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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.
You may be wondering, why do you feel tired in the afternoon in the first place? There’s an interesting reason for that.
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:
- 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, 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, increase blood flow, and energize 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.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM, The Sleep Doctor