You likely recharge your phone's battery every night. If you have a hybrid, you probably charge your car regularly (and if you don't, you hit a gas station before your tank hits E).
But if you feel like you're always running on empty and feel like you could use a charger yourself, you may have what some doctors call "low energy."
"Low energy is a feeling a patient has when he or she feels tired and fatigued throughout the day," Dr. Jared Braunstein, DO, board-certified internist with Medical Offices of Manhattan and contributor to LabFinder.com, says.
We all have low-energy days, of course, but experts say chronic bouts are problematic.
"Everyone experiences low energy at some point, but if it starts to impact your life negatively or at inconvenient times, you may need to take a closer look at what’s causing your symptoms," says Dr. Karla Robinson, MD, a medical editor at GoodRx.
However, primary care physician says that people with low energy often experience it chronically.
"Usually, by the time a person realizes they have low energy, things have not been going well for a while," says Dr. Howard Pratt, DO, the board-certified Medical Director at Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI) and a psychiatrist.
Sometimes, low energy is a result of health issues like sleep apnea. Other times, Dr. Pratt and other primary care doctors say that habits may also be to blame for low energy, including one in particular.
How Do You Know if You Have Low Energy?
There are no diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 for low energy, but doctors say people with low energy often experience hallmark symptoms.
"If you have low energy, you may have trouble feeling refreshed, even when you first wake up," Dr. Robinson says. "You may find yourself dozing off easily during the day or finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks."
Low energy is often chronic and persistent."Typically, this drop in energy is something that has been bothering them for some time," Dr. Pratt says. "One common indicator is that things that they would have normally been able to do without difficulty in the past have become much more difficult to accomplish."
What's the Biggest Habit Contributing to Low Energy?
Dr. Braunstein says poor sleep hygiene, or getting up and going to bed at different times, is the worst energy-zapping habit. Dr. Pratt agrees that poor sleep hygiene is problematic and involves more than unpredictable wake and bedtimes. "[Good sleep hygiene is] about using your bed for sleep only," Dr. Pratt says.
But Dr. Pratt says people often use screens before bedtime, like TV or phones, which can make falling asleep and staying asleep harder.
But why is poor sleep hygiene so bad for energy levels? Because it can trigger poor sleep. Naturally, you'll likely feel fatigued if you don't sleep well—particularly if it's happening chronically.
"When you don't get enough restorative sleep, your body and mind don't have the opportunity to recharge, leading to fatigue," explains Dr. David Cutler, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
"Continued poor sleep hygiene is easy to fall into as we are often prone to take our cell phones to bed with us, but it means we never develop a set sleep schedule and can find ourselves trying to make up for lost sleep on weekends, oversleeping or drowsing throughout the day," Dr. Pratt says.
How To Improve Sleep Hygiene (and Energy)
Lean into your circadian rhythm, or the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, by having a consistent bedtime including on weekends, Dr. Pratt says.
"If we don’t go to bed at a certain time and wake up at a certain time daily, we are disrupting our sleep cycle," he says, referring to the body's circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake cycle.
Ditto for technology, especially phones. A 2020 study suggested that people who spent less time on their phones before bed for a month were likelier to experience better quality and longer sleep. Research from 2019 found that people who used their phones before hitting the sack were at a higher risk for poor sleep.
"Scrolling on your phone long after you’ve turned your lights off can make it much more difficult to fall asleep," Dr. Robinson explains. "Blue light signals your brain to be on, plus you might find it hard to wind down if you’ve been consuming particularly exciting or engaging content."
Cue the low energy and an unpleasant ripple effect. "Over the long term, this can complicate our performance at work and other activities and can diminish our overall health," Dr. Pratt says.
In other words, power down your phone before bedtime or recharge it out of arm's reach so you can also recharge.
Other Reasons You're Lacking Energy
Of course, poor sleep hygiene isn't the only reason why people experience low energy. Here are some other possible reasons:
1. You're dehydrated
Dr. Braunstein says poor fluid intake can lower blood pressure and flow to the brain. Dr. Pratt agrees drinking up is critical, but avoid trying to get your daily fluid intake in right before bedtime.
"Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day while being mindful that most of this liquid intake isn’t happening right before going to bed, which will likely mean waking up mid-sleep to go to the bathroom," Dr. Pratt says.
2. Your diet needs work
Dr. Braunstein says skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, zapping energy in the process. But what you eat matters. "Not consuming enough nutrients can leave you feeling sluggish," Dr. Cutler says. "Nutrient-rich foods provide the energy your body needs to function optimally. Carbohydrate-rich diets can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, which may result in feeling low energy."
Dr. Robinson recommends sticking to fruits, vegetables and whole grains high in fiber as often as possible to keep energy flowing and avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes.
3. You're stressed out
Can't stop ruminating or staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that went wrong today and could go awry tomorrow? Not surprisingly, this is probably affecting your energy.
"High levels of stress or chronic anxiety can be mentally and physically draining even when they don’t interfere with sleep," Dr. Cutler says. "Constant worry and tension can sap your energy over time."
Karla Robinson, MD, a medical editor at GoodRx
David Cutler, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.