You probably know the feeling well. One minute you’re trucking along and powering through your day. The next, you feel totally depleted of all of the energy that you had just a few hours ago. It’s the dreaded energy slump and it happens for a number of reasons. “While many attribute it to the quality of one’s lunchtime meal, the energy slump is largely due to the body’s circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake cycle,” explains Nicole Schultz, Ph.D., MPH, director of training at EverybodyFights. “Just like we become sleepy before bedtime, the same thing happens, on a smaller scale, during the afternoon. Physiologically, our core body temperature drops and our body releases melatonin, a neurotransmitter that results in feelings of tiredness.”
It’s worth noting that the cause of sudden fatigue throughout the day can be the result of an underlying medical condition. However, most of the time it’s merely lifestyle behaviors that can either make or break the slump. If you’re not exactly sure of what’s causing your energy slump, pay attention to what time of day it typically occurs. Experts say that this can help you determine the root cause, which can help you address it and reboot your energy stores. Keep reading to find out what your energy slump says about your health.
First Thing in the Morning
If you’re feeling extra drowsy in the early morning hours, chances are that it’s due to a poor night’s rest. “Everyone requires a certain amount of sleep that varies from person to person and also by age. But, in general, most people require seven to nine hours each night,” says Joshua Scott, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California. “Watching TV or scrolling through your smartphone just minutes before going to bed can lower melatonin levels and make it hard to fall asleep.” If the hours of sleep aren’t the problem, he warns that sleep apnea may be the root cause of a morning energy slump. Talk to your doctor if you think this condition might have something to do with your energy dip.
Between Breakfast and Lunch
When Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness, hears clients complain about an energy slump in the late morning (after breakfast), his first thought is that they’re not eating a balanced breakfast. “If we have a breakfast that is too high in carbohydrates, especially simple ones, and lacking (or too low) in protein, this can cause a rapid rise in our blood sugar,” he explains. “What comes up must come down, so our blood sugar then crashes. This can trigger a strong feeling of lethargy, even after a good night’s sleep.” He suggests eating a nutritious and well-balanced breakfast that’s more protein and complex carb-heavy to help prevent energy slumps this time of day.
There’s a reason why most people experience an energy slump in the mid-to-late afternoon. This is when the body naturally winds down for the evening hours, explains Dr. Adams. While this is normal, excessive fatigue is not. If energy slumps are affecting your day, he recommends checking the balance of your lunch meal. “Even adding a bit of fat to slow digestion to avoid large blood sugar spikes and corresponding drops,” he says, is a valuable change.
He also points out that a slump in the afternoon may be the result of inactivity. “If we spend most of the day sitting, our body naturally stays in a conservative or energy-saving state, which will correspond with low energy, brain fog, and fatigue,” he adds. “I tell all my clients to follow what I call the 6:60 rule. Stand, walk, or move for six minutes every 60 minutes of your day to improve circulation to the body [and] brain, [as well as] alleviate fatigue.”
Just After Dinner
Fatigue at this time of day is quite common and usually nothing to worry about. It’s merely our body’s natural way of continuing to wind down. However, if it hits suddenly or interferes with your regular activities, think back to what you ate during your last meal or snack. Was it too high in carbs or too low in protein? Have you had enough water to drink during the day? “Dehydration can be cumulative. Fatigue hitting after dinner may be a sign of not consuming enough water to keep your body running smoothly,” says Dr. Adams.
Additionally, he points out that excess stress is another cumulative cause of fatigue. “If you have a stressful job, even a stressful commute, you may experience a crash of adrenaline later in the day, after dinner, for example. This can lead to extreme lethargy,” he says. “Managing or identifying the causes of excessive stress may help you have a smoother transition between dinner and bedtime.”
It’s natural for your energy levels to rise and fall throughout the day. A severe dip, though, can throw off your entire day. Pay close attention to what time the slump hits and then consider how your lifestyle may be contributing to it. Typically, a change of diet or some better pre-bed behaviors can make all the difference.