It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: You wake up, get dressed, caffeinate yourself, start your day productively at home or at the office, and then around midday — womp, womp, womp — you run out of steam. You feel groggy, cranky, or a little dazed. Loading up on coffee can help temporarily, but that cup could also give you the jitters or affect your sleep later that evening.
According to Gregory Dodell, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant clinical professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, the midday slump is especially common for people who work long hours or have sedentary lifestyles. “Insufficient sleep obviously leads to daytime fatigue, but it also disrupts our hormones [which can affect our energy level],” he explains.
Anka Urbahn, a personal trainer in San Francisco and founder of Urbahn Fit, agrees. “Most of us require at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night,” she says. “If you are constantly tired and you know you did not get enough sleep at night, start there and try to get some extra snooze time.”
However, there could be other culprits for your 3-o'clock burnout. “Skipping breakfast might lead to that afternoon crash,” says Urbahn, noting that a healthy breakfast can help you sustain energy throughout the day. What’s more, when you skip breakfast, you may be more likely to load up your plate at lunch. Adds Dr. Dodell: “A heavy lunch can often cause an afternoon slump due to a rise and subsequent drop in blood sugar.”
“The reasons that people feel sluggish midday can vary from person to person, so it is important to check in with yourself and see if there is any information that your body is sending you,” says Alexis Conason, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in New York City. “Are you feeling hungry, tired, or like your body is craving some movement or fresh air?” She calls this process of listening to your body’s signals compassionate self-care.
Once you figure out what’s causing your afternoon slump, you can focus on the solution. Here are a few ideas:
Eat a balanced lunch
To start, Urbahn recommends eating a smaller lunch. “Choose complex carbs — beans, whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables — and mix them with a healthy dose of proteins and vegetables,” she says.
Have a snack
Research shows that what you eat can affect how you think, so if your low energy is hunger related, reach for a healthy snack. The type of food matters because you don’t want simple carbs like cookies or chips that are going to spike your blood sugar and cause you to crash again later. A protein-rich snack, like a handful of almonds or yogurt, should do the trick. “My favorite protein that I can easily carry with me are hardboiled eggs,” says Urbahn.
“Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired, sluggish, and moody,” says Urbahn. “Make sure you keep a water bottle close at all times and sip [from it] regularly.”
Take a nap
This isn’t always possible, but if your job has a private lounge or if you’re working from home, take a catnap. “Just 20 minutes can boost your alertness and productivity,” Urbahn says. “It's okay. Sometimes it's necessary to give in, and you will come back energized and ready to tackle even the most complicated tasks.”
If you’ve been holed up all day, this is an excellent time to step outside for a break. Just getting away from your desk or current task for a bit is fine, too. But breathing in fresh air will do more to revive you by improving your concentration and mood and reducing stress, Urbahn explains.
Closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for a few minutes may seem counterintuitive when you’re feeling lethargic, but meditation helps you get in tune with yourself and can reset your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which regulates alertness. Dr. Dodell recommends checking out meditation apps for help getting in the zone.
Do some stretching
“Sitting still can make you feel like nodding off because your body associates that with going to sleep,” says Urbahn. Get the blood circulating again with gentle stretching exercises. You can do this anywhere, even at your desk. Even better, sneak away to do a few minutes of yoga or walk around the block.
Get in a quick workout
Again, not everyone can get to the gym in the middle of the day. But, if possible, schedule your workout session during lunch. “It will break up your day and all the stress you might have collected in the morning will be exercised away — and the afternoon will seem so much shorter,” says Urbahn.