Does it feel rare to have a day when your energy feels high and stays high? An afternoon slump is a common phenomenon that most adults experience, especially with age. While that second or third cup of coffee is typically the answer for most, there are ways to prevent a midday crash and ensure sustained energy throughout the day by establishing a few simple healthy habits.
For most, even after waking up and feeling energized, the 3 o’clock hour approaches and energy levels plummet. Energy is meant to fluctuate throughout a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle due to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. As the day begins, our biological clock sends signals to wake up and synchronize bodily functions, including the release of hormones like cortisol, which helps increase alertness and promotes energy production. Throughout the morning, energy levels tend to increase and peak, enabling us to engage in various activities with vigor and focus. As nighttime approaches, the body signals the production of melatonin to help induce and reduce energy levels to prepare for restorative sleep. The afternoon, however, is a different, variable story for most people.
There are several factors that contribute a midday slump in energy. A natural fluctuation within the body’s circadian rhythm can often be to blame. During the early afternoon, typically between 1 pm and 3 pm, the body’s core temperature naturally decreases which can lead to a decrease in alertness and energy. Other factors like digesting a large lunch, commonly known as the “food coma,” can cause afternoon drowsiness. When we consume a meal, particularly one that is high in carbohydrates or large in portion, the body directs a significant amount of energy towards digestion, diverting resources away from other cognitive function and causing a temporary decrease in energy. Environmental factors, such as dim lighting or a lack of physical activity, dehydration, and stress can also contribute to midday energy crashes. There are a few significant and science-backed techniques that can help support natural fluctuations of energy, and at the same time, prevent dramatic decreases in energy to keep your day feeling more steady.
Eat balanced meals at regular time intervals
Nutrition is a powerful force when it comes to managing energy throughout the day. Calories are the body’s main source of energy through the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables provide a steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, fueling the body with a consistent source of energy over an extended period of time. They also contain fiber, which aids in digestion and prevents energy crashes. Protein and fat help slow down the digestion process, keeping you fuller for longer and preventing rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. To keep energy levels maintained throughout the day, eat well-balanced meals at regular intervals to help regulate blood sugar levels and provide sustained energy. Avoid skipping meals and practice portion control to avoid overeating, as large meals can lead to sluggishness and decreased energy.
Get sunlight in the morning
Sunlight exposure stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with wakefulness and mood regulation. This can help increase alertness, focus, and overall cognitive performance, setting a positive tone for the day ahead. Exposure to natural light in the morning helps synchronize our internal body clock, reinforcing a healthy sleep-wake cycle. This can lead to better-quality sleep at night, reducing daytime sleepiness and promoting sustained energy levels throughout the day. The combination of improved alertness, elevated mood, and optimized sleep patterns resulting from morning sunlight exposure can significantly enhance productivity and efficiency in daily tasks and activities, allowing for better time management and utilization of energy resources.
Staying hydrated is essential for optimal energy throughout the day. Dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue and can impair cognitive performance, leading to decreased focus, alertness, and mental clarity. Water is also involved in several metabolic processes, including the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats for energy production. Drinking enough water or consuming foods that are high in water content can help maintain efficient metabolism, ensuring that calories and nutrients are properly converted into energy. Set a goal to drink enough water throughout the day (64oz is recommended) and limit the intake of sugary beverages that can cause energy crashes.
Take intentional breaks
When each day feels more fast-paced and jam-packed than the last, stress can accumulate in the body and cause energy to plummet. Whether it’s keeping up with work or personal life, it is crucial to support the brain and body in order to maintain energy. The brain’s ability to focus and keep attention can vary among individuals and depending on the task at hand, cognitive abilities, and overall mental and physical well-being. While there is no definitive set time that applies to everyone, research suggests that the brain’s capacity to maintain focused attention typically lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. Much like circadian rhythms, the body’s ultradian rhythm are recurring patterns of brain activity during the day occurring in cycles of approximately 90-120 minutes. These rhythms naturally oscillate between periods of higher and lower alertness and focus. Taking short breaks allow the brain to recharge, rest, and can help prevent mental fatigue and enhance productivity when returning to a task. Avoid cognitive energy crashes by experimenting with different work-rest ratios and finding a balance that works best for you throughout the day.
There comes a point in life for many where an afternoon slump becomes normal. However, daily energy crashes do not need to be your destiny. They can be a sign to start incorporating healthy habits into your schedule that promote more balance, whether nutritionally or mentally. Supporting the body’s natural rhythms throughout the day by getting sunlight, breathing fresh air, eating well-balanced meals, and taking intentional mental pauses can help prevent the seemingly inevitable afternoon crash and lead to a peaceful, productive, and healthy way of living.