If you’re like most people, you probably want to curl up in a quiet corner of your office and fall asleep every day after 2 p.m. An afternoon energy crash can severely impair your mental focus and thinking skills, leading to loss of productivity and careless mistakes at work. However, it is entirely normal to feel incredibly tired during mid-afternoon.
Blame your circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythms also called your biological clock or your sleep/wake cycle, cause your sleep signals to heighten at night and in the afternoon, around 1 pm to 3 pm. Other reasons you may want to grab a quick power nap could be that you’re not hydrated enough, you’ve been staring at a screen for prolonged periods, or you’ve just had a heavy meal.
Preventing Energy Levels from Crashing in the Afternoon
Whatever the reason, you can prevent an afternoon energy crash by reevaluating your diet, including some crash-proof exercises and improving the way you wake up every morning.
What’s not included? Caffeine. Caffeine is notorious for causing mid-afternoon fatigue so you’ll want to keep your hands off that office coffee maker. Instead, try the following tips:
Address the Cause of Your Afternoon Slump
If you’re wondering why you’re running out of energy in the afternoon every day, see if any of the following common causes of an afternoon slump relate to you:
- High levels of stress.
- Poor eating habits, such as not having a wholesome breakfast or consuming too many carbs or unhealthy fats.
- Not getting enough sleep.
- An underlying metabolic disorder, such as pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or reactive hypoglycemia. If you suspect any of these issues may be the cause for your afternoon doldrums, schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose the problem.
Work With Your Biological Clock
The need to sleep naturally rises and falls at certain times of the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you feel sleepiest between 2 am to 4 am and 1 pm to 3 pm, the latter being quite inconvenient for most of us. Therefore, your best option would be to schedule your work around your circadian rhythms.
For example, people are alert between 8 am to 9 am, making it perfect to handle detail-oriented tasks that demand the highest cognition. Leaving such tasks for mid-afternoon hours could mean that you won’t function at optimum efficiency, increasing your likelihood of working slow and making mistakes. Use your afternoon hours to perform activities that don’t require much brainpower, such as going through emails, making calls, setting up appointments, and so on.
Also, it also helps to switch tasks before you hit your routine midday slump. If you’ve been working on the same project for the last five hours, consider tackling a different project to keep your mind stimulated. This will prevent your work from feeling too monotonous and keep things fresh at your desk.
Try getting up from your desk and walking around. If you have to email your coworker down the hall, consider walking to them and delivering your message in person. This will stretch your legs, stimulate your mind, and give your eyes a break from the screen.
Have a meeting? Taking it out to the streets will not only give you some fresh air but will also stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain that will elevate your mood and thinking power.
Eat a Wholesome Lunch
Your sandwich may be the reason you feel exhausted in the afternoon. A meal that’s rich in refined carbs and sugar, such as anything with white bread, can cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar.
Sure, a little sugar can go a long way in giving you a quick pick-me-up – but it’s often in the wrong direction. Having a lunch rich in sugar and refined carbs often leads to a rapid crash that leaves you sleepy and hungry – also called a “food coma.”
To avoid feeling sleepy after lunch, build your lunch around complex carbs, such as fiber-rich whole grains, quinoa and nuts, and seeds along with high-quality protein, such as chicken, eggs, fish, beans, or tofu. Add in vegetables and fruits to load up on mood-lifting antioxidants and finish with some healthy fat, such as olive oil or avocado.
There are many healthy options available that can make a meal wholesome and satisfying, without causing a crash. Skipping the bread, buns, and donuts can make a massive difference in your mood and overall productivity.
- A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, randomly assigned lunches containing either extra refined carbs (such as white bread) or almonds to a group of overweight individuals for three months. Both types of meals contained the same amount of calories, with the almond-enriched meals containing more good fats and fiber. Both groups showed a decline in their memory test scores 30 minutes after eating. However, the drop was lessened in the group that consumed almonds, most likely due to the lack of refined carbs, and higher levels of healthy fat and fiber.
The study indicates that your food choices don’t only impact your sleepiness, but it can significantly affect your memory and productivity at work as well. When it comes to lunch, it also helps to focus on the number of calories.
According to research published in the journal, Psychology and Behavior, the risk of feeling sleepy after lunch is much higher if you have a heavy meal, versus a light one, such as a grilled chicken salad.
Drink More Water
One of the key signs of dehydration is fatigue. Most of us get dehydrated on a regular basis, without even realizing it. If you have a habit of drinking water only when you’re thirsty, it’s an indication that your body is already dehydrated.
Fortunately, staying hydrated is an effective way to prevent an afternoon slump. As simple as it may sound, drinking a lot of water (over 2 liters a day) can prevent moodiness, lethargy, loss of productivity, and poor concentration. If you aren’t going without using the washroom for a few hours, it means you aren’t drinking enough water.
Keep a refillable water bottle at your desk and eat more water-rich foods that keep you hydrated, such as watermelon, cucumbers, berries, and cantaloupe. Keep away from caffeinated drinks as they tend to make people drink less water.
Instead of looking at your snacks as treats, use them as smaller meals that will give you more energy and nutrition to get through the rest of your day.
A small snack between breakfast and lunch is often enough to keep you full and energized, and it usually helps people from reaching for a sugary snack, such as donuts, or a heavy meal during lunchtime. Limit the size of your snack to 200 calories or less to prevent any blood sugar fluctuations.
Some excellent choices are whole grains mixed with proteins, such as whole-grain toast with peanut butter, air-popped popcorn, a few baby carrots with hummus, a boiled egg, or a serving of nuts.
Plain low-fat yogurt with granola, nuts, or berries is also an excellent option that can help keep you satiated until lunchtime. Fruits and vegetables are also excellent choices because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and require that extra chewing power that can help wake you up.
If you’re looking for something fast and effective, try nibbling on some dark chocolate. According to a study published in Neuroregulation, dark chocolate helps boost attentiveness and alertness. Just be sure to eat some dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao and consume no more than 1.5 ounces during each snack time.
Make sure that you avoid excess sugar, refined carbs, and fats which is common in most packaged foods, even granola bars. Too much fat can make you feel sluggish, and sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and drop rapidly, resulting in an afternoon crash. Keep moderation, balance, and portion control in mind while snacking during work.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
Often, people don’t fuel their bodies well enough to start their day. Most of us are on the run before getting to work, so a cup of coffee and a granola bar from the vending machine may give you a quick rush of caffeine and sugar to help you get started.
However, these aren’t sources of long-term fuel that can help keep you going until lunchtime. Caffeine and sugar only help for a short time, and they’re not enough for the brain and body to continue functioning at peak levels.
Furthermore, when you have a half-hearted breakfast, it’s more likely that you will overeat during lunch. A heavy lunch can significantly contribute to mid-afternoon sleepiness. To get out of this never-ending cycle, keep your hunger and blood sugar levels in check throughout the day by having a healthy and filling breakfast and a snack before lunchtime.
A few quick options include:
- A protein shake smoothie with banana, peanut butter, almond milk, and whey or pea protein
- Overnight oats with fruit, nuts, or almond butter
- Smoothie made with pre-cut and frozen fruit and spinach, with almond milk or coconut water as the base
- Wholegrain toast with avocado or poached eggs
- A couple of boiled eggs with a generous portion of veggies
Get Some Sun
Exposing yourself to bright light at the start of your day can help set your circadian rhythm. Our bodies are designed to wake up in the presence of light and feel sleepy in the dark. When it’s nighttime, our bodies naturally produce a sleep-inducing chemical called melatonin, which subsides over the night, helping you wake up when your alarm rings.
That’s why taking in some sun after waking up can help you perform better throughout the day, even during the middle of your afternoon. It can also help you sleep better at night.
Typical office lighting and the light emitted from your computer screen isn’t enough to keep you up, however. According to a study published in PLoS One, when participants were exposed to bright blue light via special glasses for 30 minutes following lunch, their early afternoon decline in cognitive flexibility was reduced, compared to the group that was exposed to dim orange light. In general, office lighting is usually around 500 lux, whereas the bright-light from the glasses was four times brighter, i.e. 2000 lux.
Fortunately, you don’t need a bright-light emitting device to keep you up. Step outside and soak some sun rays for about 10 minutes before heading back to work. Set up an outside meeting for this time or go for a short walk to a nearby lunch place. The change in scenery and the fresh air is also enough to give you that added boost required to power through the remainder of your day.
As a bonus, scientists have found that people who enjoy some sun within two hours of waking are better able to manage their weight and keep in shape – regardless of what they consumed during the day.
Take a Break
But use this time wisely instead of lounging at your desk. Move around, stretch a bit, or go for a walk to boost your blood circulation and stimulate your mind. Remaining stagnant for extended periods slows down your blood circulation, reducing the oxygen and nutrient supply to your brain and other vital organs. Moving around can boost the oxygen supply to your brain, and thus, increase your creativity and productivity at work.
One study performed by two Stanford scientists, published in the American Psychological Association, involved two groups of participants taking creativity quizzes, where they had to come up with alternative uses for everyday objects, such as a pen or a coffee cup.
The first group of participants sat at desks in a blank room, whereas the other walked on a treadmill. Students who walked on a treadmill were able to come up with 60% more uses per object compared to students who sat in a blank room. The scientists reported that the ideas were not only creative, but they were useful as well.
Perform Some Desk Exercises
While a midday walk or a quick trip the gym may be effective in boosting your productivity and curbing your sleepiness, we understand that not everyone has the extra time. The good news is that there are many exercises you can perform at your desk, without having to leave your office space. Some of them include:
- Tapping Your Toes. Stand next to a trash can and tap your toes to its edge, alternating your feet, mimicking a soccer drill.
- Wall Sits. Stand with your back against the wall. Bend your knees and slide your back down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat three times.
- Seated squeeze. Squeeze your buttocks and hold for 5 to 10 seconds and release. Repeat until your glutes are exhausted.
- Seated Leg Raises. Straighten both legs and hold for 5 seconds and lower to the ground, without letting your feet touch the floor. Repeat 15 times. To increase the intensity, place an object, such as a purse between your legs and lift.
- Desk Squats. Stand with feet together and bend your knees slightly so that your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Raise your arms towards your computer screen as you rise. Hold your squat for 15 seconds before returning to the start position. Repeat at least six times.
Step Away from the Screen
Looking at a screen for several hours can lead to eyestrain, causing your eyes and your brain to feel tired. To prevent this, maintain a safe distance of about an arm’s length from your computer screen.
Computer eyestrain is often caused by focusing on fatigue. To reduce your risk, look away from your screen every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object that’s at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. To remember this trick, doctors call this the 20-20-20 rule. Looking away from your screen at a distant object relaxes the muscles in your eyes that are responsible for focusing, thus reducing your fatigue.
Another useful exercise is looking far away at an object for about 15 seconds. Then gaze at something closer for another 15 seconds. Look at the distant object again for another 15 and repeat this entire cycle at least ten times. This exercise prevents your eyes’ focusing ability from locking up – a condition called accommodative spasm, which is common with prolonged exposure to a screen.
Be sure to frequently blink during the exercise and anytime you remember while working to keep your eyes wet and prevent them from tiring.
Grab a Quick Catnap
If you’re struggling to keep yourself awake, taking a quick power nap may help perk you up. The key is to keep it short, about 15 minutes, to prevent your body from entering deep sleep.
Keeping your sleep within its light stages will ensure that you wake up feeling refreshed and energized. On the other hand, sleeping for more than 20 minutes can cause sleep inertia – that feeling of heavy-headedness and grogginess when a nap gets too long.
Research shows that people who take short naps regularly experience less of a decline in their cognitive flexibility. Your cognitive flexibility is your ability to switch your thinking quickly from one thing to another. An increasing number of companies, such as Google and Nike, already approve of taking naps in the workplace to boost productivity and thinking.
Listen to Music
Listening to something upbeat and energetic may help increase your focus and prevent your afternoon slump. Just make sure you have your headphones on so that you don’t disturb anybody and can manage your tasks, while effectively curbing your sleepiness.
Engage in Mindful Meditation
The good thing about performing meditation in the workplace is that it requires very little time and can be performed while you’re seated at your desk. Slide your chair away from your screen and close your eyes, focusing on your breathing for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how much time you have. In many cases, stress is the prime cause of afternoon slumps, but meditation can prevent this.
Not only does meditation help de-clutter your mind, making room for increased productivity and creativity while you work, it also leaves you feeling energized, positive, and ready to take on the tasks for your day.
A little caffeine can help prevent an afternoon energy slump; however, its effects are often short-lived. Caffeine causes energy crashes and jitters, which can zap your productivity and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, most caffeinated drinks, such as energy drinks and coffee drinks are loaded with sugar and fat.
Too much sugar can cause a crash that may be worse than the midday slump you’re trying to prevent. It can cause you to reach exhaustion sooner than needed, making you feel sleepy hours before your work ends. Fat from whipped cream and creamers can also add to your midday crash as it takes longer to digest, making the body feel tired earlier than it should.
While the occasional coffee or energy drink is unlikely to cause any long-term issues, it’s best to opt for healthier alternatives that will not jeopardize your productivity at work. Some excellent examples of sugar and low-caffeine drinks that can help wake you up include, freshly made fruit or vegetable juices, coconut water, kombucha, and peppermint tea.
Here’s some advice on how to get by on four hours of sleep.