It happens to the best of us: we wake up with tons of energy, maybe even sneak in a morning workout and have a productive early afternoon only to be hit with a wave of exhaustion midday. It’s known as the mid-day slump and it’s often accompanied by a lack of focus and productivity, increased appetite or other symptoms that may vary from person to person, explains Kimberly Duffy, RDN, LD, CPT, with Strength in Nutrition in Minnesota.
What causes a mid-day slump?
A mid-day slump can be caused by a myriad of factors, including everything from your circadian rhythm and blood sugar regulation to a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition. “The circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that responds mainly to light changes in the environment, is regulated in the body like appetite, body temperature, alertness and sleepiness,” explains Duffy. “As the day progresses and natural light decreases, the body starts to feel less alert and more sleepy, which can lead to an energy slump.”
Another factor has to do with blood sugar levels. The body digests certain high-carbohydrate foods like breads, pasta, rice and potatoes faster than more nutrient-dense foods that are rich in proteins or healthy fats. “When these foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, the blood sugar rises, which triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin signaling the cells to pull in blood sugar (glucose) into the cells to lower the amount in the blood,” explains Duffy. “The blood sugar highs can cause an increase in energy while the drops can cause a decrease.”
How to overcome the mid-day slump
If you find yourself dealing with low energy, which often come with unwanted effects like decreased productivity and increased appetite, you’re likely seeking solutions. In this article, experts share their best tips for conquering the mid-day slump.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
You know sleep is important, but you may not realize that getting regular, quality sleep—ideally 7-9 hours each night—is the key to ensuring all-day energy. “Some people and some work cultures pride themselves on staying up late, getting little sleep and working around the clock only to then power through the following day with extra caffeine and sugar, fat and salt-laden snacks typical of the Western diet,” says registered dietitian, Johna Burdeos, R.D.
One way to help ensure you get a good night’s sleep is to prioritize it. “Guard your time in the evening and say no to distractions and extra work,” says Burdeos. “Set a timer to begin a relaxing bedtime ritual where you can wind down, away from screens, work and chores.”
Increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods
You’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” and it’s fundamentally true, especially when it comes to how you feel. “A doughnut and coffee for breakfast isn’t really going to satiate you and give you the energy to power through your morning,” says Burdeos. Instead, she suggests incorporating protein-rich foods into your meals. Options include chicken, lean beef, eggs, and fish (especially fatty fish like tuna or salmon, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D). Additionally, you can also include plant-based proteins like legumes (such as beans, lentils, and peas). In the morning, go for eggs, milk or plant-milk with protein, yogurt, cottage cheese, or you can also make a nutritious smoothie with fruit, milk, protein powder, nuts, or seeds,” she says.
Another important nutrient to include in every meal is fiber (whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds), which helps keep you feeling full and satisfied longer and is also good for gut and heart health. “By focusing on protein and fiber at every meal you naturally choose foods that provide you with an array of nutrients and in the case of plant foods—antioxidants too,” she adds.
Adequate hydration is also critical to ensuring you maintain enough energy throughout the day. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends an average of 15.5 cups of water per day for men and about 11.5 cups for women. “Ideally, your main source of hydration should be water, not caffeinated drinks,” says Buerdeos. “A simple way to gauge if you’re drinking enough is to look at your urine — it should pale to light yellow.”
Spend time outdoors
In the wintertime especially, people are prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that occurs due to changes in light exposure, which can affect the body’s internal clock and lead to mood disturbances. One side effect of SAD is reduced energy levels. You can work towards fighting these symptoms with natural light, ideally shortly after waking.
“When waking in the morning, try to get outside to soak in some natural light—even having a morning cup of coffee or tea outside or in an area of the house with windows,” says Burdeos. “Get some morning physical activity outside like walking, jogging or biking.”
Exercise several times a week
Per the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans as set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should be getting around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity each week. Unfortunately nearly half of Americans (46.3 percent) are falling short of this recommendation, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exercise might require you to exert energy, but it gives it back to you tenfold. “Exercise helps get the blood circulating, helps support cardiovascular, muscle, and bone health, and is also a good stress reliever and helps combat depression,” says Burdeos. “In addition to adding extra steps by taking stairs and parking farther away, you can incorporate quick bouts of exercise that you can do throughout the day including walking or even marching in place, squats, lunges, and jumping jacks.”
Prioritize your mental health
Chronic stress plagues us as a society. In fact an astonishing 84 percent of Americans report feeling stressed at least once weekly, per a ValuePenguin survey, a number up from 78 percent last year. “Stress, particularly chronic stress, can be an energy zapper, kill motivation, purpose and your sense of well-being, and also bring on oxidative stress—damage to the body’s cells, and inflammation,” says Burdeos. She recommends seeking out ways to relieve stress such as exercise, self-care, taking periodic breaks, making time to connect with people you trust and whose company you enjoy.