Not-so-fun fact: The midday slump is a natural part of life. Due to the ebb and flow of our circadian rhythm, it’s totally normal—expected, even!—to feel a drop in energy levels in the middle of the afternoon.
That said, it’s not so normal to regularly experience an epic P.M. crash, rather than the usual wee dip in productivity. “Pronounced daily peaks and valleys of energy are often a really good sign that your body’s natural rhythms are out of sync and that your body is asking for assistance to regain more equilibrium,” says naturopath and health coach Louise Westra, N.D.
Here, experts uncover mistakes to avoid so that you can not only stay awake but feel genuinely good from lunch through dinner. Steer clear of these six habits to keep midday nosedives at bay.
- About Our Experts: Louise Westra, N.D., is an award-winning naturopath and health coach. Elysia Cartlidge, M.A.N., R.D., is a dietitian and recipe developer, and the founder of Haute & Healthy Living and Healthy Kids Recipes.
1. Not Getting Enough Sleep At Night
Today’s afternoon fatigue might have its roots in yesterday’s poor sleep. “Our deep sleep restores our body, allowing it to repair and helping it recover from the rigors of the tasks it’s doing every second,” says Westra. “Sleep (REM in particular) also restores our minds, perhaps in part by helping clear out irrelevant information and by facilitating learning ability and memory.”
Read More: 7 Natural Ways to Sleep Better
According to Northwestern University, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule (even on the weekends) can keep energy levels steady throughout the middle of the day. Westra’s tips for cultivating better nighttime rest: Turn off devices two-plus hours before bedtime, get plenty of movement throughout the day, and try a “brain dump” of journaling or talking through stressors before hitting the hay. You might also consider a supplement for sleep support, such as magnesium glycinate.
2. Overdoing It on Caffeine
It’s pretty obvious why we reach for caffeine when we’re stuck in low gear. Coffee, tea, and energy drinks are an easy, inexpensive way to feel more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But be careful: Overdoing it on the caff is like shooting yourself in the foot.
“Although a morning cup of coffee can result in a short-term boost in energy levels,
sometimes having too much can actually backfire, causing a sluggish feeling later on in the day,” says dietitian Elysia Cartlidge, M.A.N., R.D., founder of Haute & Healthy Living and Healthy Kids Recipes. While caffeine temporarily heightens alertness by disrupting specific chemical processes in the brain responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, you’ll feel tired as ever once it’s fully metabolized.
If you suspect those three cups of morning java, double scoop of pre-workout, or the like are messing with your alertness later in the day, try slowly cutting back. Or swap a serving with a healthy mid-morning snack that’s high in protein and fiber.
3. Giving Stress Too Much Sway
Fatigue isn’t always just physical. It’s possible that mental stresses are contributing to your afternoon sleepiness. “Stress in a negative sense—i.e. an excessive load on the nervous system—will drain you all day long!” says Westra. “If you’re constantly overdoing things and overstimulated, you’re going to experience fatigue. It’s a message from your body trying to convey that it’s ‘overdrawn.’”
Read More: 6 Physical Signs You’re Way Too Stressed
No judgment if you’re feeling the burden of life’s stressors; we’ve all been there. The question, though, is how to tame them so they don’t leave you exhausted midday. Westra suggests starting your morning with a 30-second cold shower to regulate the nervous system, practicing deep nasal breathing at breaktime, and focusing on what you can control—not what you can’t. Managing stress is a complex endeavor, so if you’re struggling, these natural solutions may also offer support.
4. Eating The Wrong Midday Meal
Let’s talk about lunch. Is your midday meal usually a microwaved rice bowl or cheesy pasta? It might not be the best choice to keep you going strong throughout the afternoon. “Lunches that consist primarily of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, or rice may result in an afternoon slump,” Cartlidge says. “This is mostly due to the fact that these foods contain lower amounts of fiber and are thus absorbed and digested more quickly compared to whole grains.”
Making a non-slump-producing meal involves balancing your macros. “Protein is digested more slowly, and, when paired with carbohydrates, can cause a steadier rise in blood sugar,” Cartlidge says. This slow-and-steady impact means less of a decline later. The other bonus? Protein boosts feelings of satiety, sustaining you and providing more energy as the afternoon wears on.
According to Cartlidge, high-sugar foods are another pitfall that depletes your energy levels, since they, too, cause a spike (and then drop) in blood sugar. “Additionally, these sugary foods might intensify your cravings for other sugary items, resulting in a vicious energy-depleting cycle.” Rather than downing a candy bar midday, satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit or a piece of dark chocolate.
5. Forgetting to Hydrate
Sure, water doesn’t provide calories for fuel, but hydration still plays a major role in daytime energy levels. In fact, afternoon sleepiness just might be related to what’s left in your water bottle. Dehydration-related tiredness “occurs because insufficient fluids can put extra strain on your heart as it pumps oxygen throughout your body, leading to feelings of tiredness, sluggishness, and reduced focus,” says Cartlidge.
Keep your organs happily hydrated by setting a reminder to drink every hour—and use your lunch hour as an opportunity to pair at least eight ounces of fluid with your food.
6. Skipping Your Workout
A daily workout keeps affecting your energy levels long after you’ve left the gym. Regular exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and even prompts the body to create more mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses that convert food and oxygen into fuel. Plus, consistent exercise often leads to better sleep—a win-win for daytime energy! On the flip side, skipping your workout could leave you yawning midday.
Not everyone can manage a lengthy workout every day, but even a quick burst of activity can make the difference between fatigue and alertness in the afternoons. “For many, a 10- to 15-minute walk after lunch really helps to counteract afternoon fatigue, as this activity supports oxygenation and circulation in the body, helping to reduce any feelings of sluggishness,” says Westra.
Of course, feel free to squeeze in activity any time that works for you. “The best time of day to exercise is whenever you can do it; otherwise it can actually become another stressor,” Westra adds.