How to Beat the Dreaded Afternoon Slump
Also known as brain fog. What causes it, and how can it be prevented?
I tend to lose focus around the same time each day, usually about 2 PM. My motivation wanes, and I slow down. Tasks that I fly through in the morning begin to feel arduous. I start thinking about what I can put off until tomorrow. Or I reach for a cup of coffee to give myself an energy boost, knowing full well that afternoon coffee rarely works as well as it does in the morning.
Many people experience an afternoon slump. You may think low blood sugar is at work, but scientists have found it has less to do with your blood, and more to do with your brain.
Reasons for afternoon fatigue
- Serotonin — the feel-good chemical. Serotonin is a chemical in our bodies that helps to stabilize moods. It keeps us motivated and energized throughout the day. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that our serotonin levels are at their lowest around 2 PM.
- Melatonin — the sleep hormone. Our bodies naturally take a small temperature dip in the afternoon and start producing melatonin. This is your body telling you to go take a nap.
If you can nap, go for it
If your schedule allows it, give in and take a short nap. Unlike Western society, many other cultures understand the natural sleepiness we get in the afternoons, and rather than fighting it with caffeine or sugary snacks, they embrace it.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, although Spain is famous for the siesta, naps have been around longer than that. Afternoon naps originate back to ancient Islam and ancient Rome. And many countries still allow time in the day for an extended afternoon break.
How to break through the brain fog
Unless you live in a country that accepts napping as typical, you need to find other ways to keep up your energy level through the afternoon slow down.
- Drink water. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This study shows that even mild dehydration can cause difficulty concentrating and contributes to fatigue.
- Get active. Get up and walk around. Take a walk around the block or engage in some simple yoga moves if you have the room. Even if you are only able to walk around your office or home, getting up and moving around will do a lot to help fight off the brain fog.
- Avoid sugary snacks. A snack filled with sugar will end up giving you a quick high, but then a drop when you crash, contributing to even more brain fog.
- Avoid caffeine. It may feel like a cup of coffee is what you need, but caffeine late in the day can affect your sleep at night. In turn, this will make tomorrow’s afternoon slump even worse.
- Turn up the lights. Open your blinds and get natural sunlight if you can. In a windowless office, turn up the lights or plugin an extra lamp for more light. This study found that only one hour of increased artificial light helped office workers to feel more energetic.
Don’t neglect a healthy diet
We’re just beginning to understand the effect what we eat has on our bodies, both mentally and physically. Some foods will naturally boost your serotonin levels.
Foods don’t contain serotonin themselves, but they do contain tryptophan. And high-tryptophan foods combined with carbohydrates have been found to boost serotonin levels.
Some foods high in tryptophan include:
- Nuts and seeds
Don’t worry about the common myth that the tryptophan from high-tryptophan containing foods like turkey makes you sleepy. Tryptophan requires other enzymes present in food to generate the melatonin that signals sleep.
Remember, the high tryptophan foods work best to increase serotonin when combined with a healthy carbohydrate. So try snacks like whole-grain crackers with cheese. Or half a turkey sandwich made on whole-grain bread.
As tempting as it is to reach for coffee and a sugary snack when you start to wear out in the afternoon, you’ll have better results if you turn up the lights, eat something healthy, and take a brisk walk around the block.