The lunch hour comes and goes, you get up to bring a fresh cup of coffee back to your desk, and as you sit down it hits you: the afternoon slump.
Experts say that feeling a slump between 1 and 3 p.m. is actually quite normal; it’s part of our natural circadian biological clock, and the body is cycling through something that feels reminiscent of sleepiness before bed. There’s good news, though: While you might not be able to completely prevent your body from going into an afternoon lull, you can boost your energy throughout the day to help maintain your natural energy levels and fight fatigue later in the afternoon.
Eating for energy
It goes without saying that what you eat matters. A piece of cake for lunch is not going to leave you feeling as vital two hours later as a meal full of fresh vegetables and protein. But what specifically are some pointers for picking the right foods to keep your energy up while at work?
WebMD recommends starting with a breakfast that includes a protein and healthy carb. Carbs will jumpstart the brain in the morning, and protein helps give you lasting fuel. For lunch, think more of the same: something with a healthy protein to keep you fueled for the remaining hours of the day. A simple salad might seem like a good choice because it’s light and green, but if it’s just composed of watery lettuce and dressing, you’re really not getting any healthy protein (or complex carbs) to give you short- and long-term energy for the afternoon. Avoid foods that are high in fat, WebMD warns, which can end up leaving you feeling sluggish later in the day while you digest.
And when you feel a bit peckish, like when the afternoon slump starts to hit, Health.com recommends a light snack of either 100 calories or 15g total carbohydrates — something that includes a complex carb and a bit of protein, perhaps hummus on whole grain crackers or yogurt and wholesome granola. Trail mix can be a good snack since the nuts deliver healthy fats and fiber (but go easy on them as they are also higher in carbohydrates, and too much can end up draining you).
The importance of breaks
Have you ever found yourself working on the same project all day, and suddenly during the afternoon you're completely spaced out or foggy headed? Working too long on the same task may be a sure-fire way to fall into a slump. Taking mental breaks is crucial when you’re focused on just one task over a prolonged period, a study published in Cognition shows. The brain can get used to the same sight, sound or other stimulus over a prolonged period of time, and eventually this habituation leads to lower productivity. But if you take mental breaks from your project, you allow your brain to reset and stay focused for longer periods of time. By taking a break to switch to a different task or focus on something different temporarily, you might find your brain feeling recharged and refreshed when you return to your project.
Physical breaks can also help recharge your body once you feel a lull come on. In an article on WedMD, Lona Sandon, RD, MEd, explains that a little movement during the day can get your blood moving again. "You want anything that gets you breathing a little quicker and moving the muscles," Sandon says in WebMD. Utilize your lunch break and devote half — or even a fraction! — of your time to take a walk around the block, do a few laps on the treadmill (if you’re lucky enough to have a company gym), or just do some solid stretches in the breakroom.
Can gum prevent sleepiness?
A study published in Physiology & Behavior found that chewing mint gum can reduce levels of sleepiness based on both physiological and self-rated assessments. The authors speculate that perhaps the physical act of chewing increases cerebral activity, or maybe the mint flavor has stimulating effects. Either way, it might be worth a trip to the snack machine — which will also let you stretch those legs and get some movement — to get a pack of gum and test it out for yourself?
Some final tips
We published a piece earlier this year that gave pointers on feeling more productive and healthier throughout the workday, and they’re all good tips to help overcome the midday slump. Check out the article here for some additional ways to keep a little pep in your step throughout the day.