How to Beat the Afternoon Slump

How often do you deal with the dreaded afternoon slump? 

It happens right after lunch— you begin to feel sluggish, unproductive, and exhausted, and there are still hours left before you can end your day and relax. 

We’ve all been there before. Whether you are in the middle of your busy workday, at home caring for young children, or a retiree with a less fixed schedule enjoying your free time, the slump can really be a drag.

When faced with this fatigue, many people’s first instinct is to reach for an extra cup of coffee or tea. But did you know that there are ways to get through your afternoon slump without the help of caffeine? It might be a little tricky for some, but there are actually a lot of ways to power through midday tiredness without the aid of an extra pick-me-up.

You may be wondering, why do you feel tired in the afternoon in the first place? There’s actually an interesting reason for that.

Why You Feel Tired in the Afternoon

Because of the way your circadian rhythm works, you are inclined to feel more energized at some parts of the day, and tired at others. These fluctuations in your circadian rhythm create natural cues for you to sleep, and you’ll feel them most just after midnight, and during the afternoon. This is what creates that familiar feeling of sluggishness we’ve all come to know.

A few other factors can contribute to afternoon fatigue as well, including:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep, or not enough sleep
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea or insomnia
  • An unhealthy diet

How to Get Through the Afternoon Slump Without Caffeine

You shouldn’t need a midday cup of joe to get through the day. If you feel your energy levels dropping during the afternoon, give some of these suggestions a try and see what works best for you!

1. Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

What you eat during the day can make all the difference between getting through the entire day with gusto, or dragging your feet once midday arrives.

To have the energy you need to beat your afternoon slump, you’ll want to eat foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, as well as fresh fruit and veggies. Steer clear of foods that are high in sugar or refined carbohydrates— these can spike your blood sugar and make the slump worse. A healthy lunch and a healthy snack will help the day go by much easier.

It’s not just at work when you want to eat well— start the day off right with a healthy and energizing breakfast. Again, you want to avoid sugary or carb-heavy meal options and go for something with plenty of fiber and protein.

2. Take a Break

Everyone has experienced those roadblocks that stop progress in its tracks. Metaphorically beating your head against the wall when you’re having a hard time concentrating isn’t helpful— it may actually harm your productivity further.

Instead, try taking a short break when you feel like you’ve hit that roadblock in your work. Taking a moment to clear your head can help you get past that familiar mental block. It will also help you be more productive in the long run.

3. Stay Hydrated

One of the best ways to boost your energy and feel more awake is to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can dull your mental capabilities, so make sure you’re getting plenty to drink during the day. Not soda, coffee, or even tea— you need plenty of water to stay hydrated.

But how much water do you need to drink each day? The general rule is that men should drink about 15.5 cups— or 3.7 liters— of fluids each day, while women need about 11.5 cups— or 2.7 liters— a day.

This amount can depend on factors like your activity level or the region you live in— you need to drink more if you live in hotter or drier areas— but the above amounts are a good baseline to start at.

4. Get Some Light Exercise

A little exercise can go a long way in boosting your energy and getting over your afternoon slump.

Exercise releases endorphins that can boost your mood, increases blood flow, and energizes you. Here are some light exercises you could perform anywhere, even at the office:

  • Stretch, either at your desk or outside
  • Take a quick walk
  • Walking up and down the stairs
  • Light aerobic exercises like jumping jacks or push-ups

5. Take a Short Nap

Note: Use your best judgment here. Don’t nap while you’re on the clock if your company doesn’t support it. Try taking a shorter lunch and catching a nap right after lunch, or go to your car during a break— just be sure to set an alarm!

Sometimes some extra rest can be the difference between finishing the day strong or struggling the rest of the way through it. As well as overcoming the slump you feel during the afternoon, taking a nap carries many other health benefits including:

  • Increased alertness
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased stamina
  • Boosted creativity

All of these can give you the lift you need to power through afternoon fatigue and get things done. However, it’s important not to nap for too long, or too late in the day.

Ideally, you’ll want to nap between 1:00 and 3:00 PM, because this aligns with your circadian rhythm’s natural queues to produce more melatonin and can counteract that post-lunch sluggishness. Make sure you don’t nap for more than 90 minutes also— napping for too long can throw off your sleep-wake rhythm and prevent you from getting a full night’s sleep.

Other Ways to Power Through Your Afternoon Slump

  • Chew gum: A study by Nutritional Neuroscience found that chewing gum improves alertness, increased happiness, and improved reaction time when compared to participants who did not chew gum.
  • Adjust your posture: The afternoon slump can be worse if you also slump. Good posture can help boost your stamina, reduce stress, as well as make you more productive.
  • Look at pictures of cute animals: Yes, really. According to a study from Hiroshima University, looking at cute images at work can improve your mood and boost your productivity. Just be careful not to get too distracted looking at them!
  • Listen to music: The right tunes can get you fired right up! To boost your alertness, memory, focus, and mood, listen to upbeat and energetic music. Instrumental music can help build your focus even further since you won’t be thinking about the lyrics as you work.
  • Get some sun: Light is medicine, and a little sunlight can brighten your mood and boost your energy. Even if you don’t have a lot of time or opportunities to get some sun during the day, a few minutes can make a major difference in your energy levels.
  • Use caffeine— but do it properly: I know, I know, this is an article about NOT using caffeine — but there is a way to properly use it if you are going to use it anyway. You can either take a nap-a-latte, or my preferred method is to use a revolutionary product called Napjitsu. It comes in an easy to use pack— you just chew the mellowing mint and then swallow the two capsules. It contains an ideal dose of caffeine that fully kicks in at around 30 minutes, and is supported by 28 nootropics to supercharge your brain.

However, like many conditions, prevention is the best cure. It is possible to prevent your afternoon slump, but it may not be easy.

How to Prevent Your Afternoon Slump

Your afternoon slump can make getting through the day feel like a difficult task, especially if you’re already struggling with sleep deprivation. This can make consuming another cup of coffee or tea especially tempting. However, a great way to prevent that tiredness in the first place is simply to get enough sleep.

Unfortunately though, this is easier said than done for millions of Americans. However, there are a few simple ways you can improve your sleep quality while helping yourself to prevent your next afternoon slump.

  • Follow a consistent bedtime schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time every morning.
  • If you need to hit the snooze button in the morning, only do it once and don’t linger in bed. This helps prevent morning grogginess— also known as sleep inertia.
  • Get tested for sleep disorders. Many people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, such as insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, or sleep apnea.
  • Dedicate time in the evening to your sleep hygiene. This means giving yourself enough time to finish your day’s to-do list, practice some relaxation techniques, and prepare for bed.
  • Exercise! Physical activity is important to not only your physical health, and your mental health, but to your sleep health too.

In an earlier article, I wrote about how your work performance and sleep are connected— if you take care of one, then you’re taking care of the other. Unfortunately, poor sleep can have a profound effect on your work performance even beyond the sleepiness you feel in the middle of each day.

Most of us enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or even an occasional soda. And remember, it’s normal to feel a little tired at midday— but if you find that you’re constantly dragging your feet and relying on extra caffeine to get through the day, then it’s a good idea to make some positive changes in your life.

Your sleep and your work performance will thank you!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM

The Sleep Doctor

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!