We’ve all been there. You make it through the morning, right into lunch, and then bam! Your mind and body sludge into the dreaded afternoon crash. Your eyelids are heavy, you can’t stop yawning, and no amount of coffee is perking you up.
It may feel like you’ve hit a wall, but there’s always a door somewhere. Performance is something you can always improve and obstacles are all part of the process. With curiosity, science, and these useful techniques, you’ll soon make it through the afternoon crash undefeated.
We live by our circadian rhythms — physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Otherwise known as our ‘body clock’, it regulates our cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. There are numerous factors which can contribute to you feeling these natural cues for sleepiness in the afternoon. From stress to sedentary lifestyles, understanding which factors are upsetting your circadian rhythm can help you find the right solution for yourself.
If you’re dragging your feet after lunch, you might not be eating foods that are high in fibre, protein, and healthy fat. These, plus plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, can boost your concentration levels and get you going. But don’t wait until lunch to fill up on fuel — make sure you start the day with carb-rich, energy-boosting breakfasts such as peanut butter and banana on toast or a bowl of cereal (not too sugary or you’ll crash) with fresh fruit. Avoid meals which are too heavy in fat – these take longer to digest and will make you feel sluggish, leading to an afternoon crash.
Daily levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise and fall during the day. Stress makes cortisol work overtime, leaving you feeling depleted of energy and all-around grouchy. Deep breathing and meditation can help temporarily, but a practical way to find the solution is by identifying the cause of stress. Start by listing all the sources of stress at home or work; then look at your coping mechanisms. There are four main types of coping strategies: problem-focused (“I’m going to figure out how to handle this problem client”), avoidance (“I’m quitting this job once and for all!”), emotion-focused (“Just breathe, stay calm, and get on with it”), and support-seeking (“I need some help”). Consider which mechanism you’re using and whether another might work better.
A little exercise can work wonders to avoid the afternoon crash — and no, it doesn’t have to be a strenuous training session. Try stretching (at your desk or outside if you can), taking a quick power walk, stepping up and down stairs, or gentle aerobic exercises such as jumping jacks, push-ups, or jogging on the spot. Those will be enough to wake you up.
The state of dehydration can dry out your mind, reducing your mental abilities and making you feel sluggish. Instead of reaching for the 4th caffeine fix of the day, grab some water to dodge the dreary afternoon crash. Six to eight glasses of water a day is the most recommended amount to drink, although this can depend on your activity levels and/or the temperature you live in.
It’s not always possible to nap on the job, but if you can catch some shut-eye right after lunch or in your car during an afternoon break, it can be the difference between struggling and getting through the day with energy. Studies by NASA found that a 10-minute nap can improve performance for up to three hours – even drifting off into a half-sleep state is enough to refresh the brain.
Ultimately, getting more, better quality sleep is the first step to avoiding the afternoon crash in the first place. Read our A to Zzz guide to sleeping better to give yourself the best chances of finishing the day strong.