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No More Mid Afternoon Slump

Does your body experience a mid afternoon slump? Does it crave something sweet or salty? Another cup of caffeine? A nap? It’s different for all of us. Let's talk about what’s to blame for this afternoon slump – and what can we do to correct it.

What Causes the Afternoon Slump

In short, that energy slump a normal aspect of our body’s biorhythms - or the normal ebb and flow of our body's cycles.

We often assume that because Earth makes one complete rotation on its axis every 24 hours, we’ve conveniently adapted to this environment by sleeping at night and waking up in the morning. But, this 24-hour clock is actually programmed into every cell of our body.

Humans left in a windowless environment without any time cues naturally adapt to a nearly 24-hour cycle of sleeping and waking, referred to as a circadian rhythm. And, during this 24-hour circadian rhythm, the body experiences continual 90-minute cycles of alertness, much like a roller coaster.

The lowest lows naturally occur during the middle of the night and again in the middle of the afternoon. The more sleep deprived we are, the more intense we feel this afternoon fatigue.

What to Do?

So, a slight "slump" is normal. That’s why it’s important to learn how to work around these lows - so we don't become incapacitated mid-afternoon. 

Craving sugar? A sugared treat is only going to send your blood glucose on a roller coaster ride of its own. And, you don’t want to create a double whammy of a low blood glucose at a time when you’re already experiencing a low in your circadian rhythm!

What about caffeine? A big mug of coffee will also offer a temporary reprieve for the brain fog…but check out this quick video and you'll see that any caffeine after the noon hour might make it more difficult to get to sleep, making tomorrow’s afternoon slump even worse.

A Better Solution if You're Tired Mid Afternoon

    • Make sure you don’t overeat lunch. A moderate sized meal tends to make us feel better. And, yet, many restaurant meals contain as many calories as you might need in a whole day! If you’re working late, consider eating just half of that restaurant meal at lunch. Have the other half around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
    • Drink less caffeine. If caffeine is a must for you, switch to smaller cups throughout the day, rather than a big mug mid-afternoon. Research shows that just 50-100mg is adequate for increasing alertness. That’s as much as you'd find in a cup of tea or a very short coffee. Drinking too much caffeine may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep – creating this cycle where you need more caffeine the next day. Get off this vicious cycle!
    • Switch to a simpler task that doesn’t require as much mental effort. This fog will lift eventually.
    • Crank up the music. What kind of music makes you feel alert? Probably something upbeat. It’s different for different people, but probably not elevator music.
    • Do more face-to-face activities. Try taking a walking meeting with a colleague instead of sitting at your desk. 
    • Move. Any movement is a good option to help you feel more alert. Try a few stretches or run up a few flights of stairs.
    • Nap. Yes, a 10-20 minute power nap can invigorate some people (me, included). 
    • Get more sleep. While you might always experience a mid-afternoon slump, it’s always worse if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. If your mid-afternoon slumps are really awful, chances are your body is trying to tell you that you need more nighttime sleep.
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