Why You Might Be Failing at Beating The Afternoon Slump (and here’s how to fix it)
It’s 2 p.m and you’re staring at your computer screen with an empty cup of coffee. Your mind wanders elsewhere and you start losing control over your eyelids as it’s drooping. As much as you need to get things done, all you want is to curl up somewhere.
This mid-day slump that leaves you sitting at your desk in a daze around 1– 4 p.m. is totally normal. In fact, what you’re experiencing is a natural part of our bodies’ circadian rhythm.
How can you get a quick energy boost to keep you going?
While grabbing another cup of coffee seems to be an easy fix, it could throw off the natural balance between sleep and wakefulness. Overconsumption of caffeine could also cause insomnia, headaches, and anxiety.
“Use caffeine as a performance enhancer, instead of simply to get yourself to a position from which you can perform.”
– Nick Littlehales, Author of Sleep
So, can we actually fight our biological clock that’s physically limiting us from getting things done, without coffee?
The answer is YES.
Here are 10 proven strategies to hack your biology to beat the “infamous” afternoon grogginess.
Scan Your Environment
“Your environment has a huge impact on how productive you are, that means the temperature in your room, the color of your walls, and the noise happening around you.”
– Brendan Baker
1. Check the lighting
Dim lighting in the workplace can prompt your brain to produce more melatonin – the sleep hormone that is responsible for your mid-day drowsiness. On the contrary, adequate light halts, or stops that production. Research shows that exposure to bright white light increased worker’s alertness and boosted the brain's responses.
To give your brain a boost, open the blinds, turn up the lights, or plugin an extra lamp (consider getting a daylight lamp) on your desk.
2. Check your thermal conditions
We all know a hot meeting room or a warm car ride can make us feel sleepy and tired very easily. Many workers reported feeling drowsy when the office is too warm. However, if your office happens to be a meat locker in the summer, your body will have to generate more energy to keep you warm, which also causes sleepiness.
Although the air conditioning industries seem to believe in the magic 22°C, there is really no “perfect” office temperature. A recent study showed that women performed better at temperatures between 70-80°F (21-26°C), whereas men performed better at temperatures below 70°F (21°C).
Find out what temperature you operate best in. Adjust the temperature to the optimal temperature if you can.
Alternative: If you work in an office, you probably have noticed that it’s nearly impossible to adjust office temperature that makes everyone happy. So bring your own gear! Whether it’s an extra jacket, a desk heater, or cooler, even slapping some cold water on your face, try your best to adjust your body temperature to make you less sleepy and more productive.
Watch What You Eat
3. Eat a balanced breakfast
A healthy breakfast boosts your energy levels and helps you concentrate. Carbohydrate-loaded foods like white bread, white rice, or pastries cause spikes in blood sugar and ultimately contribute to an afternoon slump. While protein and fiber help to keep your stomach full for longer, reducing the chance of experiencing hunger soon after breakfast. This can help you resist unhealthy coffee break temptations.
Make sure your breakfast is a healthy combination of carbs and protein.
Here’s a list of suggested breakfast options from WebMD’s sleep expert Michael J. Breus:
- A bowl of cereal with skim milk and a glass of juice or a piece of fresh fruit
- Two slices of toast with peanut butter and a banana
- An English muffin topped with a scrambled egg and a slice of low-fat cheese
Or try these healthy breakfast ideas from Love & Lemons.
4. Pay attention to your lunch
Again, go light on carbs, especially refined carbohydrates that enter your system fast. Since the afternoon slump hits after lunch, your lunch decision is crucial here if you want to stay away from sleepiness.
Don’t work through lunch. Take your lunch break, a little escape is good to clear the mind and reset your energy.
- Bottom line: Choose meals that have protein, veggies, and a smaller portion of carbs. Stick with lean protein to avoid energy-draining fats.
- You deserve your lunch break. Eat lunch (not at your desk). Take the time to give your brain a rest.
"Not only are high-fat foods bad for you, they can also give you indigestion, especially if you are sat slumped at a desk after eating,"
– Sian Porter, registered dietitian
5. Get fueled with the right snacks
You might be thinking about the bag of pretzels or chips laying on the office snack bar. Although snacking is a great way to boost your energy, it would be wise to resist the temptation to snack on foods that are high in sugar or carbs if your goal is to avoid feeling groggy afterwards.
Opt for yogurt, fresh fruit, trail mix with nuts, or whole-wheat crackers with string cheese. If the vending machine is your only option, look for peanut butter crackers.
Here’s a list of healthy office snacks that you can try.
6. Stay hydrated
Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired, sluggish, and on edge.
A big glass of cold water, maybe some lemon, can help perk you up at this time.
7. Stand up and move!
Sitting like a statue may earn points with your boss, but not your body. You are more likely to feel like nodding off because your body associates stillness with sleeping. Not only does sitting for too long put your body to sleep, but a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to weight gain, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, and even heart disease.
So do standing desks solve this problem? Yes and no, given standing for a prolonged period of time can have a similar negative metabolic impact on your body.
A more ideal solution is to break up your workday with quick bursts of physical activities like stretches, and light office-friendly exercises. A study from the University of Georgia has found that low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue by a staggering 65% among workers.
- Set reminders to get up from your desk regularly and incorporate low-intensity exercises to move your body.
- If you are too lazy to set reminders or figure out what exercises to do, try StretchMinder, a work break app that reminds you to take activity breaks throughout your day. A perfect cure for an afternoon slump.
8. Take a walk outside
Besides numerous health benefits of walking, researchers also found that spending just 20 minutes in nature could boost people’s feelings of vitality. On top of that, exposure to natural light is linked to higher levels of concentration and improves workplace performance.
- Take a walk around the block after lunch.
- If you know you usually feel sleepy around 2:30 or 3 p.m., go out for a walk around 2:15.
- Use StretchMinder’s walking reminder feature to get reminded to walk during your workday.
Adjust the way you work
9. Schedule Tasks Strategically
Despite all the effort, what if the afternoon slump doesn’t just go away?
By acknowledging your productivity patterns, you can schedule your daily tasks to match your brain, mood, and energy levels. It’s best to do more important, brain-heavy tasks when you feel more alert and energized.
Know when your energy peaks and schedule important tasks during that time, while leaving tasks that require less energy like processing email in the afternoon.
10. Be Social
We are social animals, and interactions always perk us up. A fun connection can recharge your batteries and provide you the mental support to go through a tough day. Sitting in a meeting listening to someone else drone on and on most likely does the opposite. Make sure it’s an interesting interaction.
- Engage with your colleagues during those peak slump times when your concentration and energy are waning.
- Call your mom or a good friend for a quick catch-up.
- If you have meetings during this time, try taking that meeting outside.