Let's pretend it's 2 p.m. for a moment, shall we? It doesn't matter if you're chugging along at work or running a few last-minute errands, you suddenly start to feel exhausted. You clocked eight good hours of sleep the night before, had your normal caffeine fix, and didn't run a marathon today. So why are you ready to stop what you're doing and take a nap? It's called a mid-afternoon slump, and it's a familiar occurrence for most people.
"The mid-afternoon slump is common for many people and is due to our natural circadian rhythm," explains Marvin Nixon, MS, NBC-HWC, certified health and wellness coach. "The common circadian cycle has the body increasing energy from right before we wake up (that's what wakes us naturally), and then there's the first peak at late morning. The cycle then begins to dip, and generally between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., we hit a slump until our energy naturally rises again to a secondary peak early in the evening. After this secondary peak, our bodies start to give way to 'sleep pressure' soon after dark."
But just because this energy dip is sort of inevitable, it doesn't have to completely derail your day. To help, check out these surprisingly simple ways to wake yourself up when you're feeling a little tired from that mid-afternoon slump.
Laugh Out Loud
Whether your morning was packed with deadlines or something didn't go according to plan, it's safe to say that your day-to-day routine is filled with a series of tiny stresses. That can be exhausting—literally. If you want to avoid that mid-afternoon slump, try sneaking a comedic moment into your day.
"Laughing decreases the levels of cortisol (aka [your] stress hormone), stretches your muscles, improves blood pressure, and makes breathing better," says Amber O'Brien, MD, a medical doctor at Mango Clinic. "[It] all collectively helps bring back your energy and beat the afternoon slump."
Stretch Your Body
Sometimes getting up and moving is exactly the thing you need to kick your energy levels into high gear. According to Dr. O'Brien, our brain and muscles go into a rest position when we're sleeping, and this relaxed state can make a major comeback in the afternoon.
"In order to feel fresh and energized, you need to circulate blood to your brain and body's muscles," Dr. O'Brien explains. "While stretching, the blood actively circulates to your brain and muscles of the body, which as a result, releases tension and makes you feel energized and well-prepared for the rest of the day."
"Just a few minutes of stretching can help you to stay awake and alert, and it can reduce your daily consumption of caffeine," she adds.
Get Some Fresh Air
We know what you're thinking: While stretching sounds like a great idea if you're home, you might feel a little awkward getting active in public or at the office. Instead, consider going for a walk outside.
"Nature restores your energy and focus and helps you to get rid of afternoon laziness," Dr. O'Brien says. "Engaging your body in physical activity such as walking, while seeing the natural surroundings, refreshes your mood and lifts your energy levels significantly."
Plus, spending some time in Mother Nature can give you a much-needed dose of vitamin D. Our bodies produce sleep-inducing melatonin that naturally increases all day, especially after the sun goes down—or if you're not getting enough sunlight during the day. "To reduce the production of melatonin, seek the sunlight for a few minutes to boost your vitamin D levels so you won't feel as sleepy."
Eat Whole Grains at Lunchtime
Ever wonder why your energy droops on some afternoons, but not others? The answer might be lurking inside your lunch box. "Eating a heavy lunch can intensify the mid-afternoon slump," explains Kim Rose, RDN, CDCES, CNSC, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Florida. "Refined carbohydrates, which are found in white bread, rice, and pasta, can spike your blood sugar levels. Since refined carbs have minimal fiber they may also send your blood sugar levels crashing."
Instead, trade in your refined carbohydrates for healthy whole grains, such as wild rice, oats, sprouted grain bread, farro, or quinoa. "Whole grains are full of fiber, which can help negate the blood sugar crashes and leave you feeling full for a longer period of time," she says.