The Symptoms and Causes of—and Cures for—an Afternoon Slump

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"Afternoon slump" is a term used to describe the sleepy and sluggish feeling that comes on in the afternoon, usually between the hours of 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. There are a few different reasons people experience afternoon slump, but the symptoms are generally the same. Understanding what's been causing you to feel tired or fatigued in the afternoon is important to figuring out how to address it.

Symptoms

  • Frequent yawning and/or feeling sleepy
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Slight changes in vision
  • Tingling or feeling of muscle weakness
  • Moodiness (i.e., becoming irritable or depressed without provocation)
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • A headache or stomach ache

A serious afternoon slump is more than just feeling like the day is getting long and a nap would be nice. It is marked with a profound sense of tiredness or fatigue that makes it hard to focus and may be accompanied by an intense need to sleep.

Causes

There are six main causes of an afternoon slump:

  1. A natural response to circadian rhythms, which typically make us most sleepy from 2 to 4 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
  2. An underlying metabolic disorder such as pre-diabetes or insulin resistancereactive hypoglycemia, and polycystic ovarian syndrome
  3. Getting too little sleep on a regular basis
  4. Poor eating habits, such as eating too many carbohydrates
  5. Dehydration
  6. High levels of stress

Cures

Once you have ruled out a serious metabolic disorder, there are some simple ways to get over the afternoon slump hump:

  1. Sit in the Sun for 10 Minutes: You can reset your internal clock, reduce the amount of melatonin—a hormone whose production increases after the sun goes down and makes us sleepy—that your body produces, and boost your vitamin D.
  2. Consume Protein Rather than Carbs: Try tuna salad but skip the bread, sliced chicken instead of pasta, or a salad with an egg. Cutting out the carbs can help prevent an afternoon crash from coming on. 
  3. Drink Plenty of Water: If dehydration is a contributing factor to your afternoon fatigue, make it a habit to keep a reusable bottle of water handy and sip from it regularly.
  4. Rub Some Peppermint Oil on Your Hands: Rub your hands together and then pat your face. The scent of peppermint is known to increase energy.
  5. Eat a Square of Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate, with its antioxidants and healthy fats, is better for you than milk chocolate. In addition to being delicious, dark chocolate contains a small hit of caffeine to give you a boost.
  6. Chew Gum: Chewing gums with strong minty flavors like peppermint and spearmint are stimulating, and the act of chewing helps the brain fight feelings of lethargy.
  7. Do Isometric Exercises: By tensing a muscle and holding it, you encourage blood flow. Try tensing your biceps, holding for 5 to 10 seconds, and then releasing. You can do the same with your calves, thighs, chest, stomach, and glutes.
  8. Put a Rosemary Plant in Your Office: The scent of rosemary is known to be energizing. Whenever you need a pick-me-up, rub a sprig between your fingers to release the fragrance. You can also rub one on your hands, neck, and face.
  9. Have a Healthy Snack: Munch on something that combines fiber and complex carbohydrates—such as whole-grain crackers or raw vegetables—to raise your blood sugar levels and keep them up.
  10. Add a Bit of Variety to Your Day: Concentration declines after about an hour, and it only gets worse from there. Without a break, the tedium of a task will be mind-numbing by the time you’re 90 minutes in, and you’ll lose your productivity. When you feel your focus fading, switch to something else for 30 minutes.
  11. Stay Active: Even short bursts of activity can keep you alert and boost your fitness. If you're in an office, instead of emailing or calling a colleague, get up and walk to their desk to ask a question face-to-face. If you're home, take a short walk. The little bit of movement will do you good.
  12. Play a Tune: If you like music, insert your earbuds or put on your headphones and jam out to one of your favorite high-energy songs. It will instantly invigorate you and make you feel pumped.
  13. Be Social: Organize your time so you engage with others during those peek slump times when your concentration and energy are waning. We are social animals, and interactions always rev us up. But make sure it’s an interesting interaction. Sitting in a meeting listening to someone else drone on and on may make you inclined to snooze.
  14. Brush Your Teeth: Or rinse with mouthwash. Doing something that activates your senses can wake you up.
  15. Engage in Mindful Meditation: Meditation requires no more than 15 to 20 minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on yourself and your breathing. Meditation will not only declutter your mind; it will also leave you energized.  
  16. Try Some Yoga: If you're not the high-energy type, try chilling out with some stress-free yoga positions. Yoga not only alleviates the damage done to your body by sitting in a chair for too long but will also significantly boost your energy level.
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