Your 24-Hour Energy Plan
Fantasy: You downsize your to-do list, ignore your computer and phone, and delegate your responsibilities as a mom, daughter, wife, sister, coworker, or boss. Reality: You’ve got more to do than ever, with hundreds of emails flooding your inbox, homework to help with, carpools, loads of laundry piling up and a new baby and puppy to boot. Sound familiar? Then maximize your energy level by tweaking your daily habits. This hour-by-hour guide can help you power up your day so you can multi-task more efficiently and feel peppier while you’re at it. Use it to help you peak your performance as a parent.
7 a.m.: 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 Alejandro Chediak, M.D., medical director of the Miami Sleep
Disorders Center. Still, it generally takes an average of about 25 minutes to go from groggy to fully awake. To speed the process so you can get the kids up and at ‘em, open the shades and turn on the lights. When sunlight or bright artificial light enters through your eyes and travels to the suprachiasmic nucleus — your 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. The Energizer Bunny® runs on batteries. You function best on a good night’s sleep. More on that later. 8 a.m.: Eat Protein for Breakfast Breakfast raises blood sugar (glucose), which fuels your brain and body. But a low-fiber carb-fest of say, 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, M.D., a nutrition researcher at the University of Texas, in Galvaston. To stabilize that energy-zapping hormonal roller coaster, pack a protein punch at breakfast. In fact, Dr. Paddon-Jones recommends 25-30 grams at every meal, in addition to high-fiber carbs like oatmeal and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Easy grab-and-go protein picks include lowfat cottage cheese (11 g/4 oz), a tall Starbucks nonfat latte, or a cup of skim milk (10 g), a Luna bar (8g/bar), low-fat yogurt (7 g/6 oz), or an egg (6 g). 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, M.S., R.D., author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler.
9 a.m.: Get Your First Caffeine Fix
Caffeine is as potent as breakfast to get you going. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, those who consumed a 40-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 didn’t have either. But don’t gulp down your daily dose in one sitting. A study involving U.S. Navy Seals found that an average of 300 mg 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, Ph.D., a research psychologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, MA.
10 a.m-Noon: Tackle Tasks
All morning, your circadian cycle is on the rise, so take advantage of yournatural alertness and tackle your most mentally-challenging projects before lunch, whether it’s organizing your child’s toy room or doing a first draft of a report at work. 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. Need ideas? How about sliced turkey on wholegrain bread with a smear of mayo and a pear with a glass of skim milk? Other ideas: whole-grain crackers, baby carrots, one-half cup hummus, and anorange; a whole-grain roll, one cup lentil soup, grape tomatoes and a peach. Don’t skip lunch no matter how busy you are taking care of everybody else.
1-3 p.m.: Nab a Short Nap
From 1-3 p.m., your circadian rhythm will take a dip whether you eat or not so you’ll feel a natural drop in alertness. “The need for a short nap is actually part of our hardwiring,” says Dr. Chediak. So nab 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-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 30-45 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-thespot push-ups can help.
3 p.m.: Take a Water Break
By now, your circadian cycle is rising again so now’s the time to dive back into mentally-demanding projects if you haven’t already. Need a motivation boost? Try drinking some water. Being mildly dehydrated, losing one-two 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, Ph.D., research associate in the psychology department at Tufts University, the study’s lead researcher.In general, women need 2.7 liters (roughly 11 cups) of fluid daily, which you 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.
4 p.m.: Sniff Rosemary
To help yourself power through the rest of the afternoon, 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, Ph.D., 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.
5-6:30 p.m.: 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 the 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, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts University in Boston and author of The “I” Diet. Ideally, it’s best to get a major fitness fix in this time window — four-six hours before going to bed. “Falling asleep is easier when your body is internally going from
warm to cold. That happens about four-six hours after exercise,” Dr. Chediak says. To fit in a workout, trade off with your husband: on the nights you head to the gym, he makes dinner and vice versa.
6:30-7:30 p.m.: Dinner Time
Eating dinner now is important because you’ve just exercised. “Eating within 30 minutes of working out helps your muscles refuel and repair so you won’t feel depleted the next day,” says Carlson. 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.
7:30-9 p.m.: Wind Down with a Hot Bath or Power Up with a Cold Shower
Now, after the kids are in bed, is the perfect 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 sack in an hour or so. On the other hand, if you need to burn the midnight oil, take a cold shower. “It gets you going because cold water causes your brain to release epinephrine, which increases vigilance,” says Kingman P. Strohl, M.D., director of the Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the Louis Stoke Cleveland DVA Medical Center. A study of 149 resident physicians found that showering was one of the main strategies they used to cope with on-the-job fatigue.
9:30 p.m.-7 a.m.: Get Your Zzzs
By around 9:30 p.m., your circadian (alertness) drive plummets and the pressure to sleep, which builds up the longer you’re awake, is strong. Go with it and hit the sack. “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,” Dr. Lieberman says. Aim for seven-nine hours of solid shut-eye each night. Seems 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- 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 10:30 p.m., 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 9:30 p.m. or earlier. I decided that getting enough sleep was more important than staying up to watch my favorite shows, but I’m thankful for my DVR."