A drop in energy in the afternoon, hereby referred to as “the afternoon slump,” is something we’re all familiar with–as toddlers we napped, in school we tried not to doze off during geometry lessons, and as adults we tend to reach for the first caffeinated beverage and packaged snack we can find in order to keep on with our day. But what you might not know is that the afternoon slump is actually completely natural, and in the big picture not much to worry abou. But there are things you can do to avoid some of the more significant side effects, like loss of focus, mood swings, and the onset of cravings.
It’s Totally Normal (To A Degree)
Your body’s natural circadian rhythm is responsible for your sleep/wake cycle over a 24 hour period. It pulls the lever back on your level of alertness in the afternoon, usually between the hours of 1PM and 4PM, which roughly mirrors when most adults are the sleepiest at night, which experts says is between 2:00 AM to 4:00 AM–night owls are usually asleep by then, early birds aren’t quite awake yet.
But circadian rhythm doesn’t work alone. There are lifestyle factors that contribute to the symptoms and severity of your afternoon slump. While you can’t help your body’s natural rhythms, let's look at what you can control:
The four major contributors to your afternoon slump
1. Eating Habits: Eating lots of processed carbohydrates can cause your body to experience a spike in energy and then a rapid decline in energy, which is sort of the definition of a slump, isn’t it? Consuming enough fats, protein, and fiber during breakfast and lunch can help sustain energy levels throughout the afternoon. Too many refined carbohydrates and added sugar can send your energy levels into a frenzy that might generally take the shape of a slump (which we envision like a camel’s back. Can you see it?!).
2. Sleep: If your body isn't getting enough sleep overnight, it tends to remind itself during the day with yawns and heavy eyelids, which are sure signs the afternoon slump is striking. Your tiredness in the afternoon might be simply because - you’re actually tired, which will certainly make your afternoon slump a little worse. Studies have shown our bodies accumulate sleep debt, measured as the difference between optimal hours and actual hours of sleep, and just 1 hour of sleep debt can take 4 days to recover!
3. Stress: When our bodies experience stress, we release cortisol. If your body is pumping out cortisol like the Kardashians pump out content, you are going to feel depleted by the afternoon. And getting back to the previous point, a lack of sleep has been linked to higher stress levels. The better the sleep habits, the better you are at managing stress.
4. Dehydration: Hydration–or lack thereof–has been shown to influence our cognition. Research is showing us that even mild dehydration can cause a decline in mood, focus, and memory. This decline can be a result of even a 1.5%-2% dehydration, which we often can’t perceive in our bodies.
…and here are 5 ways to beat the afternoon slump:
1. Eat a nutrient dense breakfast and lunch. Consuming enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates during the day are key to staying energized. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables ensures you’re also getting enough micronutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals– not to mention a hearty dose of hydration! And if the morning bustle and afternoon hustle usually get the best of you, our superfood smoothie kits give you all the benefits of eating whole fruits and veggies in a fraction of the time.
2. Stay hydrated. Start your day with some water (yes, even before you hit the coffee) and keep sipping through the day. Not a water person? Check out these creative ways to get hydrated, and remember that many fruits and vegetables contain anywhere from 99%-70% water.
3. Get moving. Exercise–even moderate exercise–is a known slump-buster. Try spending 15-20 minutes outside in the early afternoon; your body will love the movement and the sunlight. Remember walking can be a great form of exercise!
4. Get sunlight in the morning and be mindful of artificial light at night. Supporting your body’s natural circadian rhythms is an important part of maintaining a healthy sleep/wake cycle, but it can be hard in this modern world. Getting a few minutes of sunlight in the morning and limiting artificial light at night from overhead lights or a screen can help your body know when it's daytime and nighttime.
5. Listen to music. Did you know music can help improve your concentration? Similar to how we use music to motivate and hype us up in exercise and sports, music can help improve our concentration and energy levels. Next time you have a late afternoon presentation, try a little Eye of the Tiger beforehand.