I have been asked by a few clients whom I have completed Ergonomic Workstation Assessments for in recent weeks how can they avoid the ‘afternoon slump’, which is sometimes referred to as “3.30itis”.
So why do we feel so tired and drained around mid-afternoon?
Some research has shown that there is often a dip in our core body temperature after lunch, so we're physiologically programmed to slow down. Feeling tired and drained in the afternoon can also be a result of poor food choices during the earlier part of the day, such as choosing foods high in salt, sugar and caffeine. This excessive tiredness will result due to a drop in blood sugar levels, which is directly related to what foods you have eaten earlier in the day. Another reason could be you may be hitting the carbohydrate based foods a bit too much, rather than focusing on high protein foods. For some people an afternoon slump can be related to undetected food intolerance.
Here are 10 tips to help decrease your chances of feeling tired after lunch:
Eat breakfast - Eating a healthy breakfast like egg and tomato on wholegrain toast or porridge with fruit. During the day eat foods high in protein to keep energy levels up. You can also eat foods containing low GI carbohydrates, but not as a big meal, try as frequent small meals. Combine your protein foods (egg, peanut butter, fish, nuts, etc) with carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta).
Exercise regularly - Exercising 1st thing in the morning or at lunch time can help reinvigorate the mind and body - don't exercise at night as you will be up late as the endorphins will have kicked in! Exercise can be as little as 15-30 minutes of walking, it does not have to be a strenuous gym work out. After eating lunch, go for a short walk. Even five minutes of exercise will help the digestion process. Leave your desk hourly to increase circulation to the brain and limbs.
Challenge your brain - If work is not particularly engaging, you may feel sleepy. Doing a Sudoku puzzle, crossword etc at lunch helps keep the brain active.
Drink water - Dehydration can leave you feeling tired. Make sure you drink at least 2 litres of water per day. We often mistake signals from thirst receptors as hunger. Make sure you are drinking filtered water throughout the day, and in winter try warm water with slices of ginger.
Listen to upbeat music - Putting on some dancy, pop tunes can keep you alert.
Get enough sleep - Try and go to bed the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. Having late nights too frequently can lead to exhaustion.
Decrease alcohol intake - Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol during the day & night can make you feel very tired the next morning as alcohol causes your body to decrease its ability to absorb Vitamin B.
Eating well & regularly - Remembering to include lots of fruit and veg for vitamins intake. Eating so-called junk food does not refuel your body efficiently and therefore this is why some people feel tired and drained at the end of the day because they have not eaten the right type of foods to fuel their body. So avoid eating sugary snacks or caffeinated drinks mid-morning or as a rescue effort in the afternoon. These will only worsen the slump.Avoid a huge carbohydrate lunch, such as a large bowl of pasta or rice. Instead have protein and vegetables/salad. For e.g. skinless chicken or tuna with salad. Reduce the size of your meals so the digestive system does not become overburdened and drain you of energy. Try to eat lighter foods or smaller portions more often. Snack on high protein healthy choices such as nuts and seeds. Almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower, and sesame are all good choices, as is a boiled egg mid-morning, a small tin of tuna, natural yogurt with apple and pear, or a protein drink.
Are you food intolerant? Slumps may be due to mild food intolerances. If you suspect this to be the case, try writing a food diary for a week to observe any patterns in your energy which directly relate to your diet. The best advice is to see a Nutritionist, Dietitian or Naturopath who specialises in food intolerances and get yourself tested.
Take B vitamins for extra energy. –To give your body an extra boost take a multivitamin or vitamin B complex (e.g. Berocca) with a meal. This will give your body a better chance to metabolize them for extra energy.
What are some simple, effective exercises & stretches that you can perform whilst at work that will help boost energy levels?
Looking away from the computer screen for 30 sec every hour or so can help relieve the eyes of excessive strain, minimise headaches and clear your head. Try and look out a window and look at a pretty view (i.e. trees, park, ocean etc).
Standing up and walking over to the printer or fax to pick up printed/faxed items will help boost energy levels as you are increasing blood flow to the muscles.
Performing some simple neck, back and arm stretches if seated at your desk for long periods can assist in increasing blood flow to the muscles, as will sitting and performing heel/toe taps.
Rather than emailing a work colleague in the same office why not get up from you desk and walk over to their desk or walk up or down a level to visit them - this will most certainly boost your energy as you will have done some exercise!
Finally a question I am always asked – “Will taking frequent breaks from the work desk and getting fresh air help”?
Yes most certainly - taking regular breaks can refresh your mind and clear your thoughts, which can prepare you for the next task to be completed or maybe provide you with a 'new insight' to something you have been working on. The short break need only be 5 - 10min. Take a break to grab a drink or lunch. And yes getting fresh air is great as working in air-conditioning offices can tend to make you tired due to the recycled air containing more CO2 than O2 and getting some sun will help recharge those batteries.
If you want to discuss your personal situation with poor energy contact our team on 1300 881 536 or email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Merendi Leverett-Bowler, Accredited Exercise Physiologist. (Sep 2009).