Everyone knows what it feels like to be productive in the morning at work with lots of energy— and then the afternoon slump hits after lunch. During the afternoon slump you can’t focus, feel sluggish, and are ready to call it a day hours before it’s time to wrap it up.
If you’re fighting off your midday slump with caffeine it can help initially, but it also kicks off an unhealthy cycle. Even when you think your afternoon cup of coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink isn’t affecting your ability to fall asleep, it’s affecting how well you sleep.
That extra caffeine boost in the afternoon comes at a cost.
So is there a good way to get over the afternoon slump without caffeine? There is!
There are lots of alternatives to perk you up in the afternoon without caffeine. But before we list them, it helps to first understand why you may feel tired in the afternoons.
Why Do We Feel Tired in the Afternoon?
Are you quick to blame a high-carb lunch or caffeine crash for your midday slump? If so, you may be right, but that’s not the only reason.
- Unbalanced meals that are high in sugar or carbohydrates
- Insufficient or poor sleep
- Lack of activity or movement during the day
- Health issues, including sleep disorders
These are all common reasons you may feel tired midday. But there’s an even bigger reason. You’re biologically wired to go into “recharge mode” in the afternoon. It’s nature’s way of letting you know when it’s time to rest.
It’s because of your body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that you experience these highs and lows, including your afternoon energy slump. It’s called your circadian rhythm. And it tells you when it’s time to sleep and time to wake up. It also regulates your energy levels throughout the day.
Your circadian rhythm and sleep drive interact throughout the day, creating spikes or dips in your energy. Because of this, people feel most tired in the middle of the night, and yes, during the afternoon slump you usually feel after lunchtime.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, your strongest urge to sleep happens between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. and between 1 and 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
Since the afternoon is prime working hours, it’s no surprise you’re tempted to reach for a caffeine boost. Low energy affects your mood, lowers your patience, and makes it more difficult to focus and think.
Most schedules don’t allow for a two-hour siesta in the afternoon, but there are other ways to beat your afternoon slump without resorting to caffeine.
Follow these seven tips to stay productive and restore your energy midday.
7 Ways to Beat Your Afternoon Slump Without Caffeine
When your day starts to drag midday, pick your energy levels back up with these simple tips. They can help boost your energy even if you spend most of your day at your desk.
1. Stay Hydrated
Your body is about 60 percent water. When you’re not hydrated it can affect almost every major organ in your body, including your brain— which is 73% water. It’s one reason dehydration can inhibit how your brain functions and impair your memory.
Fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration. When you’re dehydrated your heart works harder to pump oxygen to your organs, including your brain. The increased work it takes to oxygenate your body makes you feel more tired.
One study found that women are more sensitive to mild dehydration than men. For women, even mild dehydration produces fatigue and concentration problems.
The easiest way to prevent dehydration, drink more water. Ideally, drink water before you’re thirsty. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
If you’re wondering – how much water do I need to drink to rehydrate? – a good rule of thumb is that men need about 15.5 cups or 3.7 liters of fluids a day, while women need about 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters a day.
How much water you need each day also depends on factors like where you live. You need more fluids if you live in hot, dry places, are more active, and don’t get a lot of fluids in your diet.
Some hydration comes from your diet, but most of it should come from water. It’s best for keeping you hydrated, so make sure you’re drinking more water than any other beverage.
If you work at a desk, keep a large reusable water bottle next to you and drink from it throughout the day. Add lemon or other fruits if you need a little flavor.
2. Get Moving
Short periods of physical activity help boost your energy. Even light exercise can release endorphins, increase blood flow, and help you feel more energized.
Instead of reaching for a caffeinated soda or cup of coffee in the afternoon, try this instead:
- Taking a walk outside
- Walking up and down the stairs
The most important thing is to move, even if it’s just a few minutes. Simply stepping away from your desk for a moment can help clear brain fog and perk you up.
3. Listen to Music
The next time you feel an energy lull, turn on some tunes. Listen to upbeat, cheerful music for an instant energy boost. It can also help increase your focus, alertness, and memory. And with the right music, it’s a nice mood booster too.
Try listening to instrumental music or music without any lyrics to help improve your ability to focus even more.
4. Eat the Right Foods, Especially at the Office
It can be tempting to get another donut or slice of pizza if they’re in the break room, but these tasty foods can actually make it harder for you to get through the day. Eating a snack or meal that’s high in sugar and carbs can spike your blood sugar and contribute to midday sluggishness.
Instead, make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, fiber, healthy fat, and protein.
Here are easy healthy snacks to pack for work and eat instead:
- Fresh or dried fruit
- Nuts or nut butter
- Veggies and hummus
- Greek yogurt
- String cheese
Popcorn and fish are great choices too, but if you work in an office the odor might overwhelm your coworkers.
5. Chew Gum
Keep a pack of gum in your office drawer and start chewing the next time you feel a yawn coming on. Chewing gum doesn’t just freshen your breath, it can help you feel more focused during the day too.
According to a study by Nutritional Neuroscience, chewing gum improved alertness and increased happiness in participants, as well as an improved reaction time.
Peppermint gum is especially effective because of peppermint’s proven positive effects on mood, energy, and focus.
6. Take a Break
This one should go without saying, but if you’re crashing and having a hard time concentrating give yourself a short break. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to push through the fog and keep working, that can be counterproductive.
Take a short break the next time you feel like you’re struggling to get anything done. You’ll find you’re more productive if you briefly step away and take your mind off of work.
While you’re at it, get some exercise to give yourself extra energy. Exercising or moving outside in the fresh air and sunshine will make it even better.
7. Get Some Sun
Natural light helps you reach healthy vitamin D levels which can help increase your focus and boost your mood.
Even just a few minutes of sunlight during the day can help you shake off any extra sleepiness slowing you down.
If there’s no sun and you can’t get sunlight during the day, the second best thing is to get a lot of light. We recommend a good desk light. One of our favorites is the Journi Mobile Task Light. It’s a small and portable lamp so it fits nicely anywhere.
The light is designed to provide healthy circadian light for any time of day. Just plug it in, turn it on, and enjoy the benefits of sunlight, even when you’re inside.
Can You Prevent Your Afternoon Slump?
Although it’s inevitable your natural circadian rhythm will dip in the afternoon, it doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to minimize the effect.
One of the best ways to keep your afternoon slump from derailing your afternoon is to get enough sleep the night before.
When you don’t get enough restful sleep you get daytime drowsiness and fatigue. This daytime sleepiness worsens how tired you feel after lunch.
Don’t reach for caffeine. It’s tempting, but too much caffeine or consuming caffeine at the wrong time keeps the cycle going by making you more restless or keeping you up late.
Caffeine’s stimulant effects are well-documented. This is why it’s such a popular choice. It does keep you awake when your energy levels are dropping. It also helps when you’re shaking off the initial grogginess in the morning— also known as sleep inertia.
But studies show that if you consume caffeine within 6 hours of your bedtime it can reduce your total sleep time by up to 41 minutes, and prevent you from falling asleep on time.
Sleep deprivation caused by caffeine is a good enough reason to steer clear in the afternoons, but there are more serious sleep issues it affects as well.
Is There a Connection Between Caffeine and Sleep Apnea?
Yes and no. While caffeine’s effect on sleep disturbances like GERD or restless legs syndrome are well known, there hasn’t been a lot of research on how caffeine may be connected to sleep apnea. However, a few studies have discovered some interesting findings on the topic.
One study sought to explore the relationship between caffeine consumption and sleep-disordered breathing, and found that consuming caffeinated soda (but not tea or coffee) was associated with sleep-disordered breathing severity.
Although sleep-disordered breathing doesn’t automatically mean you have sleep apnea, it’s best to talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about your risk.
While caffeine may not be directly associated with sleep apnea, another interesting discovery has shown that caffeine consumption can actually help sleep apnea patients.
Sleep apnea can cause cognitive impairment, forgetfulness, and brain fog. However, increased caffeine consumption during the day improved cognitive function in patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
So a little caffeine may help sleep apnea patients. Just remember to monitor your caffeine intake throughout the day. You wouldn’t want to unintentionally sabotage your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Stop consuming caffeine at least six hours before your bedtime to ensure most of it is out of your system by the time you go to sleep.
If you rely on caffeine to make it through your day and struggle to sleep at night, it can be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder.
Contact us for an evaluation and possible home sleep test if your fatigue feels more like excessive sleepiness throughout the day rather than a midday lull. Our Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee offices are located in Clarksville, Franklin and Murfreesboro. We can help you get the attention you need to start feeling rested.
“Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock.” Sleep Foundation, 29 Jan. 2021, www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock.
AP;, Allen AP;Smith. “Effects of Chewing Gum and Time-on-Task on Alertness and Attention.” Nutritional Neuroscience, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22583804/.
“Caffeine and Sleep Apnea: What’s the Connection?” Sleep Apnea, 7 May 2020, www.resmed.com/en-us/sleep-apnea/sleep-blog/caffeine-and-sleep-apnea-whats-the-connection/.