Beating the Afternoon Slump: 3 Preventions and 3 Cures

By Ali Luke

September 6, 2011   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

You’re familiar with the afternoon slump. It’s that lethargy that sets in around 3pm. It’s the feeling that you’d rather be doing anything but working. (And a nap sounds awfully tempting…)

Your motivation is at a complete low. You find yourself checking Facebook every five minutes.

And it’s inevitable … right?

Nope. You can prevent yourself from ever falling into that slump, and you can learn ways to dig yourself out quickly if the slump does arise. (Oh, and if your usual method is a double-strength espresso, you might want to give some of these ideas a try instead.)

We’ll start with three preventions – and follow those with three cures.

  • Prevention #1: Don’t Overdo Things at Lunch
    Nutritionists tend to agree on one thing: a huge lunch will make you feel sleepy in the afternoon. What you eat matters, as well as how much – for lasting energy, go for foods like whole grains and lean proteins. These fill you up and release energy slowly.

Avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. And, whatever you do, don’t be tempted to make it a boozy lunch, even if your boss is away or you work for yourself – alcohol and productivity really don’t mix.

(If you’re having a much lighter lunch than normal, make sure you have a healthy snack for mid-afternoon: the slump can also be caused by low blood sugar levels.)

  • Prevention #2: Get Enough Sleep
    If you’re not sleeping enough at night, it’s no surprise that you feel tired and lethargic in the afternoon. Make sure you’re getting to bed at a sensible hour.
    If you struggle to fall asleep:

    • Ensure your room is cool, dark and uncluttered
    • Don’t look at a screen (computer or television) in the hour before bed
    • Write down anything that’s nagging at your mind before you go to sleep
    • Spend 10-15 minutes meditating prior to bed
    • Don’t eat a large meal within three hours of going to bed

    If you’re self-employed or work from home, an afternoon power-nap might prevent the slump: it’s better to sleep for 20 minutes and be fully recharged than to struggle on for several hours on minimal brain-power. 

  • Prevention #3: Drink More Water
    Yes, you know you should be drinking plenty of water, but are you actually doing it? Being slightly dehydrated reduces your concentration levels (and has a host of other bad effects). 

Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty or tired to get a glass of water – stay hydrated throughout the day. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk in easy reach, and sipping from it regularly, is a good way to do this.

With those out of the way, I know that many people are stuck now. As you read this you are groggy and want to bail on the work day. So what do you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Cure #1: Open a Window
  • If you’re feeling drowsy, is it because the room’s too hot? Open a window, or switch on the air conditioning. You’ll find that it’s a lot easier to stay alert when you’re cool.

Depending on your office set-up, you might not have access to either AC or a nearby window. If so, try getting a small desk fan. The movement of air on your face and arms helps keep you alert, as does the reduced temperature.

  • Cure #2: Move Around
    Getting your heart pumping a bit faster will get you re-energized for work. Go for a brisk walk (outside if you can, but just round the corridors will do). Ideally, make a walk part of your regular routine, either during your lunch hour or during an afternoon break. 

If you’re feeling lazy and reluctant to move, you definitely need to get out of the grip of the slump. Push yourself to get up: once you’ve taken a few steps, it’ll be easy to keep going.

  • Cure #3: Re-motivate Yourself
    Sometimes, the afternoon slump isn’t so much to do with physical factors as mental ones. In these cases, you need to re-motivate yourself. What tasks do you need to get through this afternoon? What can you accomplish? Think about the big picture: even if your tasks seem trivial, they’ll be important in the bigger scheme of things. 

Who you can help by giving 100%? Perhaps it’s a client, your colleagues, your boss or your family. It might even be yourself – you’ll feel proud of doing your best.

Which of the above tips work well for you? And do you have any other great ways to prevent or cure an afternoon slump? The comments are open…

Written on 9/6/2011 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: chispita_666
Ali Luke

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