The 3pm Slump: Beating Daytime Fatigue
It’s been a busy day, it’s coming up to the middle of the afternoon and you’ve still got lots to do. Suddenly you feel yourself fading, a haze washing over you. Tiredness, foggy brain, difficulty putting together thoughts and making decisions. A strong desire to find coffee, chocolate or a place to nap immediately.
This 3pm Slump can become a really frustrating issue if it’s happening more and more, creating a pattern of getting in the way of productivity, clarity and just an overall sense of vitality.
Why the Afternoon Energy Crash?
Feeling sleepy as we approach mid afternoon is actually completely normal to a certain extent. This is due to our circadian rhythm, which sends the body signals about when to feel alert and when to rest. Sleep signals peak during the night but also around 1-3pm (cue “siestas” making a lot of sense). Therefore our brains and bodies can find it difficult to keep up with our hectic schedules and long days.
There are also other factors that can cause or exacerbate daytime fatigue.
Poor sleep is an obvious one but is often not given enough attention. We need adequate sleep quantity and quality to feel restored and invigorated.
Overuse of caffeine and sugar is very common. The temporary energy boost that we get from coffee can certainly improve productivity and performance to a degree. However, too much caffeine can lead to big spikes and then crashes of energy and can actually deplete us as a result. The same goes for sugar, and sugar can have other detrimental effects such as increasing inflammation.
Stress is also a big factor in fatigue. Feeling stressed uses up lots of nutrients in the body, such as several B vitamins and magnesium which are also needed for energy production. Additionally, when we feel anxious or stressed we often become tense and can start to shallow breath rather than taking deeper, longer breaths. This can reduce flow of oxygen to the brain and make you feel more tired.
What If I’m Not Just Tired?
Of course, fatigue is ultimately just a symptom and not a condition in itself, therefore it can point towards other issues that may need addressing. Fatigue can be a symptom of nutritional deficiency such as iron, thyroid pathology, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, digestive dysfunction, food allergies and intolerances, chronic infection and more.
If you have concerns that your fatigue is a bit more than an afternoon slump or are trying to work out the underlying cause, it may be helpful to see a healthcare practitioner to get some more clarity.
Beating the Slump
The secret to avoiding a crash and burn scenario during the afternoon is preparation and consistency. Waiting until you feel tired and foggy and then reaching for another coffee or a sugary treat is a reactive approach that makes sense in the short term but doesn’t actually help energy levels in the long term (and can make them worse).
Instead, implementing beneficial strategies mindfully throughout the day can help to prevent fatigue before it overwhelms you. There are simple things that we can do to help support our energy levels and feel more vibrant during the day.
5 Energy Boosting Tips
Sitting still for long periods of time is fatiguing in several ways. Our body associates being still with going into a state of rest, so we need to keep it moving to keep the body and mind alert. Getting active also boosts blood and oxygen flow around the body and to the brain, which can boost energy and improve cognitive function.
Dehydration is often linked to sluggishness during the day. Water intake needs to be kept high; as a general rule aim for 2-3 litres each day. Herbal teas are counted in your total water intake, but not black tea and coffee as these can further dehydrate the body.
3. Not Enough Protein
You know that feeling when you eat a big bowl of pasta or too much bread, and you feel like you could go straight to bed? Consuming a large amount of carbohydrates and excessive portion sizes can lead to a big crash in energy due to the effects on blood sugar levels. Try to keep lunch portions so that you feel satisfied but not overfull to avoid this feeling, and ensure that it includes carbohydrates alongside quality protein and fats to give your body better fuel for energy production.
Another factor of fatigue could be not enough regular protein intake throughout the day, which can negatively affect our blood sugar levels and send energy haywire. Aim to include good quality protein with each meal and snack including breakfast to help stabilise blood sugar levels and keep energy more balanced. Some options include eggs, nuts, fish, lean grass fed meat such as chicken or turkey, lentils, beans, and tempeh.
Focusing on our breathing and doing simple exercises is a great way to improve oxygen flow to the brain as well as managing stress. There are lots of exercises that you can try depending on what you feel comfortable with. The internet is a great resource for this, as is working with a yoga instructor or mindfulness apps if you want to go deeper into the importance of breath. For beginners, start to pay more attention to your breathing and take 3 deep breaths when you start to feel tense or overwhelmed during the day. Place your hand on your belly or chest and focus on slowly breathing so that your hand rises; this helps to fill the lungs with more air.
5. Light vs Dark
Our circadian rhythm reacts to our exposure to daylight, so we can use this to our advantage to feel more energised during the day. Waking up and exposing yourself to daylight as soon as possible helps to balance circadian rhythms. Not only can this boost day time energy, it can help improve quality sleep at night. A morning walk in the sunshine is a gentle yet powerful way to take advantage of this Melbourne spring weather and improve your body’s natural rhythm.
The lighting at your workplace could also be affecting you, especially if you’re staring at screens all day. If you have the opportunity, jumping outside for 5 minutes in the afternoon can help to combat excessive screen time or artificial lighting. Otherwise, ensure you are looking up and away from your computer or device regularly to rest your eyes and shift your focus.