Why is doing nothing during lockdown so exhausting?

We thought the one silver lining of the coronavirus lockdown was that it would at least give us all time to catch up on some much-needed rest.

Most of us don’t have to get up quite as early to commute for work, all our social plans are scrapped, we can’t even go to the gym for our usual spinning or hiit classes. So why on earth are we all so exhausted? We’re doing literally nothing… but we’re still so tired.

Of course, there are plenty of legitimate reasons why lockdown might be draining your energy. If you have kids then it’s a completely different story. Suddenly juggling homeschooling with working from home with zero respite is obviously exhausting.

And lots of us are struggling to sleep at the moment. The heady mix of anxiety, existential dread and the disruption of our normal routines is leading to insomnia and disorded sleeping patterns for many of us – which could explain some of the tiredness.

But the fact remains that for many people – the childless, and those with secure living conditions and stable work – one of our biggest concerns right now, is how little we have to do.

So why, then, are struggling to get up in the mornings? Yawning our way through the afternoons? Falling asleep halfway through movie night?

Turns out there’s a scientific reason why we’re all so knackered, despite doing so little.

Why does doing nothing make you feel so tired?
Dr Diana Gall, from Doctor 4 U, says it’s normal to notice your energy levels flagging when you’re not doing anything.

She says it can become a bit of a cycle. The less you do, the more tired you feel, so the less you do.

‘When you’re lacking any sort of physical activity, and your body spends most of its time in the same position, whether that be sitting or lying down for long periods of time, its ability to take in oxygen decreases and you will notice a huge drop in energy levels and motivation,’ Dr Diana explains.

‘The reason you feel tired, lethargic and lazy after doing nothing is simply because you’re allowing your body to feel that way as it is tired from the lack of stimulation and movement that it is used to.’

She says that if you aren’t keeping active, less oxygen will be getting to the blood which will increase the feeling of tiredness, which could also leave you feeling sluggish and irritable. Not great if you’re trying to keep the piece with your lockdown buddies.

‘If you’re stuck at home, especially those living in a small space, it can feel claustrophobic and you may struggle with the normal level of activity you’re used to,’ she adds.

The good news here is that there is a biological explanation as to why you feel like you literally can’t peel yourself off the sofa. You’re not just being lazy, and you’re certainly not alone in this feeling.

The other good news is that there are things you can do to boost your energy levels and feel more like yourself again.

Which means you’ll be able to get back to deep cleaning your entire house, baking endless banana bread, or even just staying awake until the last episode of Tiger King.

How to boost your energy levels during lockdown
Basically, boosting your energy is about keeping the momentum going – and not letting yourself slide into a slump of inactivity.

In short; get moving.

The only way to break the cycle of tiredness is to push through it – so even if you feel knackered, finding time to move every day is the best way to feel energised and improve your overall mood.

‘The best thing you can do to try and give yourself a boost of energy, as well as increase serotonin levels, is to do some form of daily physical activity,’ explains Dr Diana.

‘If you can’t go outside for a walk, there are plenty of exercises you can try indoors. From Yoga, which will allow plenty of oxygen into the lungs through breath work, to HIIT interval workouts, which will be sure to get the blood pumping whilst increasing energy levels.’

Dr Diana suggests standing up if you’re working from home – and you don’t need a fancy standing desk to make that happen.

‘If you work on a laptop, prop it up on a work surface and remain standing whilst you work,’ she suggests. ‘This should stop you from feeling sluggish and tired.

‘Instead of putting the TV on to pass some time, why not do an activity to stimulate the brain such as a board game, crossword, read a book or phone a friend.

‘These aren’t exercise-based activities, but they require concentration which should kick any feelings of tiredness and lethargy to the curb.’

Additionally, Dr Diana says diet plays a really important part in maintaining healthy energy levels. She says that during lockdown it’s vital to make sure you’re eating nutritious food.

‘It can be easy to snack whilst being stuck at home, so making sure you eat plenty of fruit and veg is imperative,’ she says. ‘As well as increasing your daily water intake to remain hydrated.’

Hydration plays a big part in brain function and energy – and when you’re out of your normal routine it can be easy to forget to do the little things, like getting up for a glass of water.

Set a reminder on your phone every hour to drink a glass of water, or make it a personal challenge to finish a certain bottle by lunchtime and then refill.

There might also be a problem with over-sleeping. Getting up later and going to bed earlier might lead to you feeling sleepier during the day.

The best way to get around this is to stick to routines – even at the weekends. Go to sleep at a similar time, and try to not sleep for more than eight hours. Let some natural light into your bedroom to help you get up, and limit how much alcohol you’re drinking.

Of course, this is a draining time for everyone. And you shouldn’t feel guilty if you feel tired, sluggish or unproductive.

Listen to your body, and sleep when you need to. Anxiety and high emotions can be physically draining on your body, and you will need to recover.

But we are in this for the long haul, and developing healthy routines and regular activity will improve your physical health and help to take care of your mental health too.