Why Your Energy Comes in Waves and What to do About It

To get the most out of yourself, whether it’s at work or during physical exercise, it is crucial to understand how the body’s systems work. Most particularly, it is very important to recognize how the energy systems work and how they help to keep us awake and focussed throughout the day and soundly asleep during the night.

Once you understand this, you can create a routine that helps you perform your best at the right times.

The Sleep Wake Cycle

The first thing to acknowledge is the body’s sleep/wake cycle. This is called the ‘circadian rhythm’ and it is essentially our body clock, which is set by both external cues (called ‘external zeitgebers’) and internal ones (called ‘internal pacemakers’).

Things like sunlight, the build-up of metabolites in our bodies and even social cues help us to understand when we should be awake and when we should be winding down ready for bed.

Shifting your body clock is very difficult as it means that the external cues and internal ones will be out of alignment until your body is able to sync up again – this is why jetlag is so painful. This is also why Monday is so painful: after two days of waking up at 12pm, it’s very hard to go back to getting up at seven.

The unfortunate solution? That’s right: stick to the same routine during your weekends!

The Anabolic/Catabolic Cycle

Throughout the day, your body will go through several more smaller cycles. These cause you to fluctuate between an ‘anabolic’ state and a ‘catabolic state’.

When we are anabolic, we are calm, relaxed and producing hormones and neurotransmitters that make us feel good. This is also when the body stores fat and builds muscle.
When we are catabolic meanwhile, we are burning fat for energy, highly focussed and ready for action.

In terms of our evolutionary history – catabolic states were the ‘fight or flight’ states, while anabolic states were our ‘rest and digest’ states. When our blood sugar is low or we’re in danger, we go into a catabolic fight or flight mode. When we’ve eaten and when we’re safe and happy, the body takes stock and starts to recover in an anabolic state.

Of course we aren’t constantly going through these two extremes but we will always be somewhere on that spectrum  either highly focused, or calm and relaxed. The key is to make sure that we are highly focused at the right times and calm at the right times.

And this is linked to a number of factors. Eating for instance causes an influx of sugar that puts us in an anabolic, restful state. If you’re having a big lunch then, do it at the start of your break so that you have time to rest and digest  literally.

Likewise, recognize that you can’t spend your whole day in focused, alert mode without it taking a toll. Make sure you schedule mini breaks and listen to what your body is telling you.