For most of us it happens like clockwork. You’ve had your lunch break and are back into the swing of work. Then, an hour or two later, you hit the mid-afternoon slump which results in a massive dip in energy and, subsequently, performance, focus and motivation.
If this happens to you then rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s a widespread phenomenon, but one that can be managed or even stopped. To do this you first need to know what’s causing it in the first place.
You see, humans are actually programmed to derive the greatest benefit from two cycles of segmented sleep of up to 14 hours with a few hours spent awake in between, which is known as biphasic sleep, and not necessarily one monophasic cycle of eight consecutive hours.
The reason why midday exhaustion is experienced then is because, simply put, it is time for a nap.
The rhythm affects most of our bodily functions, including our metabolism, appetite, energy levels and our sleep-wake patterns.
Interestingly, our mood, alertness and energy levels tend to be at their lowest between 1pm and 3pm, according to numerous studies of circadian rhythms.
Needless to say, at this point in the day you may feel quite tired and unproductive. The easiest way to deal with this is to get in a dose of energy, be it in the form of sugar, like a chocolate bar, or a caffeine fix. While this may bring some relief, it only tends to worsen your symptoms as soon as your sugar levels dip or the stimulatory effects of the caffeine wear off. At this point you’ll most likely be left feeling even more exhausted. So what’s the answer, then? Rather opt for water and a balanced lunch.
Hitting the dips
A study conducted in Europe discovered that having a sip of water every 20 minutes can improve concentration. But what about the need to have something sweet in the afternoon? Let’s be honest, a sip of water or cappuccino simply won’t cut it when we hit those dips.
Again, the reason why we crave the carbs is due to our need for sleep and a drop in serotonin levels – a hormone produced in the brain that regulates mood and appetite levels. Carbs naturally increase serotonin, which is why we crave them when we begin to feel tired, cranky, impatient or depressed. The easiest way to combat this is to eat. This series of biochemical reactions in your brain is similar to the mood-boosting effect of antidepressants. Individuals on low-carb diets may therefore experience this on a higher level as their bodies are deprived of carb-induced hormonal reactions that boost serotonin production.
Stick to complex carbs
There is a need to eat wholesome food sources of complex carbs in a strategic manner. It does not, however, give you license to eat sugar.
It is also worth noting that the total quantity and timing of your carb intake may vary between individuals. The best way to keep your mood elevated without it influencing your weight is to ensure that you begin the day properly with solid nutrition.
You then continue to eat in a calorie-controlled manner and at structured times, which will assist you with keeping your body in routine and your blood glucose levels balanced. It is therefore advisable to include carbs in specific meals, but within reason. This could be before training if you need the extra boost, after training to replenish depleted glycogen stores, or in your afternoon snack to beat the slump. When you eat in this manner your brain will deliver a much-needed surge in serotonin approximately 20-30 minutes after your carb-rich snack – just stick to complex carbs.
There is no need to inhale a carton of ice-cream or two slabs of chocolate. Your ‘pick-me-up’ snack will kick in in no time. All portion-controlled snacks should be no more than 200 calories. This will ensure that you do not overeat, which causes sluggishness, and that your blood sugar levels don’t dip too low or peak too much.
Here are a few tips to combat this vicious cycle:
1. Start the day with a nutritious meal: By eating a balanced breakfast you set yourself up for success. This creates the foundation for a good day of eating and balances blood sugar levels.
2. Pick your carbs wisely: Make sure the carbs are low on the glycaemic index such as rye bread, brown rice or sweet potato.
3. Eat protein with your lunch: You’ll feel full for longer without overdosing on carbs. The combination of protein-derived tryptophan – the amino acid precursor to serotonin – and elevated insulin levels from the carbs are what deliver a boost in serotonin production.
4. Eat small portions throughout the day.
5. Keep hydrated: Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and listless with poor concentration. Keep a bottle with your and fill it every couple of hours. Aim for 2L a day.