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Why You're So Tired

You didn't eat lunch
Maybe you were too busy, maybe you were trying to lose some baby weight. Whatever the reason lunch didn't happen, it's bringing you down. You've probably heard that breakfast is super important, and it is -- but moms, whether they're rushing around at home or at work, are often guiltier of skipping lunch. And to maintain your energy, you can't wait until dinner to eat.

"Moms often eat a bite of toddler waffle here, an animal cracker there, but that's just not enough," says Lauren Slayton, a nutritionist in New York City. When you skip a real meal, your blood sugar level dips, and that affects your energy, your mood, and your ability to think clearly. The solution: Leave the crumbs on the counter and, if you're at home, sit down with your child to eat. At work, try to separate your sandwich from your spreadsheets, even for a few minutes.

If you're trying to limit how much you eat, remember this: "calorie" is just another word for "energy." You need calories. You're not being "bad" by eating; you're actually giving yourself the energy it takes to burn off the extra weight. You can't push a stroller around the neighborhood or hit the gym if you're too tired to move!

You didn't eat a good lunch
Even if you are eating often enough, you may not be doing yourself any big favors with what you're eating. White bread, microwavable meals, and juice boxes can make for too much starch, salt, and sugar. These kinds of foods (so prevalent in a house with kids) will just give you a quick rush of energy that'll send you crashing back down in a few hours. What you need is protein (to increase dopamine production in the brain, which will help you feel more alert) and vitamins. And don't cut out the carbs -- the good kind give your body long-term energy.

So choose whole-wheat bread, high in fiber, and pile it with turkey and tomato. Or have a salad with spinach, carrots, and chickpeas. The key is balance: One kind of food isn't going to keep you going for very long.

With that in mind, you might also need to ask your doctor what's missing from your diet. Kathy Reincke, a mom of two in Marshall, Michigan, thought her fatigue was just a fact of life. But a trip to the doctor (it took dizziness and nausea to get her there) revealed she was low on iron. With more lean red meat, dried fruit, and iron-fortified cereal, she felt human again.

You perk yourself up with too much caffeine
Caffeine will definitely make you feel less tired after you drink it. But the effect doesn't last, and it can cause subtle sleep disturbances. Having caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, too close to bedtime is also going to make it difficult to fall asleep. And since caffeine is a diuretic, it might make you get up in the night to use the bathroom. Caffeine can stay in your system for four to six hours, so try to stick to one cup of coffee or Diet Coke a day (okay, okay: no more than two), and drink it before late afternoon.

Your medicine is a zzz-inducer
Liz Bradley, a mom of two in Merrick, New York, had no idea why she constantly felt like taking a nap, even after her daughter was sleeping through the night. "My doctor said my allergy medication wouldn't make me drowsy, so I crossed that off the list. Then I forgot to take my pill one day, and I had so much more energy."

That's because even non-sedating drugs can make some people feel drowsy, says Yvonne Braver, M.D., an internist at the Women's Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Some women are more sensitive to the medications, she says, and many antihistamines can disrupt REM sleep, which leaves you feeling like you didn't sleep well. Decongestants, cough suppressants, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications can also make you feel tired. See if your doctor can recommend another drug -- and if that doesn't work, ask your husband to take over, and try to take a weekend nap ("My doctor said I needed to!").

You don't have as good a nighttime routine as your kids do
Obviously, you'll be tired if you don't get enough sleep, but the quality of whatever sleep you do get matters, too. And that can be affected -- big-time -- by what you do before bed.

Just as your child's story-toothbrushing-sleep routine calms her down and helps her fall asleep, a similar soothing ritual can work wonders for you. A 15-minute chunk of no-TV, no-chore time is enough to help your brain turn off. So don't feel guilty if you're not maximizing every minute you're awake: Go ahead and read in bed or drink tea (noncaffeinated now) and stare into space for a few minutes. It'll help you sleep better so you can tackle tomorrow.

Leslie Pepper, a mom of three, has also written for Parade and Women's Health.