Your Desk Job Is Making You Tired

You sit all day at work and feel about as drained as if you had sprinted a marathon. Here’s why, plus a few solutions for boosting your energy despite your desk job.

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Not to diss my office, but it’s a glorified cubicle (with an awesome purple accent wall). It has three windows, none of which look out onto the outdoors. Because of this, there are days where I walk into work, plop down at my desk, and don’t see the light of day until I leave eight hours later. During the winter months, I may not see sunlight at all. I stand up for water-bottle-refill breaks, consequently frequent bathroom breaks (hashtag: hydrationproblems), and when I don’t feel like eating cold food, heating-up-my-lunch breaks. No amount of exercise I log after hours can offset the harsh reality that I, like so many others, will live what’s called a “mostly sedentary lifestyle” as long as I hold my current position. Not all days are quite as depressingly sedentary as that, of course. Some days my bum hardly ever touches that soft, cushy leather chair in my purple-walled cubicle. Ironically, days like this leave me feeling less tired than the sedentary ones. Perhaps you have experienced this as well. It’s a different kind of tired, this sitting-all-day fatigue. It’s a drained, lethargic, worn-out, like-the-life-has-been-zapped-out-of-you form of exhaustion.

Reason 1: Light Deprivation

Part of the problem is low exposure to natural light. I’m certainly not the only one whose office space lacks adequate sunlight; even if you’re stationed next to a window (like, one that doesn’t look into the adjacent cubicle), the glass blocks the beneficial effects of the sun’s rays. And without sun, our energy and mood tank big time. In the winter we call this Seasonal Affective Disorder (“S.A.D.”), but there’s no reason the same principle can’t be applied to anyone holed up indoors at work 40 hours a week.

Reason 2: Movement Deprivation

Desk jobs also severely limit movement, and being too sedentary is a great way to feel super lethargic. A little bit of movement increases blood flow to allow more oxygen and nutrients to reach cells for the creation of energy, boosts alertness and cognition, and improves sleep so that you start the day more rested.

Reason 3: Technology Overload

We must also consider overstimulation by technology, particularly blue-lit screens. Most of the research on long periods of time spent staring at screens looks either at eye fatigue (not totally irrelevant when it comes to feeling a bit drained all around) or at screen usage prior to bedtime. However, it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that if blue light really can make your hormones go wonky enough before bed to disrupt sleep, they very well may have a similar effect when overused during the day, too.

Reason 4: Office Air

Finally, there is the unavoidable nature of the office building itself. Most buildings are full of indoor air pollution, bacteria, and mold. This sub-par air quality paired with oftentimes poor ventilation systems has led the EPA to coin the term “Sick Building Syndrome.” Basically, the indoor environments in which we work can actually make us sick and, yes, cause feelings of fatigue. Of course, we can’t all quit our desk jobs to frolic in clean-air meadows all day, so there have to be some more realistic solutions. (There are!)

Solution 1: Move Around

First and foremost, get up at least every hour. Good reasons to get up and move around include:

  • Bathroom breaks (if possible, walk to one a little further away or on a different floor)
  • In-person chats rather than emails or texts
  • Office-friendly exercises
  • Simple stretching
  • Checking to see what the weather is like outside

Besides, research has shown that people are far more productive when working for 52 minutes and then taking 17 minute breaks—just make sure those breaks aren’t spent scrolling through Snapchat.

Solution 2: Take a Real Lunch Break

Second, take a lunch break! How many of us eat at our desks to “be more productive” (in case you were wondering, this doesn’t work). Bonus points if you can get outside during this break but, at the very least, step away from the screen and focus on eating.

Solution 3: Eat Something That’s Good for You

Speaking of lunch, what you eat matters, too. Fueling your body with nutritious foods will help you feel energized as opposed to sluggish and lethargic mid-afternoon.

Solution 4: Exercise

It’s also important to incorporate physical activity into your life outside of work; it won’t fully offset the time spent sitting on the job, but it can help.

Solution 5: Sleep

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you have to sleep. This means unplugging from work as early as possible, disconnecting from electronics at least an hour before bed, and turning your bedroom into a sleep oasis. This country has become obsessed with getting more energy (I’ve written at least four articles on the topic already!), but no one seems to want to face the glaringly obvious problem that we don’t value our sleep time anymore. There is no one magic bullet for more energy, but by incorporating these tips into your daily life, you may find yourself able to face the fluorescence at work that much better.

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