The mid-afternoon time always seems to bring with it a low-point or a lull in the energy and enthusiasm of the day. Suddenly you can find yourself wishing you were in kindergarten again and it’s mandatory nap time.
This was my afternoon, every-single-day. At first I tried willing myself to wake up, to think clearly… No, that didn’t work. I tried walking across the office and drinking some water… But as soon as I sat back down my eye lids got heavy again.
So then, I decided to indulge my sweet tooth by making a trip to convenience store. That worked. A candy bar was just the stimulant I needed to last me a couple more hours.
But please, don’t think this is the end and my advice is to use sugar as a crutch.
For me, this is actually where things really started going wrong: a daily blood sugar roller coaster, even worse energy crashes later, more sugar cravings, and the accompanying weight gain.
Eventually I came to my senses and had to put a stop to this madness. It took a long time, with lots of research and testing, and drawing on experts’ opinions, but finally I figured out how to avoid the afternoon slump. And now I’m going to share a little of what I discovered with you.
First and foremost, good quality, adequate, nightly sleep matters. Get a good night’s rest, not just because the experts say so, or because it’s good for your body, but because if you’re not getting enough sleep, your productivity suffers, your ability to focus is diminished, your decision-making ability is compromised, and because the rest of the tips here will only have minimal benefit if you are sleep-deprived. I need a least 7.5 hours of sleep, with lots of deep sleep in there, not the tossing and turning, too much dreaming kind of sleep. Figure out what improves your sleep quality and set the habits for a solid night’s rest.
How much you eat, what ratio of macro nutrients consumed, and when you eat all matter. My recommendation is for a protein-dense lunch with some fats and a moderate amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates. Too much fat, and likewise eating too much overall, can draw lots energy into digestion, thus compromising your ability to focus and remain alert. Too many carbs can spike blood sugar and tip off the sugar cravings and blood sugar wave, the crash of which eventually incites a run… no, a slow shuffle to the vending machine or causes your eye lids to droop.
Timing is an interesting, and a more nuanced factor I like to play with. Most days I’m not hungry for lunch at the usual lunch time of 12-2, which works out well because on days when I push my lunch later to between 1:30-3:30, I find the afternoon passes without even a hint of a slump or a glance at the clock. This is something you can test, too, based on your own body’s hunger sensations and energy ebbs and flows. Perhaps a single brunch meal provides better energy for you, or maybe a later lunch supports you better through the afternoon. Change up the timing of your meals or snacks and see what works best for you. There is no one perfect individual prescription here.
What and how much you drink matters just as much as what you eat. Beverages like soda, juice, and energy drinks have the same consequences as too much sugar discussed above. Coffee can leave you crashing just as hard when the caffeine wears off. Water is simply the best choice–it hydrates every cell of the body, including nerve cells and the synapses that fire in your brain. If you’re dehydrated, you’re not going to be firing on all cylinders and you may feel like you have brain fog. It is imperative to say hydrated, and not just when the lull sets in; keep drinking water all throughout the day.
My other beverage of choice is of course, BeLight Tea, a low-caffeine tea that I can sip on all day or reach for if I notice my focus fading. The caffeine in tea is different than that in coffee or soda because it is paired with L-Theanine. Research suggests this combination, unique to tea, enhances performance, memory, and reaction time, and provides for an extended period of mental clarity without the jitters or crash typically associated with coffee. For me, choosing a low caffeine tea in the afternoon means I can still sleep restfully at night.
Sunlight and Fresh Air
Being inside all day can be very draining. Our bodies need sun exposure for many critical processes, including managing the circadian rhythm, which tells our bodies when to be active and when to sleep. Therefore, getting some sun reminds your body it’s still daytime which means work time and helps maintain activity and productivity.
Stagnant indoor air can also be depleted of oxygen, which can make you feel sleepy as your body works harder to get oxygen. Go outside, get some fresh air, move your body, take deep breaths, and feel the sun on your face and arms.
Find an energetic friend or coworker to chat with. Their liveliness and enthusiasm can restore your energy and motivation and perhaps get you excited about finishing that project. I love when I have mid-afternoon strategy calls with people who are fired up–I get pumped to accomplish everything I’d been resisting.
Enthusiasm is contagious!
It might be easy to let the afternoon hours slip by unused, unproductive, or you can take action, do something different, and boost your energy, excitement, and alertness. It’s up to you.
If you want to learn more, and get more strategies and solutions, check out my book on the subject.