3 Proven Ways To Power Through Your Afternoon Slump

It happens like clockwork. It's 2 or 3 p.m. and you're diligently working away at your desk, trying to clear some tasks off your to-do list. Then, suddenly, you just feel so tired. There are still hours left in the workday, but your body apparently didn't get the memo, because it is more than ready for an afternoon nap. This common phenomenon is known as the afternoon slump, and it loves to interrupt your post-lunch productivity.

What's going on here? What causes an afternoon slump? Turns out, your midday energy levels can be impacted by a few things, such as diet, sleep quality, hormone levels, and even stress (via Cleveland Clinic). Your low energy may also be tied to your natural circadian rhythm. Essentially your internal clock, the circadian rhythm regulates your level of alertness based on your usual habits and environment, including the amount of light your eyes are taking in (via Sleep Foundation).

With so many possible physical and lifestyle factors conspiring to make you sleepy in the afternoon, how can you overcome this persistent brain fog? If you're trying to improve focus, productivity, and alertness in your daily life, here are three ways to power through your afternoon slump without turning to caffeine or energy drinks.

Eat balanced meals low in simple carbs and sugars

The first step toward beating that 3 p.m. slump is to start your day off on the right foot with an energizing diet. Eating a sugary breakfast or snack may seem like a quick way to boost your activity, but this boost comes at a steep cost — namely, the inevitable sugar crash. Also known as hypoglycemia, a crash occurs when your body processes sugar at an inconsistent rate, triggering an imbalance between your blood sugar and insulin levels. This crash not only makes you tired, but can cause headaches, irritability, and anxiety (via Sanford Health).

Unfortunately, an unbalanced, carb-heavy diet can have a similar effect, causing your blood sugar to spike and then drop dramatically (via Harvard Chan School). This is especially true if you primarily consume simple carbs, which are common in processed foods like white bread or pastries. So if you eat junk food for lunch, you can expect that boost to wear off in the afternoon, right around the time of your usual slump. While carbs can certainly be useful fuel, it's better to prioritize complex carbs like fruit, veggies, nuts, and whole grains, which release energy over time (via Medical News Today). For example, pumpkin seeds are a great snack to restore energy, help you feel less sleepy, and avoid your daily sugar crash.

Hydrate and hydrate some more

Be honest: have you been reaching your water goals? Because if you've only been sipping on coffee or sodas, poor hydration may be adding to the malaise of your afternoon slump. Even mild dehydration can disrupt your productivity. As research in The Journal of Nutrition found, low levels of dehydration can contribute to "degraded mood, increased perception of task difficulty, lower concentration, and headache symptoms." If you feel tiredness creeping up on you in the middle of the day, try slugging back a tall glass of water to keep your body running smoothly.

Or, if you just absolutely need some caffeine in your life, try reaching for green tea instead of that triple-shot latte. Green tea is a natural source of caffeine and pairs its energy boost with healthy antioxidants. While it can't replace water entirely, enjoying three to five cups of green tea each day is a great way to round out your hydration with extra benefits (via Healthline).

Get moving with simple exercise or stretches

Last but not least, a sedentary lifestyle can make your afternoon slump that much worse, so you might find yourself struggling a little extra if you have a desk job. "Being in a chair for eight hours or more a day does a lot of harm to your body," physical trainer Saara Haapanen tells Fitbit. "I like to encourage doing secret moves at work. Every little bit of movement you do gets your blood moving and stretches out your muscles. It's also good to mentally take a break from work for a few minutes!"

Fortunately, taking a break to exercise can also help wake your body up and stave off the afternoon sleepies. And this doesn't have to be any high-octane, sweat-inducing workout — a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that low-to-moderate intensity physical activity such as stair walking was actually more energizing than ingesting 50mg of caffeine. So instead of turning to your third or fourth coffee of the day, try taking a walk around the office, doing a few yoga stretches to limber up, or pacing up and down the nearest staircase a few times. This will get your blood pumping and help put that afternoon slump to rest.