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It’s not an uncommon sight across the globe to observe workplaces buzzing all the way through the AM creating very productive mornings with an almost audible sense of smashing through checkmarks on to-do lists.
You may have experienced this vein of productive action yourself, and consider mornings your most effective time of the day, which is great. However it’s equally as common for us to reach the mid-afternoon of our workdays and be yawning through the latter parts of the day, you may find yourself clock-watching and could find yourself longing for the end of the day, sometimes not even because there is something tantalising going on after work, you just know your bed is calling you.
This sharp drop off in productivity is a phenomenon referred to as the ‘mid afternoon slump’ or 'crash' and it’s pretty common. That's not very reassuring if it's going to hold back your career progression, business, or feeling of personal productivity though, so I’m going to outline some strategies you can use to overcome it.
Before we start, it’s important to note that there isn’t anything wrong with you for feeling this way, actually if our bodies came with an instruction manual, the mid-afternoon slump would be listed right there as a factory setting. It’s all down to our body's natural circadian rhythms, these are natural 24 hour cycles that control much of how our body functions an it turns out that our energy levels naturally dip between 1-3pm, in other words right after lunch.
Some countries and cultures have cottoned on to this, and take what are known as ‘Siesta’s” as a mid day nap, I first encountered this on a trip to the Canary Islands, I thought it must be some kind of national holiday, when I realised what a Siesta was, coming from the traditionally Type A city of London I thought to myself “how are they going to get anything done like this?” some years on, I now see the wisdom, and see why the ancient Greeks considered the practice sacred.
It does occur to me, that if our bodies encourage this, and large parts of the world tend to honour this natural shifting of energy, and have done for centuries you could say we’re solving the wrong problem here in trying to feel more energised all afternoon, and maybe we should be reimagining the way we work in the first place, perhaps thats another conversation for another time.
Tips On Increasing Afternoon Energy Levels
The good news is that a lot can be done to have more energy throughout the day, you no longer need to experience this kind of fatigue each day:
It Starts The Night Before
Ensuring that you have enough energy throughout the day isn’t just determined by what you do once you wake up. The seeds for the day ahead will already have been sown with your sleep hygiene, duration of sleep and quality of sleep, so make sure you’re sleeping in a room as close to 18 degrees celsius as you can get, drop the screens before bed and aim to institute some kind of ‘winding down’ ritual that naturally relaxes you before bed, this could be reading, meditating or whatever you tend to find relaxing. Having a mindfulness practice can actually contribute to you successfully achieving your health & fitness goals.
Actually, It Starts The Weekend Before
- I say this a little tongue in cheek, but what you do at the weekend counts too, so aim not to drop the ball with nutrition and exercise, even if you know the weekends get a little wild sometimes try to keep the fundamentals of your health plan in place. On a more serious note, if you notice a trend toward total release and escapism at the weekends it may be a sign that your week is wound to tightly or you aren’t finding much joy in what you do, of course there are times in life for the majority of people where this just is what it is to make things happen. But don’t accept it being that way forever, but again, perhaps another conversation, for another day.
Get Some Fresh Air
- Taking a break and get away from your desk and out of the office space entirely and having even a small amount of time in the daylight to feel the sun and breeze on your skin can work wonders to reset your internal clock and can help prevent the snoozing feeling in the afternoon, get out early enough and it will be great for vitamin D synthesis too.
Which brings us back to that internal clock, our bodies can react to light and darkness, the sleep hormone in our body is called melatonin and its production is inhibited when the retina detects sunlight, helping to keep us awake during the day. Artificial light in our offices can wreak havoc with our internal system and make our bodies believe we are in darkness therefore producing more melatonin than we should be during the day. By taking an opportunity to go outside in the middle of the day, perhaps eating your lunch outside if you can will help lower the levels of melatonin in our body and help you feel more awake as you tackle the afternoon.
Choose Your Lunch Wisely
- How we choose to fuel our afternoons can greatly affect the kind of productivity we expect to see. For example, lunches unnecessarily high in expedient carbohydrates or refined sugars, can give us a quick energy fix, but then can make us crash and feel tired by mid afternoon. Ideally we should look at choosing lunches high in protein and healthy fats, making sure our carb choices are slow release allowing energy to trickle through into our system slowly throughout the day.
- If you have enough time on your lunch break and a close enough open space, consider getting yourself into the habit of fitting in some activity on your lunch break. As well as improving your overall mental and physical health in the long run, regular light exercise has been proven to boost energy levels and improve mood by releasing more endorphins into the blood streams which can give us a ‘euphoric feeling’ which is sometimes referred to as runners high. Taking the time to exercise during the day will help keep you feeling positive and full of enough focus to continue working well through the afternoon, you don’t need to be breaking world records either, sometimes a light mobility flow is the perfect pick me up for a busy day.
Top Up Your Water Levels
- Some of the early signs of dehydration are feeling tired, less focused and experiencing brain fog. Don't allow yourself to let it get to this before you realise you need a drink and keep yourself topped up during the full day to stay energised and thinking clear. Be mindful of the water you have lost through sweat if you’ve exercised (or engaged in public speaking) and stay topped up allowing all of your bodily functions and brain to work at their optimum.
Take A Break
- If you get to the mid afternoon and you feel like your energy is dipping, get proactive. Allow yourself to have a tea break with a high protein snack, or take a n impromptu walk and talk with a colleague to get away from your desk, or better yet do some stretches, to help relieve tension and stress (poor posture is actually a form of stress), get some oxygenated blood pumping around the body to help you feel more awake.
Fill Your Space With Scents
- In the same way that scents such as lavender can be used to help us sleep deeply and relax (spas always smell good right), scents such as citrus, peppermint, and rosemary can be used to boost our energy, mood and focus our minds. Try energising your workspace by having a rosemary or lemon balm plant on your desk, or dropping some peppermint oil on your palms and rubbing your hands together, better yet include some orange, grapefruit or mint on your salads at lunch or your water bottle throughout the day. Depending on your industry you might want to introduce these techniques in a subtle way at first, unless you don’t mind banter about sleeping on crystals, under a pyramid.
Consider Caffeine A Tool, Not A Crutch
- This tip goes for powering a workout too, and that is to recognise caffeine as a tool, not a crutch caffeine is at your disposal to use when you need an added sense of focus. But look away now, if you don’t want your relationship with your morning brew to change because you will never be the same again after the next sentence….
….ok. Here goes. Contrary to the way we think caffeine works i.e coffee gives me energy, it's actually not that simple, what caffeine really does is block the signals your body usually uses to tell you how tired you are. Perhaps my warning was a bit dramatic, but I’ve never thought about caffeine the same was since I discovered this, which is why I strongly suggest you keep caffeine in your toolbox, but never allow it to become something you need just to function.
The Bigger Picture
Hopefully the tips and strategies above will go some way as to helping you power through your working afternoons more effectively, but the elephant in the room is really the question of what to do if you are ‘always’ tired. If that’s what you are experiencing right now it doesn’t bode well for quality of life, put simply you don’t want the magic moments of your life to feel muted by tiredness and a lack of energy.
Coming back to the idea of a siesta, I always try to get my online personal training clients to work to feel more in tune with their bodies, and aim to hone in on respecting the subtle messages they send us, and there is a big difference between hearing “actually a quick cat nap would be lovely, I don’t mind if I do” and “I can’t function any more, it’s coffee number 8 or I’m passing out at my desk”
Of course persistent fatigue should be looked at medically, to be on the safe side as you would want to rule certain things out. Nutrition too can play a big role and you would want to make sure that fundamentally you are eating enough, getting enough of each of the macronutrients:
1. Protein (you might be surprised how often this is the culprit),
3. Healthy Fats
You also want to get a bit more granular and rule out being low on B-vitamins or Iron, two often overlooked causes of fatigue.
But beyond all of that, it can be very productive to examine your relationship to movement, stress, food, rest and the connection to the things in life that bring you joy in life. After all this is not a dress rehearsal.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you with a lifestyle oriented health & fitness program, let’s schedule a consultation here to discuss what we can do to significantly increase your baseline energy levels and experience all of traditional health & fitness benefits you would expect from a professionally crafted workout program.