Got “that 2:30 feeling”? You’re not alone. Our mid-afternoon energy drop is largely a result of our bodies’ natural sleep/wake rhythms. However, proper nutrition and exercise (or lack thereof) also play a big role in whether we can function through the afternoon.
At bedtime, our bodies secrete a hormone called melatonin, which is what makes us sleepy. Unfortunately, melatonin is also released in the afternoon, causing the notorious midday slump. This is exacerbated by improper diet, eating too much or too little at lunch, stress, and sleep deprivation—all common problems for busy individuals.
Are you in the habit of skipping breakfast and just grabbing something from the vending machine when noon comes around? Most processed foods (like sweets and white bread) are simple carbohydrates. These provide quick energy, which is often followed by an energy crash. Eating a candy bar for lunch will cause a sudden temporary increase in blood-glucose level. The problem is, about an hour after lunch, your blood sugar level drops again, you feel sluggish, and you have trouble concentrating.
How do you prevent the slump?
Properly fueling the body is so important for keeping energy levels high—not just in the afternoon, but all day long. Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, vegetables) and protein (milk, lean meat, eggs, yogurt, soy, nuts) should be included in every meal, including breakfast.
Even when eating a healthy and balanced breakfast and lunch, you may still feel sleepy in the afternoon. If your schedule allows it, go ahead and take a siesta. Twenty minutes is the ideal amount of time for a midday nap; sleeping any longer might cause insomnia once bedtime rolls around.
If there is no appropriate time or place for a midday nap, physical activity is the next best option. Walking, climbing stairs, and jumping jacks all increase your heart rate and circulation, signaling your body it is time to wake up!
Feeling sluggish? Try this.
Rather than reaching for another cup of coffee or an energy drink, drink a glass of cool water as a pick-me-up. If you’ve been drinking caffeinated beverages all morning, there’s a good chance dehydration is the cause of your drowsiness.
Chew some peppermint or cinnamon-flavored gum. Mint and cinnamon are scents that stimulate us and help us stay awake (I find this particularly useful for long trips in the car). Another stimulating scent is that of rosemary; a rosemary plant makes a great addition to the home or office.
Let natural light into your work space or go for a walk outside; our bodies respond to natural light as a sign that it’s time to wake up. When we are exposed to natural light, our body actually halts production of melatonin.
Make a to-do list, and complete the most mindless activity first. Work your way up to the most mentally challenging or daunting task. The sense of accomplishment as you go along will energize you, and by the time you reach your final task you will be past the midday slump.
Remember what you have to look forward to. Whether it’s watching a movie when you get home, cooking a special recipe, or big weekend plans, having something to get excited about can be very energizing. Plan something to make each day special, otherwise you may feel like you’re trudging through life.
Other culprits behind your fatigue.
One of the most widespread health complaints is fatigue—not just in the afternoon, but all day long. If you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night and still feel tired throughout the day, a diet or lifestyle change could restore your energy.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue, especially in women. Adding an iron supplement or more red meat and beans to your diet may improve energy. Magnesium deficiency is another cause of fatigue. Foods rich in magnesium include whole wheat breads, bran cereal, spinach, almonds, bananas, and potatoes.
Loading yourself with caffeine may have the opposite effect you were hoping for; people respond to caffeine differently based on their physiology (this Plum Deluxe reader is a perfect example). Try weaning yourself off of coffee and soft drinks for a few weeks and observe any differences in your energy level.
Research Sources: NYTimes, WebMD, MedlinePlus
All photos are courtesy of the author.