Category Archives: General health

Why could I not get to sleep last night?

Not a super evergreen topic this evening, but last night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I had that wired feeling where you almost can feel your muscles churning in place.

I did eventually get to sleep sometime after midnight following some water and an old stand-by: My ice pack. I wasn’t hurting or anything, but being a bit warm I felt that adding in some quite-cold stimulus would normalize me a bit quicker. It did, and I was out soon after introducing it.

I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the morning or any other sort of stimulant. I had eaten well, so I don’t think I was hungry. And I wasn’t drowning myself in blue light like others do.

But I can see in hindsight a few other factors that led to a restless night.

Yesterday was an active one:

  • I walked several miles on an errand excursion to Bucktown and back home through Lincoln Park.
  • Later towards sunset I went on a planned 45 minute circuit run that ended with a hard 8K-effort finish. It felt great at the time, but revving the motor that hard around 6:30pm might have left me too wired to drift off comfortably at 10-11 pm.

So basically it wasn’t exactly taper madness. In fact, I probably was a lot more active than I ought to have been, after having run over 12 miles the day before. Physically I felt okay, a tad sore but definitely up for all that effort. Even today (now well into more of a taper-like workload, after a day of sitting at a desk) I don’t feel too bad.

Soon after dinner I will probably sleep more soundly, but sometimes despite your best efforts you can’t quite get to sleep.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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