Spent: How to Feel Less Exhausted
I went to see Dr. Frank Lipman a few months ago when I was in New York City. I was very run-down and my immune system was not bouncing back. It was then, among some other pretty great treatments, that Dr. Lipman gave me a copy of his book, Spent. At the time, the first line of the book struck a deep chord: “When the alarm rings, Emily groans and hits the snooze button. Lying there dreading the second ring, she feels dead on her feet before she is even on them.”
The book is an interesting look at why so many of us are tired and, well…spent. And what we can do to correct it. I asked Dr. Lipman to encapsulate his ideas from his book and I share his answers with you because they have helped me a lot.
What does “spent” mean?
“Spent” is the word I use to describe people who are overwhelmed, fatigued, and feel older than their years. Does this scenario sound familiar? You wake up in the morning groggy and need coffee or something sugary to get going. Then you need more of the same later in the day to keep going. Your brain feels foggy; you’re not sleeping well; your body aches all over; your cold never goes away; and your sex drive is down. You are running on empty, your energy account is tapped out, you are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted…you are spent. Interestingly, most people think it is normal to feel like this.
How did we end up like this?
Our ancestors lived in harmony with day and night and the seasons. As a result, the cycles and rhythms of nature became imprinted in their genes. We still share this DNA with our ancient ancestors, but we are living at a radically different pace and rhythm.
With the rise in technology in the last 40 or 50 years, we have begun to live more and more out of sync with these fundamental rhythms and continually give our bodies the wrong cues. For instance, we spend too much time indoors and have too much artificial light at night; we are typically either sedentary or over-exercising; and we rarely experience nature’s rhythms.
Your body has more than 100 circadian rhythms, which are 24-hour cycles that influence many of your body’s functions, including hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, even pain threshold. These rhythms are maintained by internal body clocks, which are controlled by a “master clock” in our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Our body clocks use signals such as light and darkness to know when to release certain hormones and neurotransmitters that tell us when to wake up and be active or to withdraw and go to sleep. Thus, when we are out of sync, hormone production and body functions become imbalanced. But the good news is that our genetic clocks can reset themselves. The program in my book, Spent, is a day-by-day guide that enables your body to regain its natural rhythms. The result is feeling vibrant and alive again.
How did you come up with this theory?
When I started seeing so many patients who were exhausted, with no energy and low immune systems, I obviously started thinking about why this was happening. And I realized that the only time I never saw patients who had these symptoms was when I was working 28 years ago in Kwandebele, a rural area in South Africa. I was seeing diseases symptomatic of poverty and malnutrition, but not the same types of problems I see today in New York City or when I worked in urban areas in South Africa, where patients are more likely to come in complaining of fatigue, insomnia, depression, or various aches and pains. There was no electricity, indoor heating or refrigeration in Kwandebele. They went to bed when it got dark, they arose with the sun, they ate whatever foods were available in season. They lived in accordance with the cycles and rhythms of nature. From going to the game parks while growing up in South Africa, I knew that animals who live in the wild don’t get chronic diseases, whereas caged animals do. I also had learned in Chinese medicine that we humans are microcosms of nature, a smaller universe per se. From there, I started learning about the new science of nutrigenomics, which is the science of eating for our genes. It says that the further removed foods are from nature, the more problems our genes have with them and the more likely we are to have chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
So, then I went “A-HAH!”…it all made sense. Music was how I first experienced rhythm, but I realized nature’s rhythms are everywhere, including in our genes—we just live so removed from them with our modern lifestyles. I combined my personal experience with scientific research on chronobiology (the study of circadian rhythms and internal body clocks) to come up with my theory for why people get “spent.” Then I had to put this theory into practice because I couldn’t tell my patients to go live in a hut without electricity. As with everything, I started experimenting on myself first, and then patients, and over the years of seeing what helped, I developed the Spent Program.
What are some practical things we can do to get back in rhythm?
Eat in accordance with your body’s rhythms. Since your metabolism peaks at about noon, it is better for your body to have a bigger breakfast and lunch and smaller dinner. Eat good fats and protein for breakfast because that is what your body needs for fuel during the day. Smoothies are a great way to get both of these into your diet. The typical sugar and carb-laden breakfast of a bagel, muffin, toast or sugary cereal are just about the worst things you can have, so avoid those at all costs.
Have an “electronic sundown.” At around 10pm, turn off your computer, charge your cell in the other room, and turn off the TV. Scan your bedroom for blinking or glowing lights—the alarm clock, the charging indicator on your cell phone, the DVD clock and timer, etc. Turn these off or cover the lights. Each little bit of light can stop your melatonin levels from rising, which you need to induce sleep and to reach the deep restorative sleep your body requires. If you can’t darken your room, wear a sleep mask. This period of darkness will help reset your natural rhythm.
Slow down with relaxing music. Music is one of the best ways to retrain your body to chill out. Our internal rhythms will speed up or slow down to match the stronger external rhythm around us. For instance, research has shown that when you are at a beach, your rhythms slow down or when you are in a busy city, they speed up. This is called entrainment. We are entraining all the time to our surroundings and the rhythms around us. Music is a wonderful way to help your rhythms entrain. Relaxing music slows heart and breathing rates and creates a feeling of well-being.
Invite ease with restorative yoga. Restorative yoga is the perfect solution to the over-stressed state we all are in. As you are supported in the poses, one gets the profound effects of yoga without having to exert any energy. Restorative yoga is one of the most physically reviving things you can do when you feel run-down, burned-out, stressed-out, and spent. These poses are particularly good to chill you out at night before bed.
(Note from GP: My favorite restorative yoga pose when I am extra burned-out is as follows: Lie on your back with your legs perpendicular against the wall so that your body is at a 90-degree angle. Have your arms out by your side with your palms facing up, close your eyes, and breathe for 10 minutes.)
Release tension with tennis balls. Buy two tennis balls, as these can be used to do self-massage, especially on your shoulders, back or feet. Releasing tight muscles will free up blocked energy and not only decrease pain, but energize you, too.
(Note: For the ultimate neck and shoulder release, you can lie on your back, knees bent and feet hip width apart. Place two tennis balls at the top of your shoulder blades, side by side, in the area where you would love to have a massage. Slowly lower your head and shoulders. Place a pillow behind your head if your neck is uncomfortable. Lift your arms to the ceiling, then move them slowly toward your knees and then toward the wall behind you. Repeat this 10 times.)
Add an adaptogen in the morning. Adaptogenic herbal formulas have been used by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. They serve as energizing tonics to help energize people who are weak or aging. These herbs increase the capacity of the body to adjust to the stresses of life. Lately, there has been much research confirming their positive effects. My favorite adaptogens are Panax ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola. Because they combat stress and are anti-aging, they are the perfect antidote to spent. (Note: Please consult your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.)
Practice ubuntu. “Ubuntu” is an African term that means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It’s a worldview that sees humanity as a web of family rather than a mass of individuals. When you relate in this way, you feel connected, energized and have a sense of abundance.
These tips are merely seven of the more than 50 in the book. All are fairly easy to incorporate into your busy lifestyle and, more importantly, they each can make a profound difference.
One Love, Frank Lipman, MD