Does this sound familiar? You're working away on a project that just HAS to be finished by end of day. And it's been going well all morning – you've been full of energy, focused, and your productivity is at its peak. You're "in the groove."
And then, the bottom falls out. You feel physically sleepy after lunch, and in terms of your concentration and your ability to focus, it's suddenly as if your mind went on holiday and left you behind.
Well, there are reasons why you experience this kind of "afternoon slump" and feel tired after lunch. More important, there are things you can do to stay focused and productive all day, and make sure you never have to experience these crashes ever again.
The 2-3 PM Slump
No, it's not in your imagination, or in the imaginations of coworkers who are nodding off in the afternoons the same way you are. The afternoon energy crash is a real thing. And there are scientific reasons why it happens, and why you experience a 2-3 PM energy crash.
The crashes might be partially caused by what you ate at lunch
Your afternoon productivity can be affected by eating too little, eating the wrong kind of lunch, or eating too much.
If you skip lunch entirely because you're dieting or too busy, well, naturally your brain is going to crash because it doesn't have sufficient fuel to keep it functioning at its best.
The same thing can happen, though, if you stick to the salad bar at lunch because you're dieting. The problem is not the salad greens, which are good for you. It's that your brain functions at its best after a meal that combines both carbohydrates and protein. So the next time you cruise the salad bar, add some egg, sliced turkey, or chicken to your salad. It won't hurt your diet, and you won't experience that afternoon energy crash as often.
Eating too much – or eating a lunch that is too heavy in fats – can also cause a post-lunch crash, because your meal will take much longer to digest. This leaves you feeling heavy and full, and gives you a sense of low energy.
But afternoon energy crashes are also caused by natural bodily rhythms
Our bodies have natural cycles that determine when we feel alert and when we feel sleepy. At night, the lack of light after the sun goes down tells your brain to produce melatonin, and that makes you feel sleepy. The opposite happens in the morning, as increased light tells your body to wake up. Biologically, feeling sleepy at midday is another of those natural cycles, a miniature version of the same drowsiness you feel just before bedtime.
In addition, the results of a new study suggest that the afternoon slump may be related to your brain's reward system. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to scan the brains of young men at different times of the day as they performed a challenging task.
What they found is that the area of the brain that controls our reward system – and thus our ability to remain interested in and satisfied by the tasks we perform – hits a "low point" between 2 PM and 3 PM.
The men in the study were given a task to perform at different times of the day, and were rewarded for the completion of it. What the researchers found was that the brain "shifts into a lower gear" during the afternoons, and requires higher blood oxygen levels to complete the same kinds of tasks than it requires at other times of day.
Fight the Slump – Strategies to Improve Focus and Concentration
So yes, the "afternoon slump" is a real thing. But now it's time for the more pressing question for most of us: "How can we fight these energy slumps so that we can stay focused and productive all day?"
How to counter the afternoon slump if you're already in one
The following suggestions have been collected from doctors, psychologists, and efficiency experts, and may help you the next time you find yourself having an "afternoon slump." If you follow them, they can help to "shake off the blahs" and get back to being productive.
- Get up and move around. Don't just sit there feeling tired. Stand up and move. Take a walk, stretch, or climb a couple of flights of stairs. Anykind of physical activity temporarily boosts your alertness and energy levels.
- Meditate.If you know how, practice a few minutes of your favourite meditation or mindfulness practice. If you've never learned those practices, close your eyes and focus on your breath. You'll be surprised how quickly that helps you to regain your focus at work.
- Go to the gym. If you have the flexibility to schedule a midday workout, it can ward off sleepiness and increase your ability to concentrate.
- Sip some green tea. It contains less caffeine than coffee, and also contains nutrients that can provide a pick-me-up.
- Switch tasks. If you're "stuck" on the task you've been working on, shift to another one to stay stimulated and keep things fresh.
- Wash your face. It works in the morning to wake you up, and may help in the PM.
- Listen to some favourite music. Grab your headphones and rock to your favourites while taking a walk, or even while sitting at your desk.
- Shed some light on the subject. Literally. One study found that 20 minutes of exposure to a bright white light increased alertness and boosted the brain's responses. Melatonin – the "sleep chemical" – can't be produced in bright light.
- Laugh. Really. Laughter has been found to reduce stress and increase energy. So keep a book of good jokes at your desk and read through it for a few minutes. The worst that will happen is that you'll put a smile back on your face.
Things you can do to avoid the afternoon slump in the first place
- Get enough sleep. According to sleep experts, almost 50% of us are trying to "get by" on less than seven hours of sleep a night. If you're doing this, you are medically sleep-deprived, which will exacerbate any normal afternoon energy slumps.
- Stay hydrated. Sipping water throughout the day will avoid dehydration, which itself makes you sleepy. It's also better for your overall health.
- Step away from the screen. Eyestrain from focusing on a computer screen can make your eyes feel tired, which in turn makes you feel tired, period. So mix up your work routines to involve less "screen time" and give your eyes and your brain a rest.
- Get enough regular exercise. Workouts have been proven to increase one's ability to concentrate.
- DON'T rely on coffee. A cup in the morning can help to "jumpstart" your brain for the day's work. But drinking too much coffee in the afternoons – especially if you take it with sugar – can give you the "jitters" and decrease your ability to deal with stress. It can also cause insomnia, which can lead to sleep deprivation, making things worse.
Energy, Productivity and Nutrition
We have all heard the old saying, "You are what you eat," but did you know how literally that applies to maintaining the levels of focus and concentration that enable you to be productive in life?
There are literally "brain foods" that help us to increase our energy levels, improve our memories, maintain focus, and boost our productivity.
Eating for productivity
If you find yourself having "afternoon slumps" often, you might consider adding some of the following "brain foods" to your diet:
- Salmon. This tasty fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which make it one of the best foods for mental energy and focus. It's also good for your heart health.
- Eggs. Starting the day with eggs can help to keep you productive all day long, because they are not only a good source of protein, they also contain large amounts of choline, a nutrient that improves cognition.
- Broccoli is rich in choline, and contains fibre and important vitamins and minerals. Almonds. A single serving of these healthy nuts contains 37% of your minimum daily requirement of vitamin E, which protects the brain against ageing.
- Beets. These tasty veggies are full of nitrates, which improve blood flow to the brain.
- Dark chocolate is probably the food most people are happiest to see on this list. Too much of it is still going to be fattening, so stick to small quantities. But in addition to being delicious, dark chocolate contains magnesium, which has been found to enhance memory and increase learning ability.
Naturally, because The Restored is in the business of producing high-quality nutritional products, there is a dietary supplement we can recommend that can help you increase your productivity as well.