Do you get the afternoon slump and an overwhelming need to nap?
How do you get through the day and keep energised?
If coffee and chocolate are the answer then it is time to re-think your approach.
What is 'The Slump'?
The slump is the drop in energy that often appears at around 2pm, and whilst it may still be the afternoon it isn’t time to go home and there is still a pile of work to do.
The urge to nap is strong!
This can be both a physical and a mental drop in energy. Not only do we want to sleep we feel lethargic and feel a decline in our focus, enthusiasm and attention, like a mental switch-off of not wanting to get any work done.
There are a few reasons why this happens.
Our internal body clock does seem to wind down at around 2 pm-4pm, our core body temperature drops and a hormone that results in us feeling sleepy is released. This hormone, melatonin, evokes the feeling that we want to snooze and is all part of the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
The effects of this can be further increased because of;
Lack of sleep
Lack of movement
This is predominantly a physiological response; however, the good news is that we can counterbalance this quite easily.
If we don’t do anything to counterbalance the slump then there is likely to be a significant impact on our ability to focus and pay attention.
Productivity levels will also reduce so we have a responsibility to act to prevent this from happening, and this doesn’t mean with coffee and chocolate cake!
As nice as they are, coffee and cake are not the answer. At least not to this challenge.
How to avoid or reduce the slump.
1. Take responsibility
It is our responsibility to look after ourselves and whilst our employer has a duty of care to us we have to take ownership of taking care of our health and wellbeing.
When something is not working, or we identify a problem we need to determine what action we need to take, and when it impacts our work, we need to communicate with our employers to discuss how they can support us to achieve this. If a reasonable adjustment is needed to enable you to do this, then it may be worth asking your manager if these adjustments can be made.
For those of you who are self-employed then it is vital that you take care of yourself as you are your business! The more energy and focus you have, the more you can put into your business - and life!
More companies are taking the health and well-being of their employees more seriously, happy and healthy employees result in a productive workforce.
2. Eat Well
Food is fuel. If we do not fuel ourselves correctly then we will not run in an optimal way.
Eat good, nutritious food on a regular basis. Keep meals regular, not big meals with large periods of time in between. Focus on eating until you are 80% full, this can aid digestion and reduces the uncomfortable bloated feeling.
Make sure that your meals are balanced with different types of food and a variety of nutrients. Beige food is not your friend.
Ultimately, you want to choose foods that will give you energy for a sustained period of time, rather than a quick release of energy, spiking your insulin levels and then resulting in an energy slump afterwards.
Focus on foods that are high in protein and fibre, these will foods will you keep you feeling full for longer and will create a slow release of energy. That’s not to say that you cannot eat simple carbohydrates and processed foods, just that you want to keep them in balance with the other foods.
How much water you drink can impact you both physically and mentally.
When you are dehydrated, you won’t just feel the impact physically, you will have less focus and reduced concentration levels.
Don’t gulp water down, drink regularly throughout the day so it is a continual intake of fluid and absorbs into your system rather than flushing straight through!
Aim for 2-3 litres. 1 litre by 10am, 2pm, 6pm and 10pm. Increase these levels if you are active or if the weather is warm.
4. Meal/screen breaks
Employment laws entitle you to both screen and meal breaks. Do you take what you are entitled to?
Many people have got into the routine of sitting and eating at their desks and not taking the lunch break they are entitled to.
Eat your lunch away from your desk. Mindful eating recommends that you remove distractions whilst you eat so that you can sit and enjoy your food.
A change of location, stepping away from your desk and taking that break will increase your focus, energy and productivity.
5. Get active
Depending on the length of your meal break, it is strongly recommended that where possible you physically take yourself away from your desk and work area.
Go for a walk, if you have time, go to the gym, take yourself outside and phone a friend and talk about something not work-related to give your head a break and put you into a different headspace.
Get active, and get outside.
Light activity can aid the digestion of your lunch, help re-energise you and if you are outside vitamin D and daylight can also increase your energy levels.
Changing states can have a significant impact. If you feel lethargic, get up, get moving and you will notice how it changes the way you feel.
6. Plan your day
If you do find that your energy levels are lower in the afternoon then take this into consideration when you plan your day. Schedule activities for the afternoon that don’t require long periods of concentration.
Plan activities that are short and if possible more physical movement activities. Even an activity such as filing, can get you up and away from the desk and less likely to feel the impact of the afternoon slump.
Take notice of when your energy levels peak and drop. Use this information to your advantage when planning your day and watch your productivity levels increase.
7. ‘Eat the frog’
'Eat the Frog' is a book by Brian Tracy that talks about doing the task that we least like to do first thing in the morning.
Schedule your day so that your least preferred tasks are done and out of the way before your day really gets going.
When you put these tasks off for the end of the day, they are likely to coincide with your least productive time of the day and therefore either not likely to get done, or will be of lower quality.
Having an undesirable task on the 'to-do' list can take up a lot of headspace, which can impact our energy levels. Get it done and out of the way first thing, clear the item off the list and clear some headspace for the day ahead.
8. Walk and talk meetings
How many meetings do you have that you hold in a small space meeting room that could be held by walking and talking?
Do you have to have your one2one meetings in a meeting room or can you take a walk around the building, car park or even the local area to talk things through?
There is increasing research that suggests people think more clearly when walking and that it can reduce stress, particularly for those more difficult conversations. It can also help create the feeling of a safe space for people to open up when they are side by side with someone rather than face to face. Walking enables this and can often help people to feel more at ease.
Walking has many positive health impacts both physical and mental so why not use this as a reason to escape the office for a while?
Not everyone is able to listen to music whilst working, some people find it distracting and others simply aren’t allowed to.
Listening to music on your break can still be helpful. Music is a great way to help switch the mindset and both physical and mental states, especially as we associate music with a variety of memories and emotions.
Why not create a playlist of songs that you find put you in an energetic mood and then when your energy levels need lifting at lunchtime you can play a few tracks?
The slump is very real, however, it can be reduced and even removed if you take action.
Which of these 9 areas could help you?
For the optimum lunch break eat a well-balanced, nutritious dinner and then take a walk, sipping your water and listening to the songs that get you fired up. It is a sure way to get the most productive afternoon and before you know it will be time to log off and go home!
We focus on these habits in the physical well-being month of the Thrive Programme. If you would like support to change your habits, details of the ways you can join the next Thrive programme are available now.
If you would like to find out more about how Coaching might help you then I would love to have that conversation with you.
First published Dec 2020
Revised and republished Sept 2022