by Janet Ungless
Picture this: It’s the late afternoon, and you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, wishing there were a couch nearby where you could curl up for a nap.
Sound familiar? It should—according to science, we’re hardwired for those post-lunchtime energy dips, which stem from a drop in our core body temperature that naturally happens in the afternoon. The temperature drop then triggers the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. It’s a normal part of our body’s internal clock, known as our circadian rhythm.
While a visit to the office vending machine or another cup of coffee might perk you up in the short term, it sets you up for another crash as soon as the sugar rush wears off. But just because we’re wired for shifts throughout the day doesn’t mean the afternoon slump is unavoidable. The trick is to keep your energy at full tilt throughout the day. Here’s your morning-till-evening plan:
1. Don’t hit snooze Those extra 10 minutes actually send you back into your sleep cycle, making the wake-up process harder—which saps your energy for the rest of the day. A more consistent wake-up time, on the other hand, maintains the body’s internal clock, which allows you to wake up with more energy.
2. Let the sun in “Early exposure to bright light helps optimize the body’s wake-up processes,” says Michael Terman, PhD, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. So roll up the shades or, if it’s still dark outside, turn on the lights. Taking in some natural rays right after we wake up has been found to help us perform better throughout the day, including in the late afternoon, and sleep better at night.
3. Choose the right fuel Although carbs can provide a burst of quick-burn fuel, they’ll become an energy drain if they make up most of your meal. Recent research showed that women who cut the amount of carbohydrates in their diets and increased their protein intake reported feeling more energetic. That’s because protein helps protect your blood sugar from sharp peaks and falls and keeps your energy levels steady. Swap the bagel for some plain Greek yogurt or eggs for a protein-packed way to start your day and stay focused all day long.
4. Make a move Moving around boosts blood and oxygen circulation and stimulates the mind. So, instead of emailing your colleagues, get up and talk to them. Stand up and stretch while you’re on the phone. Go for a walk at lunch (even if it’s just around the office). These small actions add up. Your body and mind will thank you!
5. Take a nature break Our bodies use sunshine to produce vitamin D, which is associated with sustained energy. Just as it does in the morning, sunlight exposure may help blunt an afternoon energy dip. “Because of the way the homeostatic and circadian systems interact, most people feel a lull 17 to 18 hours after they went to bed the previous night,” says Mariana Figueiro, PhD, program director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center. Take a sun-lit break outside, or, if you can’t get out, park yourself next to a window. You’ll come back to whatever you were working on with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
6. Hydrate Feeling tired is one of the first signs of dehydration, and drinking water can help ward off drowsiness. Keep a full water bottle handy to help you stay refreshed, hydrated, and focused while protecting your attention span, memory, and motor skills.
7. Prep yourself for a restful night Quality sleep is probably the best way to ensure next-day energy. Create a bedtime routine that works for you. Some guidelines: Avoid alcohol at least an hour before bed, avoid caffeine later in the day, and put away your phone. Though some sleep experts suggest banning all screens from the bedroom, others say that winding down by watching TV is okay, since most people sit far enough away (at least 15 feet) that they won’t be affected by the brightness. Better yet, read a book! For the best results, get at least seven hours of sleep each night so you wake up refreshed, energized, and ready to take on the day ahead.
Instead of falling into the quick-fix energy trap, focus on maintaining energy that will last. The best part? It’s a cycle that keeps on giving: The longer you sustain these habits, the longer they’ll sustain you. It’s an easy investment that is sure to pay off throughout your day.
Janet Ungless is a New York-based editor, writer, and content strategist with expertise in wellness, health and fitness. She’s written for Prevention, More, Livestrong, and Everyday Health and also worked at exhale mind body spa. Find her on Twitter @jungless