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Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

Have you noticed the bottles of Kombucha that line the shelves at your natural food grocery stores, or the recent offerings of a drinkable fermented milk product called Kefir?

They fall into a category of fermented foods which are making a huge breakthrough in American grocery stores.

If you are not familiar with fermented foods, or the powerful health benefits that come from adding them to your diet, then this article is for you.

Read on to learn about the 5 simple foods you can incorporate into your diet for both better digestive health and mental wellness.

Fermented Foods: A Hot [Ancient] Trend

If you are just now noticing fermented foods in your grocery store, it’s good to keep in mind that fermented foods are not a new trend.

They have been around for about eight thousand years and have recently begun to steadily gain popularity in the American diet.

In fact, due to the explosive research done on gut health and the importance of microbiomes, fermented foods are making huge strides in Western societies.

Before electricity and refrigerators existed, controlled fermenting was done as a way to preserve foods to make it safe to eat.

Different cultures celebrated fermented foods, and each culture developed their own spin on them through the introduction of unique flavors and traditions that were part of their culinary heritage.

For example:

• European cultures enjoy sauerkraut and cultured dairy products such as sour cream and cheeses

• Koreans are famous for their kimchi, Japanese people love natto and miso, while the Chinese enjoy blackened preserved eggs

• In India, people drink Lassi before every meal to aid digestion

• Garri, a root vegetable, is prepared and fermented before eating in West Africa

• In Russia and Turkey, people drink a yogurt called Kefir

Bacteria Makes Food Taste Better

Although there are many different ways to preserve and ferment foods, they all contain a specific component that are important to the fermenting preservation process, a bacterial starter culture.

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The most common method of fermentation uses a bacteria strain called Lactobacillius.

During the fermentation process, these good bacteria fight off dangerous strains of bacteria like E. coli that make our food dangerous to eat.

Lactobacillus converts the salts and sugars that were added during the fermentation setup into lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of dangerous bacteria. This production of lactic acid is what gives food that sour, tangy flavor that we associate with fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut.

You can use the liquid from a previous ferment as a source for your starter bacteria, such as the whey for yogurt, a SCOBY from kombucha, or the brine from pickled vegetables.

If you are just starting out, you can also find healthy strains of bacteria in powder form. Health food stores or shops online will sell starter culture kits that are full of beneficial bacteria to help you kick start the fermentation process.

Ferments are Great for Your Gut

Eating a variety of fermented foods is a great introduction to enriching your gut microbiome to a diverse collection of healthy bacteria.

Not only are you introducing beneficial bacteria to your gut but these bacteria are helping you to increase absorption and digestion of foods.

Fermented foods are similar to probiotics, but there are a few key differences.

Probiotics Versus Ferments: What’s The Difference?

Fermented foods are not equivalent to probiotics.

Based on their classifications there are differences between a probiotic versus a fermented food, even though both have incredible health benefits.

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. [1]

All fermented products are created using healthy bacteria, but when they are cooked, they won’t contain live bacteria.

For example, foods such as sour dough bread are fermented because they rely on bacteria like yeast to create them. But by the time you eat the bread the yeast already has already been deactivated by baking.

On the other hand, there are foods such as yogurt, cheeses, non-heated kimchi and sauerkraut that are fermented with bacteria and still contain live beneficial bacteria when you eat it.

These types of fermented foods are also probiotics because they have live microorganisms in them.

A Healthy Gut Is a Diverse Gut

There are ten times more bacteria in your body than you have cells that make up your body; or as scientists estimate, there are about 100 trillion bacteria in your body.

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Millions reside right in the middle of your gut; and, they help you digest your food and absorb nutrients from your food.

Bacteria in your gut help you break down larger food particles (that go undigested in your stomach) into useable forms of fuel that your body can use.

This symbiotic relationship we have with bacteria means that both parties benefit: you get the vitamins and nutrients necessary for your survival and in return the bacteria have food to eat and a place to live.

This population of bacteria is called the human microbiota, and studies have shown that the composition of the bacteria population plays an important role in how well you extract, store, and use the energy from the foods you eat. This relationship is important in helping our digestive development of our intestines, helping us produce vitamins that we cannot obtain from food, and it impacts how we metabolize medications.

Because bacteria plays a role in digestion and absorption of nutrition, early research studies are speculating that different strains of bacteria also play a role in our body compositions. This may determine whether we are predisposed to have a lean body type or an obese body type.

A healthy gut is important to the health and well-being of our bodies.

By eating a variety of healthy foods including fermented ones we can ensure that we are populating our guts with good bacteria.

Nature’s Miracle Cure

The diversity of your gut bacteria also helps to develop your immune system.

Since birth, your immune system has developed by relying on gut bacteria to balance the responses to harmful pathogens while tolerating the harmless bacteria that reside within you.

Research within this area is quite new and we are still learning what a healthy gut microbiome looks like; but, evidence suggests that having a more diversified microbiome leads to better overall health.

An unhealthy diversity of gut bacteria has been linked to many diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and a leaky gut which causes unwanted inflammation.

There has been preliminary research that has found that the effectiveness of vaccines is also determined by the diversity of your gut bacteria.

When you have gut inflammation and other gut issues your immune system is busy dealing with that issue instead of responding to vaccines effectively. [2]

You can help ensure you have a healthy gut and a diverse microbiome through eating a healthy, varied diet that includes fermented foods. It’s a quick way to introduce millions of beneficial bacteria in a single bite.

How Your Microbiome Affects Your Mood

In the past 10 years research has been done investigating the link between your microbiome and how it regulates your thinking and your moods.

Researchers have found evidence that these billions of bacteria residing in your gut could play a role by influencing the brain to determine your mood.

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Gut bacteria have been found to produce a variety of neurotransmitters that play a key role in affecting how you feel.

How we metabolize these neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA can be affected depending on what type of organism resides in our gut. This can regulate the amount of neurotransmitters that circulate in our blood and brain. [3]

A healthy mind and body consists of having a wide variety of different species of bacteria residing in your gut. Wanting to feel good is another reason to eat a variety of fermented foods, as each food will have different types of bacteria that will contribute to the health of your gut.

Eat These Five Ferments for Fabulous Health

1. Kombucha

This is probably one of the easiest way to diversify your gut because Kombucha is accessible to almost everyone and it comes in a large variety of flavors.

Kombucha is a non-alcoholic fermented tea drink that is lightly sweetened. It originated in China around 220 BC.

It has become a trendy drink because it contains vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients that are associated with health benefits. Although there have been exaggerated claims on its health benefits by the media, it’s a great way to introduce beneficial bacteria to help aid digestion.

2. Miso

Originated in Japan, miso is a fermented paste that is made from a combination of soybeans and salt with other ingredients such as rice or barley to create different flavors.

Miso comes in a variety of colors based on how long it’s allowed to ferment. By itself, it tastes very salty and tangy but has a great umami flavor. Because of the huge varieties of miso, different types can be used interchangeably in recipes and result in different flavor combinations.

Although it is commonly used in miso soup, miso can also be used as a base to create salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.

Miso can be found near the tofu section or the vegetarian meat section of your health food store. It will come in a plastic tub or a sealed plastic bag. When refrigerated properly, miso can be kept fresh for up to a year.

3. Kimchi

Another fermented staple is Kimchi, which originates from Korea; it consists of a variety of pickled vegetables that are eaten at every meal.

The most well-known one is of spicy kimchi cabbage, but there are over 100 kimchi varieties, and not all of them are spicy.

Kimchi is fermented with an assortment of spices including chili powder, garlic, ginger, scallions, and type of salted seafood called jeotgal. In addition to the probiotic benefits of kimchi, it is also high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants, rich in amino acids and packed with a range of vitamins.

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4. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another version of a fermented cabbage that is created by a variety of lactic acid producing bacteria. It gets its distinct sour flavor from bacteria fermenting the sugar in the cabbage.

Although we associate sauerkraut with a Eastern European and German origin, it was consumed by the Chinese over 2,000 years ago and likely brought over to Europe 1,000 years later.

Today sauerkraut is made by combining finely chopped cabbage with salt and spices. It is an excellent source of Vitamin B and Vitamin C and contains lots of enzymes to help you break down your food during digestion.

5. Kefir

Keifr is a fermented milk drink that can come from a variety sources of milk, such cow, goat, sheep or even rice and soy milk.

What makes this drink fermented is the introduction of starter grains that are composed of yeast and bacteria.

Originating from the Caucasus Mountains, a mountainous region that divides Asia and Europe, it is now being introduced into American supermarkets.

Many consider Kefir to be a super power version of yogurt because it’s full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotics. Containing about 30 different strains of bacteria, Kefir is a potent probiotic source of diverse microorganisms–even more so than the typical yogurt.

If you’re experiencing digestion issues, drinking kefir can help you restore the friendly gut bacteria to balance out your system for a happier digestive tract.

Fermented Foods For All!

Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years and offer a multitude of health benefits. Whether you are a small child or an older adult, fermented foods are an excellent choice to establish better overall health. Plus, they taste amazing.

When it comes to overall health and general wellbeing don’t forget the importance of having a healthy gut.

Eating a variety of fermented foods, such as the ones listed above, will put you on the fast track to having a healthier digestion.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

[1] ESNM: Diet & Gut Microbiota
[2] Science Direct: Trends in Immunology
[3] The Atlantic: When Gut Bacteria Change Brain Function

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Candace Rhodes

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How to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle to See Results Fast 20 Healthy Eating Recipes Even the Pickiest People Will Love Muscle Building Diet: How to Eat to Lose Fat and Build Lean Muscle The Remarkable Benefits of Strength Training for Women Fermented Foods for Better Digestive Health and Mental Wellness

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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