Does this sound familiar? You’ve been so productive all morning long, knocking out emails, finishing projects, but shortly after the noon hour your productivity plummets to zero as dense brain fog rolls in! All of a sudden, you’re feeling fuzzy headed and groggy.
What’s to blame for this afternoon slump? In short, it’s normal. During our body’s 24-hour circadian rhythm, the body experiences continual 90-minute cycles of alertness, much like a roller coaster. The lowest lows naturally occur during the middle of the night and again in the middle of the afternoon. The more sleep deprived we are, the more intense we feel this afternoon fatigue.
The following tips can help you beat the afternoon slump and keep your productivity up all day.
1. Take a break.
Recovery breaks increase productivity, recharge alertness and improve mood and decision-making. You know how your muscles get fatigued the longer you use them, and how you need to rest between workouts? Well, the same rule applies to our brain: after sustained use, it needs a rest period to continue at the same level of productivity.
2. Move it, move it.
People who exercise on a regular basis report more energy, even with the same amount of sleep. When you feel that slump coming on, stand up and move: Walk up and down a few flights of stairs, walk over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending them an email or take a walk outside.
3. Catch some rays.
Natural sunlight is one of the most powerful ways to increase alertness and improve performance. If you can’t get outside (or there’s no sunshine), the next best thing is to use a therapeutic bright light at your desk.
4. Connect with others.
With the predominance of email communication, some of us can go hours without talking to another soul. Why not take a break to catch up with your colleagues or loved ones? Or switch to a group activity by gathering the team for an invigorating brainstorming session.
5. Switch tasks.
Because our body naturally goes through a low every 90 minutes, don’t fight it. Use your time effectively by rotating between high-focus tasks (writing an article or working on a project) and low-focus tasks (cleaning your desk or inbox).
6. Stand up – or move.
Sitting at a desk and staring at the computer screen for hours on end is likely to lull anyone to sleep. While there are plenty of standing and walking desk options, you can improvise your own by placing your computer on top of a sturdy box on your desk. Or invite a colleague for a walking meeting, complete with a prearranged agenda.
Even 1 percent dehydration (just a few cups of fluid) can hurt our mood and productivity. It can also cause headaches in some people. It’s easy to stay hydrated when you’re sipping on water all day, so keep water at your desk at all times. Don’t like water? Try adding fresh fruit or squirts of flavor or no-calorie flavored carbonated waters.
8. Sip, don’t gulp your caffeine.
Because it takes 30 to 45 minutes for caffeine to peak in your bloodstream from that first sip, if you gulp it, you’re likely to overdo it, leading to increased anxiety and sleep issues. Double blind studies show that small doses of caffeine (50–100 mg) provide optimal alertness effects, so enjoy a cup of tea or a small mug of coffee.
9. Fuel up.
Many people think that siting at their desk all day doesn’t burn many calories, but nearly three quarters of our total calorie needs are just to keep us alive! While much of our body parts can run off our stored body fat, the brain requires a carbohydrate called glucose, and for that, we need to eat on a regular basis.
10. Make carbs count.
Carbs are essential as brain fuel. But let’s face it: Most of us are overindulging in this category. For example, think of how many carb choices you have at a Mexican restaurant: chips, tortillas, rice, beans… not to mention the carbs in alcoholic drinks and desserts. For lasting energy, select just a couple of high quality carbs at lunch.
11. Power up with protein.
For lasting energy and satiety, it’s critical to include protein at breakfast as well as in other meals and snacks. For breakfast, include proteins such as eggs, Greek yogurt, or a scoop of protein powder in your shake. Avoid low-protein lunches like pasta with red sauce or green salads, unless it includes a portion of protein about the size of a deck of cards.
12. Don’t overeat at lunch.
Big meals make the mid afternoon slump even worse. Most restaurants offer enough proteins, carbs, and calories for two meals, so share with a colleague or take half of it home. If you are working late, that half meal would make a great 4 p.m. snack.
13. Make breakfast non-negotiable.
Skipping breakfast leads to overeating at lunch, making the afternoon slump worse. Not hungry for breakfast? Cut back on your bedtime consumption and eventually you’ll wake up hungry.
14. Manage stress.
Every stress response begins with a sharp state of alertness, but leaves you exhausted afterwards. Realize that stress results not from what happens to us but how we react to what happens to us. We can’t control people and situations, but we are in full control of our thoughts, actions, and reactions. Soft music and deep breathing can help.