Picture if you will, an everyday office in an everyday business in an everyday town. A hard working associate has just returned from a generously apportioned lunch. They feel happy and content, their morning-long hunger satisfied at last. Little do they know they are about to enter: The Afternoon Slump. (cue Twilight Zone music!)
We’ve all been there. We come back from lunch with our work besties and sit down to get back to the daily grind, and then The Slump sets in. You feel as though all of your limbs suddenly weigh several metric tons. Your eyelids grow LA rush hour traffic. The entire day slows to a standstill, and minutes begin to pass like hours. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Millions of people suffer an average of 90 minutes of post-lunch slump. It is a serious problem in terms of maintaining productivity and energy levels throughout the day. [Article Continues Below]
Those hours between 3-5 p.m. don’t have to be a source of professional dread though. There are many ways you can fight that afternoon fuzz and stay on track with your workday, and life after work as well. It’s all about little changes slowly over time that contribute to a greater change. If you can stick to a routine, the slump will quickly become a thing of the past. Check out these helpful infographics to learn more about avoiding and overcoming the afternoon slump.
What Causes The Afternoon Slump?
What is the trigger for your drowsy, sleepy afternoon lag? You just renewed your body’s energy supply, and now suddenly you have been drained of all ability to accomplish meaningful work?
"Feeling a little tired after eating a meal is perfectly normal," says Robbie Clark, dietitian and sports nutritionist in an interview. "There are a few reasons why we experience the post-lunch slump, but the main reason is due to the digestive process."
Apparently, in order to make more energy, your body must consume energy in the process.
"Our bodies require energy to function and survive. We get this energy from our food, which is broken down through the digestive process and converted into fuel, or glucose, and then macronutrients provide calories (or energy) to our bodies. Our digestive system triggers all kinds of responses within our body," Clark further explained.
So, digesting that tasty pasta you had for your mid-day meal is apparently tapping into existing energy reserves. Sugary foods or foods high in carbohydrates also cause our bodies to release larger quantities of insulin as well, which can trigger the body’s “happy” and “sleep” hormones.. Overeating can further increase your body’s insulin release, causing you to feel sleepier the more you eat.
Top 13 Tips for Beating The Afternoon Slump
Now that we understand the causes, what can we do to fight back and keep ourselves moving? Here are thirteen tried and true methods of fighting off the afternoon slump:
Get Some Sunshine
Even ten minutes in the sun can be helpful, and walking further increases the effects of sunlight on your energy levels.
Eat more protein and less carbs
Eat more fish, chicken, or eggs with lots of greens at lunch while cutting back on breads and starches.
Afternoon tea has always been popular for a reason
Have an afternoon cup of tea that is caffeinated to help you overcome that afternoon lag. Avoid adding sugar as this will increase your insulin response, but adding lemon is a nice touch for some added zest.
Spend a few minutes cleaning your desk and your inbox
Mindless cleaning tasks that require you to get up and moving are a great way to fight that afternoon fatigue and keep your workspace tidy.
Make an “I was just thinking about you” phone call
Call your spouse, your child, close friends or family members and catch up for five minutes. That human connection even for five minutes can go a long way to restoring your energy level after lunch.
A drop of peppermint oil in the hand is very refreshing
Add a drop and rub your hands together briskly before rubbing your face (avoiding contact with your eyes of course). The aroma of peppermint boosts energy and enhances confidence.
Take a minute to stretch
Roll those shoulders, roll your neck, stretch out your arms, and be sure to breathe slowly and deeply throughout.
Eat a small piece of dark chocolate
Get a little healthy dose of lipids, antioxidants, fiber and magnesium with a small square of dark chocolate.
Chew a spicy piece of sugar free gum
This helps focus your brain, and the aroma of the spices or mint helps freshen your breath and clear out bacteria from your lunch that may be lurking in and around your teeth.
Plan something to do as a group during your usual daily slump
Working by oneself tends to lead to a slowdown in productivity and increases the likelihood that you will fall prey to those afternoon doldrums. Try to arrange to work with others during that time of day to keep your mental and physical energy levels up.
Get some isometric exercise
It can be as simple as tensing muscle groups for extended periods of time or keeping your arms outstretched while holding a light free weight or a book. However you do it, this increases blood flow and helps your mind stay alert and awake.
Keep a rosemary plant in your office
Sharing your workspace with a living thing improves the overall quality of your day, and rosemary provides a refreshing, energizing scent that helps you fight those afternoon doldrums.
Eat some fresh veggies for a snack
Tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, and similar are a great combination of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar levels regulated and your insulin responses low.
Foods and Drinks That Slow You Down
Here is a brief list of some foods and beverages that can cause that afternoon energy crash:
- Sugar-sweetened coffee
- High sugar and caffeine energy drinks
- Chocolate bars
A good rule to live by is that if you eat more starchy foods high in carbohydrates and sugars, you are going to feel sleepy soon after eating because your body is going to produce insulin to help convert all that sugar into energy. That insulin response will also release tryptophan, a hormone that makes you extremely sleepy, so it is important to make sure that you balance your meals between sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins to maintain a balanced insulin response.
Also, try to ensure that you eat three regular meals a day at roughly the same times every day. Be sure to eat energizing snacks in between to help you keep your blood sugar in balance and renew your energy as the day goes by, too.
Foods and Drinks To Give You a Boost
To help you maintain your energy level all day, here are some foods and beverages you can enjoy that will provide your body with more sustainable, crash-free energy.
- Water (flavor with Pure Lyft if you don’t enjoy plain water)
- Orange juice
- Hot tea with honey
- Black coffee (no milk or sugar)
- Multigrain breads, bagels or crackers
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Don’t abandon your carbohydrates altogether though if you don’t want to suffer a carbohydrate-shortage-induced blood sugar crash either. Try to maintain a balance between your energizing proteins and fruits/veggies and your starches and carbohydrates. This will help stabilize your blood sugar and insulin responses to eating, and make you feel more energized after every meal.
One way you can keep moving and active all day is to use an active or standing desk. Eschewing an office chair for a workspace where you can stand up to work for extended periods of time, active or standing desks let you work comfortably and without straining your back or feet while you stand. Most can also be adjusted back down to a sitting position if you start to feel standing fatigue too, so it’s not like you are sacrificing a regular desk forever.
You may also want to consider using a pilates stability ball in place of your office chair for a few hours a day. This will give your core abdominal muscles a healthy isometric workout while you work, and help you strengthen your abs and lower back to protect against chronic back pain and other workplace related chronic injuries.
Napping Habits Around the World
In Japan, many workers choose to beat the afternoon slump by succumbing to it and taking a nap. Many companies provide sleeping spaces for employees to use, including “nap tubes” that have a slide out bed you can lay down on that then retracts you back into a soothing relaxation chamber. Inside the chamber, employees get restful sleep for a brief period of time accompanied by soothing light patterns and soft music. Often short naps for as little as 20 minutes can completely rejuvenate your day. Other workplaces in Europe encourage longer lunch breaks to allow employees to grab a quick forty winks after lunch if they so desire. Try saving 20-30 minutes of your lunch break next time to meditate or powernap. It may be just the missing ingredient in helping you overcome your afternoon slump.
Can I Just Take a Nap?
You probably should if you feel a bit sleepy, even if it is just for 20 minutes. Most working professionals around the world do not get sufficient sleep to maintain their health and energy levels, so additional sleep during the day can help to ease the effects of not getting regular extended intervals of rest.
Keep in mind though that everyone’s body is different, and for some people a 20 minute power nap is surrendering to the beast and struggling to remain awake for the rest of the day, or worse still struggling to fall asleep that night. The best method is to try power napping out for yourself for a while first to make sure it is going to be a help and not a hindrance.
Beating the Slump - The Key Lessons
Ultimately, beating that afternoon slump is going to be up to you. You must choose what you are and are not willing to do to fight back against those long afternoon hours. Make little changes every day, and don’t try to change everything about your life all at once. Ease your way into a healthier and more energizing lifestyle and diet, and you will see the results you are looking for in no time. Remember that slow and steady wins the race, and slow steady changes are much easier to maintain than sudden, rapid changes.
If you keep experiencing extreme sleepiness in the afternoons despite diet and exercise changes, you may need to consider seeing a sleep specialist to make sure that you are getting adequate rest when you sleep. There are any number of sleep related ailments that could be causing you to lose restful sleep every night, forcing your body to struggle to get through the day because it has not had a chance to rest adequately.
Last, but certainly not least, make sure you are getting adequate nutrition, and consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements or a daily multivitamin. Even a slight deficiency in Vitamin D or B in your body can lead to excessive fatigue and sleeping difficulties. Make sure that if you are struggling to stay energized despite a healthy and balanced diet that you get plenty of Vitamins D and B to keep your body functioning at optimal efficiency.
Good luck on your battle with the slump, friends. Remember that you are in control of your energy levels, and choosing to do what’s best for your body when you eat or sleep can make all the difference in the world when it comes to surviving those long afternoons on the job.