25 minutes to go from groggy to fully awake. To get going faster, open the shades and turn on the lights.
When sunlight or bright artificial light enters through your eyes and travels to the suprachiasmatic nucleus — the brain’s internal clock — it triggers alertness at any time of day. Morning light exposure is especially important, though, because it sets your 24-hour circadian cycle so you’ll be sleepy at bedtime. You function best on a good night’s sleep. More on that later.
8am: Eat protein for breakfast
Breakfast raises blood sugar (glucose), which fuels your brain and body. But a low-fiber carb-fest of donuts or a plain bagel can cause glucose to spike. A subsequent surge in the hormone, insulin, will then pull too much glucose from your system.
“Glucose peaks and valleys can make you feel tired,” says Douglas J. Paddon-Jones, a nutrition researcher. To stabilize that energy-zapping hormonal roller coaster, pack a protein punch at breakfast. He recommends 25 to 30 grams at every meal, in addition to high-fiber carbs like oatmeal and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Easy grab-and-go protein picks include low-fat cottage cheese (11g/4 oz) or yogurt (7g/6 oz), a tall non-fat latte or one cup of skim milk (10g), a Luna bar (8g) or an egg (6g).
And keep in mind that kids who eat breakfast can concentrate better and have healthier diets. So emphasize how important breakfast is and be a role model.
“If you’re not eating breakfast yourself, it’s going to be hard to get your child to value it,” says Elizabeth Ward, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler.
9am: Get your first caffeine fix
Caffeine is as potent as breakfast in revving a morning at the mall. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, those who consumed a 440-calorie breakfast or 200 milligrams of caffeine (roughly two cups of coffee) had more mental energy and performed better on two separate computerized cognitive tests than those who had neither.
But don’t gulp your daily dose in one sitting. A study involving U.S. Navy Seals found that an average of 300mg of caffeine (equivalent to three cups of coffee) consumed throughout the day is optimal for mental and physical performance. So save your ammunition and have one cup now and more later, if necessary. Besides boosting brain power and memory, caffeine makes you feel more vigorous and improves mood, says Harris R. Lieberman, a research psychologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
10am-12pm: Tackle A-list to-do tasks
All morning, your circadian cycle is on the rise, so take advantage of your natural alertness and tackle your most mentally challenging projects before lunch — whether that’s organizing your child’s toy room before a party or drafting your annual holiday letter. Need a motivation lift? Get another 100-mg hit of caffeine or head to a window or a bright light. Studies show that even just 50 seconds of light exposure throughout the day can jolt your brain and make you feel more attentive.
Noon (or so): Eat protein, high-fiber carbs for lunch
Your goal is to keep your blood sugar constant. So it’s time to eat again, especially if it has been at least three hours since your last meal. For lunch, think lots of vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruit and a small amount of healthy fat. How about sliced turkey on whole-grain bread with a smear of mayo and a pear with a glass of skim milk? Other ideas: whole-grain crackers, baby carrots, half a cup of hummus and an orange; a whole-grain roll, one cup of lentil soup, grape tomatoes and a peach. Don’t skip lunch no matter how busy you are.
1pm to 3 pm: Nab a short nap…
Whether you eat or not, your circadian rhythm will take a dip at this time, so you’ll feel a natural drop in alertness. “The need for a short nap is actually part of our hard-wiring,” says Chediak. So grab at least 20 minutes of shut-eye now if you can. When your kids go down for their nap, take their cues and recharge, too.
…or another dose of caffeine
If napping isn’t an option, a 100-mg caffeinated beverage like a cup of coffee or a diet cola can help you power through the slump, which will be stronger if you’re sleep-deprived. Caffeine generally takes eight to 12 hours to get out of your system, so cut yourself off after this so it doesn’t disrupt your sleep later. If you still feel caffeinated at bedtime, push up your last caffeine hit to noon. Blood levels of caffeine peak about 30 to 45 minutes after you’ve consumed it.
Another option: Light exposure (again) or physical activity. At any time of the day, exercise will pep you up because it increases your body temperature and the release of epinephrine, the adrenaline level in your brain. Even a walk around the block with your kids or a few on-the-spot push-ups can help.
3pm: Take a water break
By now, your circadian cycle is rising again so now’s the time to dive back in to mentally demanding projects, such as tallying your holiday budget. Need a motivation boost? Try drinking some water. Being mildly dehydrated — losing 1 to 2 percent of your body weight, which can happen if you go for long periods without drinking — can sour your mood and contribute to fatigue and confusion, according to a recent study in Perceptual and Motor Skills.
“Even if you’re just sitting at your desk and feeling a little droopy, drinking a glass of water couldn’t hurt,” says Kristen D’Anci, the study’s lead researcher. In general, women need 2.7 liters or roughly 11 cups of fluid daily, which they can get by consuming anything watery, including coffee, soup, oranges and watermelon. You’re drinking enough to optimize your energy level if your urine is pale or clear.
4pm: Sniff rosemary
To help yourself power through the rest of the afternoon of holiday madness, keep a bottle of rosemary essential oil handy and give it a sniff. In a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, subjects who sniffed a cotton ball doused with the essential oil reported feeling more alert with corresponding brain activity to back it up.
“What you smell goes directly to the brain so you get an immediate effect,” says Miguel A. Diego, the study’s lead researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils may be equally as effective. The purest essentials oils have the most potent effect so buy the most concentrated you can find, he advises. They’re available at health food stores and the mind/body section of organic/natural supermarkets.
5pm to 6:30pm: Get in a major workout
A vigorous workout will initially make you tired because it depletes glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate in your muscles and liver, and muscles require energy for repair.
“But in the long run, as you build up more muscle and stamina, exercise gives you more energy,” says Susan Roberts, author of The “I” Diet. Ideally, it’s best to get a major fitness fix in this time window — four to six hours before going to bed. The good news? You don’t have to head to the gym. Shopping at the mall and vigorously cleaning your house counts.
“Falling asleep is easier when your body is internally going from warm to cold. That happens about four to six hours after exercise,” Chediak says.
6:30pm to 7:30pm: Dinner time
Eating dinner now is important, especially if you’ve just exercised. Researchers say that eating within 30 minutes of working out helps your muscles refuel and repair so you won’t feel depleted the next day. It also ensures that you won’t go to bed on a full stomach, which can interfere with a good night’s sleep — the ultimate fatigue-fighter.
7:30pm to 9pm: Wind down with a hot bath
Now, after the kids are in bed, is the perfect time to not only get some presents wrapped, but to take time for a hot shower or bath. Like exercise, hot water raises your body temperature. As it falls, you’ll feel sleepier so you’ll be primed to hit the hay in an hour or so. On the other hand, if you need to burn the midnight oil with more holiday prep, take a cold shower.
“It gets you going because cold water causes your brain to release epinephrine, which increases vigilance,” says sleep researcher Kingman P. Strohl. A study of 149 resident physicians found that showering was one of the main strategies they used to cope with on-the-job fatigue.
9:30pm to 7am: Get your zzzs
By around 9:30pm, your circadian (alertness) drive plummets and the pressure to sleep, which builds up the longer you’re awake, is strong. Go with it, and go to bed.
“Even just a single night of disrupted sleep or a few hours of chronic sleep loss each night can influence how vigorous and how alert you feel the next day,” Lieberman says.
Aim for seven to nine hours of solid shut-eye each night. Seem impossible when you’ve got little kids? Try moving your bedtime. A recent study in the journal Sleep suggests that you can get in the extra-energizing sleep your brain craves by simply turning off the TV 40 to 78 minutes earlier.
It worked for Maureen Brady, a stay-at-home mom of two boys, ages 4 and 7.
“I used to go to bed around 10:30pm, but because both my kids still wake me up occasionally because of nightmares or whatever, and they’re both early-risers, I now go to bed at 9:30pm or earlier. I decided that getting enough sleep was more important than staying up to watch my favorite shows.”