You were having a productive morning at the office — you made all the calls on your list, gave your boss important input at an early meeting, finished up a big project — when suddenly, all you want to do is curl up under your desk and sleep.
The afternoon slump is your body’s response to two things: its natural circadian rhythm — that internal clock that tells us when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to go to bed — and the peaks and dips in blood-sugar levels that are largely tied to what you eat.
While the science says this reaction is perfectly normal, your boss might feel otherwise. Fortunately, there are some ways you can trick your body into staying alert and breezing through the mid-afternoon crash.
Your stomach isn’t the only organ that responds to a big meal — your brain does, too.
Foods that are made up mostly of sugar and other carbohydrates will fill you up at first but leave you feeling shaky and tired later. After we ingest too many empty carbs — foods high in sugar but low in protein — our blood-sugar levels spike; when they plummet a few hours later, we experience a “crash” in energy levels.
Eating too much fatty food can slow us down too. Unlike carbs, which make our blood-sugar levels erratic, fats digest very slowly. As a result, eating too much of them in one sitting can make us feel tired because our bodies must work harder to break them down.
There may be an even sharper connection between what we eat and how alert we feel. Recent studies suggest the sugar and other carbs in food directly affect a specific group of brain cells that play a key role in keeping us awake. Those cells, called orexin neurons, are located deep inside the brain in the hypothalamus. When they sense a large amount of sugar in the blood, they turn off, making us feel sleepy.
So if you’re eating pasta or French fries around noon and feeling sleepy around 3 p.m., your meal could be to blame.
Rather than noshing on carb- or fat-heavy foods, eat a balanced lunch that is lower in fat and has almost an equal amount of protein and carbohydrates, like a turkey sandwich or a salad with protein-rich nuts or beans. The protein protects your blood sugar from sharp peaks and falls and keeps your energy levels steady.
If a lean meal and some snacks aren’t your style, try three smaller meals instead.
Smaller, well-spaced meals can help you avoid the slump by evening out the amount of carbs, fat, and sugar you ingest in one sitting, keeping blood-sugar levels stable.
Get Some Sun
Early exposure to bright light helps set our circadian rhythm for the day. That’s why taking in some natural rays right after we wake up can help us perform better later into the day, even in the middle of the afternoon, and help us sleep better at night.
Setting our circadian rhythms straight can have another added benefit: weight loss. In addition to helping us wake up and go to bed at the right hour, well-timed circadian clocks help keep our metabolisms running smoothly. One recent study showed that people who basked in bright sunlight within two hours after waking tended to be thinner and better able to manage their weight, regardless of what they ate throughout the day.
Go For A Walk
It might sound counterintuitive, but getting some exercise — even if it ‘s just a walk around the block — can boost your circulation and wake up the mind.
Even short bouts of exercise can help increase blood flow to the brain, encouraging the growth of new blood vessels and boosting cognitive acuity.
Part of the reason exercise wakes us up is because it helps our brain reorganize itself, pushing away the clutter so we can think clearly. It also can help boost creative thought, making it especially appealing as a mid-afternoon break from work.
Walking is especially good for inspiring creativity. A pair of Stanford scientists recently had two groups of volunteers — one that sat at a desk in a blank room and one that walked on a treadmill in the same blank room — take creativity quizzes in which they tried coming up with alternative uses for common objects, like a coffee cup or a pen. The students who walked came up with about 60% more uses for each object, and their ideas were not only creative but useful.
Pushing through the afternoon slump can be as simple as choosing nuts over potato chips and taking a midday stroll instead of zoning out on Facebook. And of course: Try to get enough sleep the night before.
Published in collaboration with Business Insider
Author: Erin Brodwin is a science reporter at Business Insider
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