The Afternoon Slump
You check the clock and see that it’s only 2:30 pm. It’s been a long week so far and you can’t seem to keep your eyes open. You were perfectly fine at lunch an hour ago while socializing with your colleagues.
Once you return to your desk at 1:00 and get settled into work again, you get blindsided by a wave of fatigue and your energy levels head south. The simple act of staying awake suddenly becomes a challenge and working productively is out of the realm of possibility.
This scenario is far too common in everyone’s life and can happen at work, during your studying for school, and in your daily life as well.
It’s called the “afternoon slump” and most people typically experience it between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 pm.
Symptoms of the Afternoon Slump
The symptoms of the afternoon slump are things we are too familiar with.
- Crashing of energy between 1:00-3:00 pm
- Frequent yawning, drowsiness, and overall fatigue
- Increased feeling of stress
- Lack of motivation
- Inability to remain focused
- Food cravings
Causes of the Afternoon Slump
The afternoon slump can be caused by a variety of things, but at a fundamental level, it might just be your body’s natural physiological response. Our circadian rhythm can dictate our energy levels throughout the day and the body tends to feel most tired between 2:00 – 4:00 am and 1:00 – 3:00 pm.
1:00 to 3:00 pm happens to be the time that most people feel sluggish during the day.
The other large factor in how you feel during this time comes from your diet and nutrition choices.
A heavy meal filled with carbohydrates and refined sugars can add to your slump. These food choices will spike your blood sugar levels and a crash will follow, taking down your energy levels with it.
In addition, the afternoon slump can also be caused by:
- Poor sleep
- Staying still or sitting for too long
- Chronic stress
- Other underlying health issues
- Boring or disengaging work
16 Tips and Solutions to Avoid and Overcome the Afternoon Slump
Before getting into the majority of the hacks and tips, you should first prioritize your sleep to ensure your body is receiving proper rest.
1. Ensure you are sleeping sufficiently
If the cause behind your afternoon slump is a lack of sleep, you’ll want to correct that to give your mind and body proper rest and recovery.
You may fall into the group that thinks staying up later and waking up earlier increases productivity. Logging less hours of sleep gives you more hours to work or study during the day, right?
This extra time might add more working hours to you in the immediate short-run, but quickly becomes detrimental within days. (see The Productivity Project book review). Sleeping fewer hours is worn like a badge of honor among students and professionals, but sleep really needs to be a priority.
Instead of simply sleeping fewer hours, you can optimize your sleep so that it is more efficient. Optimizing your sleep could mean winding down at night with a proper night routine, preparing the best environment for deep sleep (blacked out room and silence), and consuming natural teas and supplements.
By optimizing, you might only require 7 hours of sleep to get the same amount of rest as before on 8 hours of sleep without optimization.
When I need more hours in the day, I’ll cut the intensity on my workouts. Although I am an advocate on exercising regularly to boost brain performance, a workout that is strenuous on your muscles will require more hours of sleep for them to recover.
On the days I want to sleep less, I’ll alter my workouts so I still break a good sweat and get blood flowing. I’ll just lower how intense my workout is so I am not breaking down my muscle fibers. Breaking down these muscle fibers and killing my body would require much more sleep per day.
2. Take a short power nap if you can
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to take a nap in the middle of their day. If you are a student or work at a company that offers a napping space, take advantage of it.
A 20 minute power nap can shake off some of the lethargy you feel in the afternoon and is great for your alertness and motor skills.
When you nap longer than 20 minutes, you could risk feeling sleep inertia after, which is a state one is in when they wake up groggy and disoriented while transitioning from sleepy to wakeful.
With sleep and circadian rhythm being one cause of the afternoon slump and diet and nutrition being the other major factor, you’ll want to optimize what you eat, when you eat, and the amount you eat. I’ve personally found diet to have the most impact on my afternoon energy levels.
3. Avoid large lunches
I’ve found that the larger the lunch I have, the more tired I end up feeling during the back half of the work day. When you eat smaller lunches, you’ll feel more comfortable after eating and your energy levels will remain more stable.
Combined with what you eat, the amount you eat will have a big impact on your blood sugar levels. Blood sugar will spike and crash, amplifying the feeling of the afternoon slump.
In addition, your body will be working hard to digest all the food you just ate, putting additional energy to digest the larger amount.
When you go out to eat, portions at restaurants are often large. One thing you can do when ordering is ask them to serve you half the meal and box up the other half of the meal to go. This will help keep you from eating more than you need to.
It’s easier to eat the whole plate when it is offered in front of you.
4. Avoid carbs and refined sugars
A meal heavy in carbs and sugars can send you into a lull after a meal. Blood sugar will spike and tryptophan will move to your brain. This will lead to the production of melatonin and serotonin, which will make you tired.
It’s best to stick to foods that will provide you with energy and nutrients without spiking these chemicals in the body. Stick to meals without carbs like pasta and bread and keep away from the refined sugars. Eat vegetables, a little bit of fruit, and a decent portion of protein.
5. Avoid drinking alcohol, especially at lunch
Avoiding alcohol will have positive effects on your energy levels. I’m not against drinking alcohol, but if you want to fully eliminate alcohol’s effect on your energy levels, you will want to consume less of it or none of it at all.
During the day when you are working or studying, you shouldn’t consume any alcohol. Alcohol has a sedative effect and attempting to work diligently after a drink or two is tough.
It’s easy to say yes to drinks when you are out socializing or have a lunch meeting with someone. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to deal with the consequences.
6. Eat a healthy snack
If your energy levels are low around 3:00 pm, a healthy snack could give you a little boost and fuel for the last few hours of the day. I’d define a healthy snack as one that nourishes the body. It gives the body energy without taking away from it (through spiking and crashing).
A quick and easy snack to keep around is a protein or granola bar. Just be sure to choose one that is nutrient dense and not loaded with carbs and refined sugars.
Stepping away for a break to eat a small snack can allow you to refresh and fuel up.
7. Stay hydrated
Hydration is important to your overall health. We know this. But dehydration could possibly be the reason your energy levels are low as well.
The cells in the body need hydration to perform all their functions to keep the body going. Consuming a sufficient amount of water will positively impact your energy levels, mood, and come with many other benefits as well.
With sleep and nutrition optimized, the remaining tips are hacks you can use to minimize and overcome the slump.
8. Get moving midday
“Moving” can mean a lot of things and you should do any of them if you have the ability to during your day.
To uplift your energy levels and combat the afternoon slump, you can do things ranging from a basic walk to a full on workout.
Movement and exercise will get your blood flowing, send oxygen to the brain, and will release endorphins and hormones that will leave you feeling energized and in a positive mood. (Check out our review on the book Spark to learn more about the effects of exercise on the brain)
I don’t have the time to get a full workout in during or after my lunch, but I always take a decent walk after eating. The activity helps me “walk off” the meal I just ate, gets me moving, and also helps me decompress and lower stress by stepping away from my workspace.
9. Get some sun on you
Going off the tip above, if you do decide to walk or exercise, do so outside in the sun. Sunlight on the skin will elevate your mood, produce Vitamin D within the body, and can even improve your sleep.
There are many other benefits sun exposure provides and they will all be conducive towards your mission of overcoming the afternoon slump.
A 15 minute walk in the sun will have you feeling refreshed when you return to your desk.
10. Get a boost from caffeine and other supplements
While they shouldn’t be used as a crutch, caffeine and other supplements can curb the afternoon slump you feel. I’ll typically have coffee or tea around 2:00 in the afternoon. It’s around that time that I’ll begin feeling sluggish from lunch.
For supplements, I’ll take:
- L-theanine: Promotes relaxation and a sense of calm without losing focus and feeling drowsy. Also promotes cognitive and memory functions
- Alpha Brain: Supplement to support cognitive functions, including memory, mental speed, and focus
- Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil: Consumable oil supplement that helps you crave less and do more with brain-boosting, fat-burning, high-energy fuel
You know how you feel when you first arrive to the office for the day? Usually calm, focused, and with a ton of willpower to take on the day.
A caffeinated beverage and these 3 supplements allow me to feel that after lunch. This is optimal for me personally and I landed on this stack through trial and error.
You can test this out and also try things you find online, but make sure you do thorough research and consult with your medical professional if you have any questions or concerns.
Don’t rely on these supplements to make up for other areas (lack of sleep and poor nutrition). Optimize those other areas first and use caffeine and supplements to take it to the next level.
11. Do some breathing exercises
Breathing exercises are great because they don’t cost anything, don’t require any equipment, can be done anywhere, and can be done quickly.
You can find breathing exercises online and follow the structure resources offer. I typically keep it simple and just take a minute or two of deep breaths.
Breathing exercises get blood oxygen to my brain. The effect is a feeling of wakefulness and alertness after.
12. Utilize essential oils
For a quick-fix to fight the afternoon slump, you could utilize essential oils. Aromatherapy can be used through oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus. The fresh and powerful scent has been known to give people a boost.
Simply put a few drops of oil on your hands, rub them together, and put your face in your hands while inhaling the scent.
Whenever I do this, the burning sensation in my nose from the powerful scent is enough to wake me up. The fresh scent is a bonus.
13. Play energetic music
Whenever you start dozing off, throw your headphones on and play some music to change your state of mind.
You can play calming music to trigger focus and clarity or energetic music to amp you up.
Whenever I am tired, I’ll throw on a song or two of EDM or Hip Hop. When I am looking to focus, I’ll listen to a lo-fi playlist or something else with a calm and consistent beat and minimal lyrics.
14. Identify your peak productivity times and plan around them
If you know you consistently have a drop of energy in the afternoon, you can optimize by scheduling your day around that. Identify when your peak times of productivity are and choose to do your most challenging and intensive work during that time.
For most people (and myself as well) this is in the morning. In the morning, your mind and body are fresh and your tank of willpower is full.
I’ll structure my day with my analytical and problem-solving work at the beginning of the day and leave my afternoons for things such as tending to emails, meetings, and research.
Thinking ahead keeps me from being in a situation where I am working on something difficult during the slump period.
15. Plan engaging group work in the afternoons
When you plan, schedule collaborative group work in the afternoon. Working with others will keep your mind engaged and keep you from falling into a lull. The social aspect of working with others also helps keep you lively for the back part of the day.
When you have the option, keep your mornings for yourself to zone in and schedule all necessary meetings and group work in the afternoon.
16. Change tasks more frequently in the afternoon
Boredom in the afternoon also contributes to the slump you feel.
I’ve experienced this myself when trying to work in Excel after a big lunch. I’ll find myself staring at a spreadsheet without getting much done. I’ve noticed that I become bored with a task far quicker than I would in the morning.
One thing that helps me that you could try is to change up the tasks you are working on more frequently than in the morning.
In the morning from 9:00 to noon, I might work on a task for an hour or longer, simply because I have the energy and willpower to do so. In the afternoon, I may only work on one task for 45 minutes before mixing things up.
These 45-minute chunks of time are filled with diligent work and focus. Working 30 minutes with distractions and checking your phone in between won’t be productive.
After a shorter period of time of working on one thing, changing to a different task provides a change of scenery for your mind. This change can be refreshing and wake you up as you change gears from one thing to another.
The afternoon slump is an obstacle most individuals out there grapple with.
The reason behind it could be your body’s physiology and circadian rhythm or it’s possible your lifestyle choices are affecting you.
Diet and nutrition during the day can have a large impact on your energy levels in the afternoon. Small changes could have a substantial effect on how you feel.
I can tell you this from personal experience. Eating smaller meals and avoiding simple carbs and refined sugars help me maintain stable energy levels throughout the day.
There is too much for us to do to be feeling tired, right?
We don’t have time to be wasting with unproductive hours. By implementing the tips you learned through this post, you can curb or eliminate the afternoon slump and take back those hours of your day.