How to Avoid the Afternoon Slump
The afternoon slump (1) is a period of decreased alertness and productivity in the afternoon. You might recognize it as the time when you struggle to focus and start yawning nonstop.
We feel tired in the afternoon because of a natural dip in our biological sleep-wake cycle. However, it can be exacerbated by things like going short on sleep (2) the night before, eating a heavy lunch (3), or spending all morning working on a tedious assignment.
The good news is that there are many ways to prevent the afternoon slump at work. Before you reach for that candy bar, try a few of the following ideas for dealing with afternoon sleepiness.
Get Bright Light
Light is one of the best ways to improve alertness (4), especially blue light (5) that mimics natural daylight. Using bright light to combat the post-lunch dip also has benefits for cognitive flexibility (6), or the ability to switch between tasks.
One study found that even just half an hour sitting by a window (7) was enough to decrease feelings of sleepiness in the participants. Even better, open the window and harness the rejuvenating effects of fresh air (8) while you're at it.
Refined carbohydrates like white bread can cause spikes in blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash several hours later.
For a better choice, try eating a snack that combines protein and complex carbs, such as a slice of multigrain bread with almond butter (9). You'll stay full for longer and avoid the afternoon slump. If you're hankering for a treat after your meal, stick to a piece of fruit or some dark chocolate, which is low in sugar and even has a little bit of caffeine to perk you up.
Dehydration (10) contributes significantly to fatigue, so it's good practice to keep a water bottle or herbal tea at hand while you work. Try to avoid sugary drinks, and stay away from caffeine in the afternoon if you find it interferes with your sleep.
Take a Quick Break
It may seem counterintuitive to take a break (11) when you're racing to meet a deadline, but it can pay off in terms of increased productivity.
A break could mean anything from grabbing a cup of tea to making a phone call, going for a stroll around the office, or looking out the window. Even better, do something that makes you develop a more meaningful connection (12) with your job, such as complimenting a colleague or learning a new skill.
To overcome the afternoon slump, get your blood flowing with a short bout of exercise (13), such as running up and down the stairs. Any activity that keeps you from sitting (14) for prolonged periods is beneficial to both your body and brain, so try to stay active throughout the day with short bathroom breaks or stretches.
You can also recharge your batteries with yoga poses and deep breathing (15), which are an excellent way to beat stress while boosting energy and attention span. Active workstations (16) such as bike desks might be an idea if you're pressed for time.
The Attention Restoration Theory (17) suggests that nature helps us regain focus after spending too long doing a repetitive task. This occurs with exposure to, or even pictures of, nature (18).. Experiencing the natural world may also reduce feelings of stress and tension (19).
It doesn't take long for these benefits to kick in. Even just 5 minutes (20) of sitting outside in nature may help you get over the afternoon slump.
Listen to Music
Research shows that listening to music enhances attention, mental efficiency (21), speed, accuracy (22), memory (23), and creativity (24). If you enjoy listening to music while you work, consider choosing a song without lyrics (25) to minimize distraction.
Scents like peppermint and rosemary have been shown to increase performance, speed, and accuracy (26). Try incorporating these scents into your workday with essential oils, herbal infusions, or hand lotion.
Chewing gum (27) fights against the dip in vigilance and short-term memory that occurs when we spend a while doing a repetitive task. It also has the added benefit of distracting you from that high-carb snack (28) you may crave in the afternoon.
Know Your Body Clock to Overcome the Afternoon Slump
The afternoon slump affects everybody differently. By getting to know your own internal clock, you can plan a more productive day by scheduling lively activities for your off-times and tackling challenging projects when you know you'll be most alert. If you're still struggling with how to wake up in the afternoon, take heart in knowing that more and more companies are harnessing the power of naps in the workplace.
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