These days, there feels like there are not enough hours in the day. We are busy at work, we have to fit in family time, exercise time, socialising time, then on top of that, time for our other interests. The message is ‘go hard or go home.’
It’s not a healthy way to live, and by no means should we try to burn the candle at both ends, but how can we boost our energy, alertness, and productivity at the times we need to?
Natural ways to boost energy
Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium
Constant fatigue could mean that you have a magnesium deficiency. One of the roles of magnesium is to break glucose down into energy, so if you aren’t getting enough, your body’s cells aren’t getting the energy they need. Research has shown that women with magnesium deficiency required more oxygen to do physical tasks; their bodies were having to work harder. Add some nuts, whole grains, and fish to your diet to increase magnesium levels.
Take some exercise
It might seem strange to suggest taking exercise when you’re lacking in energy, but it boosts circulation and oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues. Researchers at California State University found that a brisk 10 -minute walk boosted energy levels for up to 2 hours.
Have a nap
Research shows that a nap of up to 60 minutes (no longer as it interferes with nighttime sleep) can boost energy and help us to retain information better.
If you go for too long without eating, blood sugar levels can dip, making us feel irritable and fatigued. Eat little and often through the day, and be sure to include plenty of protein to stave off energy dips.
Reduce stress in your life
If you are stressed, anxious, worried, or angry, this can deplete your energy levels. Fit some relaxation into your day; listen to music, have a bath, or read a good book to release tension.
Drink more water
Even slight dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued. Try to drink at least 1.5 litres of water through the day, and even more if you exercise, or you are in a hot climate. You will soon notice the difference in how you feel.
Eat whole grains, cut down on sugar
To keep your energy levels steady, the aim is to eat foods that release sugar slowly into your bloodstream. Sugary foods will give you an initial burst of energy followed by a dip in blood sugar levels which will leave you fatigued.
Make sure your snacks include protein, some fat, and a bit fibre to provide your body with sustained energy that lasts. Good snack choices include a yoghurt and a handful of nuts, or peanut butter on a whole grain cracker.
Use caffeine sparingly
Choose a latte for a hit of caffeine. The milk will provide extra protein and calcium. Eat a handful of nuts which will give you some healthy fats for sustained energy.
Be aware of health problems which might contribute to fatigue
If you are tired all the time, it might be worth asking for a blood test to check for thyroid problems or anaemia. Both conditions will make you low on energy, but are easily remedied with medication, supplementation, and lifestyle changes.
But what about when you need an extra boost, and you have exhausted all the natural solutions?
Nootropics are drugs which improve your cognitive abilities and make you more alert. The word comes from the Greek words ‘noos’, which means mind, and ‘trope’, which means turning. They literally transform your mind in some way.
They tend to be used when alertness or concentration is necessary, such as when you’re studying or on the go for extended periods of time.
The most popular Nootropic drugs
Adrafinil was developed in the 1970’s in France. It was initially tested under the name CRL-40028 and was marketed under the brand name Olmifon until recently when the manufacturer discontinued it.
Its original use was as a treatment for narcolepsy. The drug increases alertness and fights sleepiness. It is a stimulant, but it does not cause someone to become hyperactive. It is also reported to boost memory, though further research into this area is needed. Studies have shown that users of adrafinil have decreased symptoms of sleepiness and sleep apnoea. Users reported that they got better quality sleep when they did sleep, and that they had a general feeling of wellbeing and of having more energy. Shift workers claim that it reduced fatigue from having to constantly adapt their body clock.
Modafinil also increases alertness and fights sleepiness. It is also known for boosting cognitive function and memory. It was originally indicated for use in treating narcolepsy. Experts are keen to emphasise however, that the drug does not replace sleep.
How do these drugs work?
Despite the number of studies carried out on drugs like modafinil and adrafinil, it is still unclear exactly how they work. Researchers have developed a few theories however.
They stimulate receptors which cause increased activity
Researchers claim that the drugs act on receptors in the brain which make us more alert and cause us to move around more. One animal study showed that given adrafinil to mice increased their amount of activity.
They work on certain neurotransmitters in the brain
The drugs inhibit the production of substances which can cause sleepiness, and boost levels of a substance called glutamate, which acts on the brain’s hippocampus, leading to increased alertness and focus.
The drugs increase the brain’s metabolic rate
Glutamate is the brain’s main neurotransmitter for energy, so because the drugs may increase levels of glutamate, they can increase alertness, memory, and focus.
The drugs positively affect hormone and chemical balance in the brain
The drugs may increase levels of a neurotransmitter called hypocretin, which increases levels of the chemicals norepinephrine, dopamine, histamine, and serotonin. By positively affecting levels of these chemicals, the drugs can reduce anxiety, regulate sleep, and boost mood and alertness.
The ‘smart’ drugs: Is adrafinil or modafinil better?
If you are considering using either of these drugs to boost alertness, energy or concentration, it’s a good idea to compare drugs and see how they stack up against each other. Adrafinil and modafinil are two of the most popular drugs available for this purpose. Users have reported having better focus, increased concentration, and more drive, which they felt benefitted them in terms of their education or at work. In an ever more competitive jobs market, having an edge is becoming increasingly important to people.
Adrafinil and modafinil have similar effects on cognition and alertness, but they differ in exactly how they work, their side effects, and in their legal status.
This drug was initially meant to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnoea. It can help to promote alertness, and regulates sleeping patterns. Many users report that they have more energy, which is probably due to the fact that the drug increases the concentration of the neurotransmitter hypocretin in the brain. Hypocretin is known to control alertness.
Increased levels of neurotransmitters called catecholamines also contribute to the feeling of having more energy. These neurotransmitters can promote stamina, focus and attention. This part of the nervous system responds to excitement or stress by releasing epinephrine (adrenalin) and producing an adrenalin rush which brings physiological and physical side effects. It is similar to the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body which we get if we feel threatened.
The drug can also bring about an improvement in mood, due to the increase of the levels of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These chemicals are associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness, so stress levels and fatigue can be reduced. With a better mood comes better motivation, this is why the drug is reported to increase productivity and drive.
Adrafinil also has positive effects on cognition due to the stimulation of glutamate receptors in the brain. Glutamate is involved in memory and recall, so users often report that they retain more information. This effect is why they drug tends to be common with students who are studying for exams or who have to complete a large project.
Modafinil works in a similar way to adrafinil, but it tends to act faster and the effects last longer. The indicated use for modafinil is treating daytime tiredness and sleep disorders. It stimulates the central nervous system, so users experience an increase in physical and mental energy. The idea is that otherwise healthy adults use it to stay alert for up to 40 hours. It is not meant to replace good quality sleep though. The cognitive benefits that can be gained from taking the drug are improved recall speed and memory, and more capacity to retain information when learning. Attention and focus are also enhanced, and users claim that it has helped them when writing lengthy assignments or doing presentations.
The drug is a stimulant, though it doesn’t tend to produce the side effects of other stimulants such as coffee, like anxiety and a jittery feeling. With traditional stimulants, there is a ‘what goes up must come down’ effect, with modafinil, the increase in energy is sustained rather than a sharp spike followed by a burn out.
Adrafinil is intended for short term use at a recommended dosage. There are side effects associated with the drug, including headaches, nervousness, fatigue, or intestinal problems. If the drug is taken in high doses, there is the possibility of getting high blood pressure and heart problems.
Liver problems are also associated with long term usage, as obviously, the drug is metabolised in the liver, and has been shown to increase the levels of damaging enzymes.
If users are healthy and follow the instructions for recommended dosage and usage however, this reduces the chance of side effects.
The side effects of modafinil are almost the same as those listed for adrafinil. Some people have headaches, nausea, fever, abdominal discomfort, or skin problems. The risks of taking this drug should always be weighed up against the benefits. Life adrafinil, it is safer when used for shorter periods of times, and at the recommended dosages. In terms of potential liver damage, however, modafinil does not appear to be as damaging as adrafinil. Modafinil is not metabolised by the liver in the same way. Adrafinil is actually converted into modafinil in the liver. This process is what puts stress on the liver. Modafinil does not undergo any such conversion so there is no potential for liver damage.
Adrafinil is not considered to be a prescription drug and it is not regulated. It can be bought online legally, like a lot of other so-called ‘smart’ drugs
Modafinil is subject to regulation, and is approved as a narcolepsy treatment. A prescription is required to obtain it, and it can’t be used legally without one.
How to take nootropics
They are not intended for long term use. If you are healthy, follow the recommended dosages and take them for the recommended period time, there is far less chance of getting side effects. Taking the drugs in cycles, taking them for 2 weeks, having a week off, then taking them for a week then having 2 weeks off will ensure that you don’t build up a tolerance. With adrafinil in particular, be cautious about long term use, as there is a risk of liver damage. Always speak to a doctor if you want to use them for longer than the suggested time period.
Is there a natural way to get the same effects?
If you fancy giving your brain and your vitality a boost, but you aren’t keen to go down the route of chemicals, there are some natural options you can try. Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine has used natural items as nootropics for thousands of years. Herbs like gingko biloba are believed to have a natural nootropic effect. There are pros and cons however, as always. A natural product is not necessarily safer than a pharmaceutical drug, and laboratories are far better placed to control dosages and eliminate contamination from products.
Modern life is relentless at times, which makes us feel like we need limitless energy and mental and physical stamina just to get through our busy days. More of us do shift work, more of us are competing for fewer jobs, and more of us are furthering our education to be the best that we can be. Today, everyone feels as if they need to be ‘driven’ and to demonstrate that they can work hard and play harder.
There are plenty of ways that we can boost our energy if we are flagging, but what about if we need to be alert and focused for any length of time? Do the natural methods cut it? Increasingly, many people are beginning to think not, and they are turning to other methods to give them an edge, whether it’s being completely focused on a work project, or cramming for an exam.
They are getting this ‘edge’ from a type of drug called a nootropic. If you have ever seen the movie ‘Limitless’, it’s heading into that kind of territory.
Nootropics stimulate the nervous system, but they don’t give you the energy crash or the jittery effect of some traditional stimulants. They were traditionally researched and developed for use by those with sleep disorders and those who experienced daytime tiredness. They are known to increase energy, boost memory, the ability to retain information, and increase physical stamina. Students and ambitious professionals are using them, as well as people who work demanding shift patterns.
The 2 main drugs used for this purpose are adrafinil and modafinil. They both have similar effects on the nervous system, though adrafinil is not regulated and is available legally without a prescription. However, the way it is metabolised by the liver means that there is more of a risk of liver damage when taking it. Modafinil is a prescription drug, and can’t be taken legally without one. It does not come with the risk of liver damage, though like any drug, is most safe when taken at the recommended dose for the suggested amount of time.
If you don’t want to go down the drugs route, there are some natural ways to boost energy, like some herbs and other extracts, though remember that natural does not mean safe, and even natural products can contain compounds which can interact with medications, worsen existing conditions, and cause unwanted reactions in the body.
Today’s modern life might demand that we be limitless, but how good is that for us, physically or mentally? Achieving what we want in life does not have to come at the expense of good health, though often our culture demands that work comes first. Health and happiness should always come first, even if society tries to tell you otherwise.