How to keep your energy levels up without depending on caffeine: a Singapore doctor’s advice

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How to break your coffee addiction and still have energy HoneyKids Asia Ask the Doctor Chi

Busy women of Singapore, we know that many of us depend on coffee to keep us going throughout the day. Coffee has been one of the most well-liked beverages for decades. It has become so common that drinking coffee has become part of our culture, and often our daily ritual. We all know caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee that is keeping us awake. Do you need ‘your cup of coffee’ to wake you up in the morning or to keep you alert through the day? Without the cup of coffee do you feel sluggish in the afternoon? If your answer is “yes” then it is likely you are overly dependent of caffeine. So, how do you stay alert without so much caffeine? Dr. Hui Voon Loo of Complete Healthcare International (CHI) shares her advice…

First and foremost is sleep. Yes, good quality sleep. Our body needs enough sleep and rest to be able to recharge and rejuvenate. Occupied with jobs, working till late at night, having a newborn and kids… all of this takes a toll on us. Practise good sleep hygiene – this means keeping all electronics away from the bed, keep the room dark and try relaxation techniques before going to sleep. If getting enough sleep is difficult, here are some tricks that may help to stay alert:

1. Take an afternoon nap
Napping between five to 25 minutes, five to six hours before bed time is a good way to recharge. You might feel more energetic after the nap. Naps longer than that might give you post-sleep grogginess, also known as sleep inertia. Napping too close to bedtime might also upset your regular sleep time. If you can’t nap, even closing your eyes for about 10 minutes or so may help. One study conducted by researchers at Harvard University showed that napping is better than caffeine to get over the midday slump.

2. Get up and move around
Walking pumps oxygen to your brain, veins, and muscles. A study by California State University found that a short brisk walk is more effective in increasing the energy than eating a candy bar. If your job is desk-bound, try to get up for short walks often – head out during your lunch break!

3. Eat a nutritious snack
Candy bars or snacks that are high in sugar will give you a sudden energy boost, but this is followed by a sudden drop in energy due to the crash in blood sugar. Try healthy snacks that are high in fat and packed with nutrients: a handful of nuts, fruits, carrot or celery sticks, lentils, beans, chick peas, hummus, avocado on toast or even eggs. Limiting the amount of carbohydrate intake during lunch time will help to curb the afternoon/post-lunch dip.

4. Exercise
Researchers at the University of Georgia conducted a study involving 6800 participants that showed that exercise increases energy, improves sleep quality, and reduces daytime fatigue. Try exercising 30 minutes a day. Exercise improves the oxygen uptake by the muscles and brain. Getting up and getting moving increases endorphins – these neurotransmitters help to relieve stress and increases feelings of euphoria.

5. Get some sun and turn up the lights
Sunlight has a direct impact on our hypothalamus, which regulates our circadian rhythm. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps you to sleep better at night. A study conducted in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that blue light in particular increases alertness during the day. Sunlight is the ideal source, though artificial light may still be effective. So, try getting out and getting some sun. It wouldn’t hurt to get some vitamin D along the way. If getting sunlight is tough, turn up the lights to increase alertness.

6. Deep breathing/ mindful breathing and other breathing techniques
Deep breathing improves your level of blood oxygen. It lowers the heart rate, improves circulation, calms the mind and ultimately improves mental performance and energy. Deep breathing involves movement of the abdomen and diaphragm, not the chest. Your mind must be consciously aware of your breathing movement coupled with the movement of the abdomen. It could be easily done while you are at your desk. Another breathing technique called stimulating breath involves quick inhalation and exhalation through the nose, with mouth shut but relaxed. It is used in yoga to give a quick energy boost.

7. Drink enough water
Dehydration leads to fatigue. Drink enough to prevent dehydration as our body is composed of 60% water. Studies have shown even a 1-2% loss of water would cause fatigue and confusion.

8. Try other beverages, such as green tea or herbs
Green tea also contains caffeine, but at a lesser amount. In addition, it has L-theanine, which has anti-anxiety effect by increasing the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and dopamine. It also acts synergistically with caffeine in improving brain performance. Liquorice root tea and some other herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola may also help to boost energy by supporting the adrenals.

Ultimately, the ideal approach would be looking at the underlying reason of your fatigue. Are you sleeping well? Is your sleep quality good? Are you coping well with your stress? Are you eating well? Trying to find the root cause and addressing it would be the best way to curb the constant craving of caffeine.


Dr. Hui Voon Loo graduated from University College Dublin, Ireland, and completed a Master of Medicine in Family Medicine and is a member of the College of Family Physicians in Singapore. She practises as a general practitioner at CHI, and has an interest in nutritional medicine, preventative medicine and women’s health.

This post is sponsored by Complete Healthcare International.