The ‘fatigued 40s’ are real. Here’s how to tackle them

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We may be dealing with exhaustion through over consumption of coffee, wine and sugar.

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Every morning I struggle to get out of bed and only feel fully awake after my first hit of caffeine. I hit peak tiredness at around 3pm and can read just a few pages of a book at night before dozing off. I yawn a lot, need at least two coffees a day to feel normal and when people ask how I am, I often reply, “Shattered.”

But so far so normal, right? After all, I have two young children and a busy job – and, as a result, a never-ending to-do list runs through my head. A straw poll of my friends shows nearly all of them feel tired most days. One working mother of three says: “I’ve been exhausted since 2008, when my eldest child was born. I’ve tried coffee, Berocca, spa trips and weekend lie-ins. Nothing works and I’ve realised the only thing that will help is a live-in nanny and housekeeper, which I can’t afford, so I guess I’ll carry on being tired.” 


Five reasons sleep deprivation effects your health

Five surprising ways sleep deprivation can harm your mind and body. Video copyright Health Media Ventures, Inc 2017

Tiredness among women peaks in the autumn, says Dr Nigma Talib, a London-based naturopath who has worked with Sienna Miller, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Penélope Cruz, and is the author of Reverse the Signs of Ageing.

“In Chinese medicine they believe the change of seasons affects our sleep, and my work bears this theory out,” says Dr Talib.

“I also find it’s women in their 40s and 50s who are particularly prone to fatigue. Seasonal changes aside, it’s a time when they’re either premenopausal or perimenopausal, and hormonal changes are likely to leave them feeling fatigued and/or anxious, with occasional night sweats and delayed, irregular or heavy periods.” 

Dr Talib says 40-something women are worn out for other reasons, too. “I call them the ‘fatigued 40s’. Women of this age are likely to be pretty successful in their careers, maybe running a business or holding down a senior role. They may have built up some sleep debt from the child-rearing years and now they’re fretting over their teenager’s universities, their marriage or ageing parents.”

And they may be dealing with all of the above with coffee, wine and sugar, says Dr Talib. “It’s a cultural thing, but women in their 40s tend to drink a lot of wine. This compounds their tiredness, because fermented sugar depletes energy levels.”

Sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley says, “We have become so used to going through life feeling a bit tired and a bit rubbish all the time, we think it’s perfectly normal but it isn’t”

“When I lecture and ask the audience how tired they are on a scale of one to 10, with one being so tired you could fall asleep on the spot and 10 being not tired at all, the highest answer I’ve ever had is a seven. Most people say four, which is a sorry indication of our nation’s exhaustion.”

Dr Stanley says women tend to fare worse than men when it comes to tiredness, for many reasons. “First, studies show that women need more sleep than men, but they also experience more hormonal fluctuations than men that can disrupt sleep. On top of this, women tend to be the ones sacrificing their sleep for the good of the household – they are more likely to lie awake worrying about a family issue, or to get up to comfort an upset child.”

A new study by Australian sleep researchers has found women suffer almost twice as much from the negative effects of sleep disorders than men, feeling more daytime sleepiness (plus memory problems and lack of concentration) as a result.

So what can we do? “Topping up your magnesium is a good place to start,” says Dr Talib. “The need for this builds as we get older because it’s required by every cell in the body for energy production.” Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include brain fog, insomnia and stress.

Nutritional therapist Amelia Freer emphasises good blood-sugar balance. “[This can] help enormously when it comes to improving my clients’ energy levels,” says Freer, whom Victoria Beckham credits with helping her stay energised. Beckham, a mother of four, said in a recent interview: “I’ve learnt so much about food; you’ve got to eat the right things.

“I usually get up about 6am, do a bit of a workout, get the kids up, give them breakfast, get them to school, then do a bit more working out before I go to my office. And to do all of that, I have to fuel my body correctly.”

In the past Beckham has spoken of trying to stick to a low-fat diet, but now says she eats “lots of good fats, in avocados, nuts, seeds, salmon…” 

Freer says: “Many of the women I see say fatigue is their top complaint. I find that gentle changes to their diets – less sugar, fewer comfort foods, less snacking, more wholefoods, some healthy fats and making sure there is protein with every meal – have a remarkable impact on their energy levels.”

Dr Talib says taking steps to calm your “mind chatter” is also vital. “My female clients tell me they have 100 things to worry about every day and mentally multi-task right up to bedtime, which impacts on their sleep. I tell them to take steps to wind down before bed.” She says if changes like these don’t help alleviate your tiredness, it’s worth a visit to the GP to rule out anaemia (“This can be caused by heavy periods and a lot of women don’t even know they have it,” she says), adrenal fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Dr Stanley says one of the most basic reasons women like me are so tired all the time is because we don’t make sleep a priority: “I’ve seen women who spend a fortune on eating healthily and buying face creams and gym memberships, but they forget they can do something so simple that will improve their health, waistline, performance at work and skin condition. And that’s getting a proper night’s sleep.

“The only prerequisite is a quiet mind, so do anything that quietens yours, whether that’s a warm bath, yoga or a good book before bed.

“Yet everything – from work emails to social media to Netflix – seems so much more important and exciting than that now. When I was growing up, I had to wait a week for the next episode of my favourite show. Now we binge-watch every night with a couple of glasses of wine, then wonder why we feel so exhausted when we wake up.”

“We’re like kids in a sweet shop… we don’t know how or when to stop. Sleep slips further down our priority lists, when it should be right at the top.”

HOW TO TACKLE TIREDNESS

Reduce your intake of sugar, wine, gluten and dairy “These cause the most hormonal inflammation, which can lead to poor sleep,” says Dr Nigma Talib, who advises swapping wine for clear spirits such as gin or vodka (in moderation) and making meals more vegetable-based.

Take supplements “They’re a great way of supporting hormonal balance,” says Dr Talib. “Poor gut health is linked to tiredness, so a good probiotic is a great place to start. Vitamin D, C, B-complex and magnesium supplements are also good for everyday tiredness.”

Eat fat “Low-fat diets aren’t great for sleep,” says holistic practitioner Dr Sohère Roked, author of The Tiredness Cure . “Hormones are made from fat and if we don’t get enough good fat in our diet certain hormones become imbalanced, which can contribute to tiredness.” So include avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds in your diet.

Exercise A University of Georgia study found that sedentary but otherwise healthy adults who began exercising moderately three times a week felt 65 per cent less fatigue after six weeks.

Stop aiming for eight hours “It’s a myth,” says Dr Neil Stanley. “Our sleep needs are like fingerprints, entirely individual. Anywhere between four and 11 hours is normal – if you only need five hours, you’ll feel refreshed after five hours.” But how do you know if you’ve had enough? “By 11am, you’re on the rising phase of your circadian rhythm. If you’re getting enough sleep, you’ll feel wide awake and alert.”

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