7 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Slump

Norrie Beach
In Fitness And In Health
7 min readJul 2, 2021

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Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

When I started working from home, I was completely useless in the afternoon. As soon as the clock hit 2 pm, it was over for me. My brain didn’t work, I didn’t have any motivation, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch Guy’s Grocery Games. A few hundred rounds of Budget Battle later, I realized I had to figure out how to beat the afternoon slump.

I was wasting half of my day away because I was exhausted. I had to cram all of my important tasks into the morning, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get it done in the afternoon. It was truly unpleasant. I constantly wondered why I felt this way. It turns out my habits weren’t supporting my lifestyle. And something had to give.

I started by experimenting with little changes. I noticed that some things, like an afternoon snack, gave me more energy, and others, like a nap, made my slump worse. A year later, and my afternoons have completely changed. I’m more energized at the end of the day than I am in the morning. I’m motivated and productive, and I feel good.

What Causes the Afternoon Slump?

All change comes first from understanding. So the question is, why do people get the so-called “afternoon slump”?

Your body’s circadian rhythm is the main culprit. Your energy naturally dips around 3 pm as your hormones shift. In the morning, your body produces cortisol to wake you up, and your body temperature increases as your energy goes up. In the afternoon, your body temperature naturally decreases, and melatonin increases. This is why some cultures take a nap, or a siesta, around mid-afternoon.

If you sit at a desk and are sedentary for most of the day, you’ll likely find yourself even more exhausted. When we stay still, our body associates that stillness with sleep and prepares for bedtime.

If you had simple carbs for lunch, such as white bread or a bagel, a drop in blood sugar might also be to blame for your energy crash. If you eat something that spikes your blood sugar right away, you’re going to crash later in the afternoon. Switch to complex carbs at lunchtimes, such as whole-grain bread or quinoa. Your body will take longer to digest these foods, and you won’t have mood swings that result from a steep rise and fall in your blood sugar.

7 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Slump

Workout Mid-day

Photo by Julia Ballew on Unsplash

I used to work out in the morning, which would give me a boost of energy right away, followed by a wave of exhaustion five hours later. Then, I tried working out after work. This just led to a week of no exercise since I couldn’t find the motivation to do it. Finally, I started working out during my lunch break. And I noticed a real change. First of all, I actually looked forward to working out for the first time in a while. Because I was working out during my usual lunchtime, I also found myself eating lunch later, which is a change I’ll explore later in the article.

The biggest benefit of working out during lunch is the boost it gives me to get through the rest of the day. The feeling of accomplishment mixed with the post-exercise energy is just what I need to beat the afternoon slump. Exercise also warms you up, and that increase in body temperature tells your body it needs to stay awake. Particularly for someone who works out at a desk, getting some movement in during the workday can change everything.

Eat Lunch Later

I used to eat lunch right at noon. I’m serious about schedules, and in my mind, noon = lunchtime. So that’s why I ate at noon. But then I started thinking about how my body felt instead of what the clock said. I started working out at noon and found myself ready to eat around 1 or 1:30.

This small shift in my lunchtime made a huge difference. When I was eating at noon, my energy would dip three hours later, and I would find myself exhausted. But as soon as I started eating later, I felt energized and didn’t feel starving later in the day.

It’s important to pay attention to your own body clock rather than the “rules” about mealtimes. Find what works for you, and stick to it.

Take Breaks

One reason I was feeling so run down in the afternoon was burnout. A lot of us are experiencing burnout these days. So much that it’s been covered extensively by the Atlantic, the New York Times, and Harvard Business Review. As a nation, we have hit a wall, and it’s time to take care of ourselves. When we were in the office, we would socialize, get coffee, walk to our boss’s desk for a meeting. I used to walk over to my friend’s cubicle in a different building several times a day to chat. But now that we’re at home, we work. And we work. And we work some more. And we’re expected to be on our computer for eight hours a day when in reality we used to be there closer to five or six. Work wasn’t just a straight line. We used to take breaks.

So take a break! Get up from your desk. Walk around your apartment or down the block. Chat with your boyfriend or your roommate. When I started taking breaks throughout the day, I felt fresh and energized when the day was over. I didn’t feel like my brain had turned to mush from staring at my computer nonstop. I try to walk away every 25 minutes, just for two or three minutes to get my head on straight and breathe. Plus, working out during my lunch break is a great way to take a longer break and really reset.

Go for a Walk

This was the biggest game-changer for me. You will not believe the difference a 20-minute walk will make on your day. I walk every day between 2 pm and 3 pm, and the simple act of getting outside and getting my body moving changes my whole outlook on life. When I get back from my walk 20 minutes later, I’m ready to get back on track and focus on my work.

There are several different reasons a short walk can have such an impact. Studies show that getting outside in nature (even if it’s just a few sidewalk trees) improves physical health and emotional well-being. Just five minutes outside is enough to improve your mood. Another benefit of walking is it raises your body temperature. This signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up, reversing the sleepy effect of your circadian rhythm in the afternoon. Sunlight also wakes you up and gives you a boost with some of that all-important Vitamin D (that we’re all deficient in now that we spend all day in our homes).

Eat (or Drink) a Snack

Photo by Jan Sedivy on Unsplash

Not only was I getting tired in the afternoon, but I was also starving. My hunger would sneak up on me, and then I would find myself eating everything in my kitchen around 4 pm. Now, I eat a filling snack around 3 pm. I choose a snack that’s packed with complex carbs, fats, and protein. Avocado toast with seeds is a good option, or fruit and greek yogurt. A smoothie with spinach, mango, yogurt, and banana is also filling a healthy.

The combination of eating lunch later and eating a thoughtful afternoon snack leaves me feeling full and energized for the rest of the day. And I’m no longer eating dinner at 5 pm. Little changes can make a big difference in the way our bodies feel.

Listen to Energetic Music

Studies show that music has a significant impact on your mood. For an energy boost, listen to music you love that has a high bpm. If you’re trying to focus on a complicated or stressful task, choose ambient sounds, such as instrumental music, nature sounds, or calm piano. According to Harvard Health, listening to ambient sounds leads to less anxiety and greater concentration.

Beat the Afternoon Slump: Final Thoughts

Running out of steam at the end of the day is a completely natural but avoidable problem. Especially in this new era of Work from Home, it’s essential that you’re listening to your body and making changes based on what’s not working. If you’re feeling burnt out or exhausted in the afternoon, try some of these tips and see what helps. Take breaks, breathe, and walk away from your computer. We’re not robots, built to work all day without stopping. We need to go outside, get fresh air, and take care of ourselves. It’s time to stop feeling like burnout is unavoidable and start making moves to beat the afternoon slump and cultivate happiness, energy, and calm.

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Norrie Beach
In Fitness And In Health

Freelance writer. Blogger. Lover of true crime podcasts, appetizers, and going to the beach.