It’s 2pm and rather than concentrating on your work, the only thing on your mind is the struggle you have to stifle your yawns and stay awake. Yes, your usual afternoon energy slump has kicked in with a vengeance and frankly all you want to do is take a nap.
Instead, you resort to a double cappuccino and bar of chocolate to give your power levels a much needed afternoon energy boost, which seems to work its magic – but only for the next half hour or so! Before you know it, you’re right back to square one and wondering how you’re going to survive the rest of the day.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to research, around 8 million people in the UK suffer from the desire to take a daily afternoon nap, with around half of us beginning to zone out from 2pm.
Why the Energy Slump?
There are several reasons why the mid afternoon energy slump seems to wash over us post-lunch. At the top of the list, experts believe our bodies are actually programmed to take an afternoon nap thanks to our circadian rhythms, which in turn are controlled by our very own built-in body clock. Our circadian rhythms affect many of our bodily functions, including our metabolism, appetite and energy levels as well as our sleeping and waking patterns. And it probably comes as no surprise to many of us that when we study our circadian rhythms over a 24 hour period, our mood, alertness and energy levels tend to be at their lowest between 1-3pm.
Meanwhile, other factors such as what and how much we’ve eaten for lunch, our levels of hydration and the amount of sleep we’ve had can all affect the ability to keep our eyes open mid-afternoon.
Good news then that there are several things you can do to boost your energy levels so that you can get through the afternoon feeling wide awake and raring to go. Just follow these tips:
Never skip lunch – skipping this meal means your blood sugar levels will remain low throughout the afternoon and continue to drop leaving you not only tired, but also unable to concentrate, irritable and hungry. Before too long, you’ll start craving sweet foods – this is simply your body’s way of letting you know that your blood sugar levels need topping up. And we all know a doughnut and cup of sugary tea is no substitute for a healthy, balanced lunch!
Always include a portion of carbs with a high-fibre content and a low to medium glycaemic index (GI) at lunchtime such as wholegrain or rye bread, oatcakes, bean soup, brown rice or wholewheat pasta in a salad. These will help to keep your blood sugar levels topped up, preventing slumps that leave you needing a nap. But don’t go too heavy on portion sizes – whilst helping to boost blood sugar, carbs also increase the production of a chemical in the brain called serotonin, which helps to improve our mood but can make us sleepy.
Always eat protein-rich foods at lunchtime such as chicken, lean meat, tuna, eggs, beans or reduced-fat cheese. Protein-rich foods appear to either help to block the production of sleep-inducing serotonin or increase levels of two other brain chemicals – dopamine and norepinephrine – which make us feel more alert and increases our ability to concentrate and our reaction times.
If your energy slump hits several hours after eating lunch, have a snack to top up blood sugar levels again. Opt for a small portion of carbs with a low to medium GI and plenty of fibre. Good choices include oatcakes with low-fat soft cheese, an apple, pear, orange, a pot of fat-free yogurt or a salad sandwich on wholemeal bread.
Avoid sugar and sugary foods to perk you up. A bar of chocolate and can of cola will rapidly boost blood sugar levels to give you a quick energy boost. But the effects will be short lived. Your blood sugar levels will drop just as rapidly, leaving you right back where you started.
Stay hydrated throughout the day. Being even slightly dehydrated will make you tired and listless with poor concentration. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty before drinking either – by the time thirst kicks in you are already dehydrated. The key is to keep drinking regularly throughout the day. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water daily– more if it’s hot or you’re exercising.
Avoid eating a heavy meal at lunchtime. Your body will have to put all of its energy into digesting it. Instead, have a smaller meal and a snack later in the afternoon.
Don’t skip breakfast – you’ll be more likely to eat a large lunch to compensate and this may make you more tired in the afternoon.
If possible, do some exercise at lunchtime. A 30-minute swim or session in the gym, or even a power walk around the shops will help to boost levels of feel-good endorphins, which will help to make you feel upbeat, positive and less tired.
If you can’t manage to exercise at lunchtime, take a 10-minute walk when tiredness hits, preferably outside. The fresh air will help you feel more alert. Plus, a quick brisk walk will improve your circulation and help you breathe more deeply so you take in more oxygen – an essential ingredient for the brain.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you get enough sleep. If you’re sleep deprived, the effects will be most obvious at times when your body hits a natural low in energy levels.
If all these tips fail, check you don’t have a medical problem that causes extreme tiredness. For example, depression or anaemia can include symptoms such as fatigue, a lack of energy and poor concentration.
Lunches to Beat the Afternoon Energy Slump
Rice and bean salad (285 cals)
Salad made from ½ small red onion, 1 tomato, a handful each of mangetout, French beans and baby sweetcorn, 3tbsp red kidney beans, 5tbsp cooked brown rice and fat-free dressing.
Prawn and watercress pitta (290 cals)
1 wholemeal pitta filled with a handful of prawns, watercress and 1tbsp reduced-calorie seafood dressing. Plus a large bowl of berries.
Tuna and pasta salad (305 cals)
Salad made from spring onions, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, 5tbsp wholewheat pasta, ½ small can tuna in water and 1tbsp reduced-fat mayo.
Cottage cheese and avocado on rye (340 cals)
2 slices rye bread topped with 4tbsp cottage cheese and ½ small avocado. Plus 1 apple.
Tomato soup with cheesy toast (340 cals)
½ carton fresh tomato soup with 1 slice wholegrain toast topped with 2tbsp grated and melted reduced-fat Cheddar cheese. Plus 1 pear.
Beans on toast (355 cals)
2 slices wholegrain toast with 1 small can baked beans. Plus 1 pear.
Hummus and pitta (360 cals)
5tbsp reduced-fat hummus with 1 wholemeal pitta and vegetable crudités. Plus 1 pot fat-free fruit yogurt.
Ham salad sandwich (360 cals)
2 slices wholegrain bread filled with 2tsp low-fat spread, 2 slices lean ham and salad. Plus 1 pot fat-free fruit yogurt and 1 orange.
Shop bought sandwich (400 cals)
350-calorie ready-made sandwich on granary bread. Plus 1 apple.
Sardines on toast (425 cals)
2 slices wholegrain toast with 1 small can sardines in tomato sauce and salad. Plus 1 pot fat-free fruit yogurt.
Lentil soup and chicken sandwich (510 cals)
Bowl of lentil soup plus a chicken salad sandwich made with 2 slices wholegrain bread, 2tsp low-fat spread, 2 slices chicken breast and salad.