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5 ways to beat the afternoon slump

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Are you familiar with the afternoon slump? This is the period of the day, usually within the first few hours after lunch, when you feel sluggish, grumpy and unable to focus. The mid-afternoon energy crash is more than just a nuisance for some of us. Afternoon fatigue can reduce workplace productivity, increase the risk of work-related injuries and illness and contribute to unsafe driving conditions. 

Unfortunately, not all of us have the luxury of being able to take a post-lunch nap. Plus, relying on the stimulant drug caffeine to get by isn't necessarily in our best interest, especially if we exceed 400 milligrams per day (roughly equivalent to four cups of coffee). 

Looking for other ways to perk up this p.m.? Here are five ideas to raise your energy level.

1. Take another look at your diet

The food you eat has a direct impact on your energy. If you want to stay more alert throughout the day, be sure to: 

  • Eat a nourishing breakfast 
  • Prioritize healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates in your meals
  • Avoid refined sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages, which can cause a rapid spike (and subsequent crash) in your blood sugar level
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water—try keeping a refillable water bottle at your desk, and remember to "eat your water" by filling up on fruits and veggies


2. Improve your sleep

Some of what drives mid-afternoon fatigue is the human body's circadian rhythm—the "internal clock" that controls our sleep/wake cycle. For most of us, our circadian rhythms normally shift us toward a natural dip in energy sometime between 1 and 4 p.m. But not getting enough sleep at night can disrupt your body's natural sleep/wake cycle and lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.

What can you do? Aim for 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night (getting in and out of bed at the same time every day, making your bedroom cool and dark, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, and getting some early morning sun exposure are some strategies that can help).

Sleep hygiene, also a term used for good sleep habits, can be improved by removing electronic devices, such as smart phones, TVs and computers, from the bedroom.

3. Head out for a brisk walk

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA), sitting too much is associated with increased worker fatigue. Getting up for a brisk walk can help you avoid the afternoon slump. 

Walking and other types of physical activity improve the flow of oxygen and blood and stimulate the release of certain hormones that can help you feel more alert. 

4. Try some deep breathing

Deep breathing exercises are usually associated with relaxation. But deep breathing has also been shown to improve sustained attention and can even help reduce stress, which is a common contributor to afternoon fatigue. Plus, deep breathing—especially through the nose—brings more oxygen into the body, helping our cells function better. 

Try this: sit comfortably in a chair, close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds. Wait four seconds before taking a four-second exhale through your nose or mouth. Then, wait another four seconds before breathing in again. Repeat four to five times. 

5. See your doctor for a check-up

Undiagnosed or undertreated health conditions, including sleep apnea, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorders have all been associated with fatigue. If your afternoon fatigue is significant enough to disrupt your ability to focus at work or safely drive, or if you have other concerns about your health, contact your doctor. 

Looking to improve your health and energy?

Contact SIU Medicine today at 217-545-8000 to hear our list of providers or schedule an appointment with a doctor.

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