Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
11 Feb

Getting Over the Afternoon Slump

afternoonslumpGlazed over eyes. Slumped shoulders. A suddenly weighty cranium that keeps dipping toward the keyboard. Even heavier eyelids. Eyes that constantly sneak peeks at the clock, which seems to tick ever more slowly (the more you look). Work piling up without regard for your inability to acknowledge its presence.

My apologies for the string of sentence fragments, but my mind simply isn’t working quite right. I’m in the midst of ruminating on the dreaded mid afternoon slump. For my money, it’s the worst feeling in the world.

Don’t get me wrong: a mid afternoon slump can actually be quite natural. Even if you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating Primally, and exercising enough, our natural circadian rhythms dictate that there will be some ebb in our energy levels. This natural slump is totally manageable – I’m talking a slight reduction in energy, some light yawning, perhaps even a desire to curl up underneath your desk. But when you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open, when you find yourself unable to focus on anything, or when you’ve essentially become a salaried zombie, something’s out of whack and it’s time to make a change.

The Basics

First, make sure you’re doing everything you can to supply your body with the energy it needs to function throughout the day. Following the Primal Blueprint is designed to give you constant, steady energy (note, though, that making a switch to the PB from a traditionally high-carb diet can sap energy for the first week or two), so make sure you’re doing so:

If you’ve got those covered – which should take care of most energy issues on the Primal Blueprint – but you’re still languishing, have hope. There are tips, hacks, and tricks to get out of that slump.

Slump-Busting Tips and Tricks

As soon as the slump hits, stand up. Get moving. Go outside, soak up some sun, maybe even do a couple pushups or something. Just remove yourself from the stifling environment of the office. If only for five minutes, you’ll be refreshed and ready to go.

Slink off for a cat nap. A short, 20-minute nap has been shown to reduce stress and replenish vital energy. If you can’t find the time, reserve a chunk of your lunch break. After all, Grok would have done the same.

Grab a coffee or some tea. Caffeine, used intermittently and in moderation, is a good temporary pick me up. Plus, the antioxidants in tea can’t hurt. Just watch the sugar.

Keep lunch light. It’s well-known that a big high-carb lunch will lead to a crash later in the day, but even a suitably enormous Primal lunch can wear you out. Instead of rushing to finish everything in the hour, graze at your desk. It’s pretty hard to fall asleep when you’re munching on nuts and berries all day.

Take B vitamins for energy. These should be taken normally throughout the day, but taking them with a meal gives your body a better chance to metabolize them for energy.

Music. Or any aural stimulation, really. Have a conversation with a co-worker if you can’t turn on music.

Keep busy. I know the main problem is an inability to get stuff done, but if you force yourself to work, you could get into a groove and achieve that zen-like state of mind where time just flies.

Mental stimulation. Work, especially office life, can be deadening. And let’s face it – nobody spends every minute in the office actually working (hell, you might be reading this post from work!). Rather than twiddling your thumbs, fighting yawns, and fretting over the work you aren’t doing, try researching something new. Look up something on Wikipedia you’ve always wondered about, and then follow the infinite string of links. It may not be the most productive way to spend a work day, but at least you won’t be miserable, and you’ll probably learn something. You could also sneak a book in.

Impromptu feats of strength (like Festivus!). See how many push-ups you can do in a minute. Do fifty dips using the arms on your chair. Complete thirty burpees. Just enough intense exercise to get your heart racing should do the trick.

For faithful adherents to the Primal Blueprint, midday energy shouldn’t be much of an issue, but it might crop up from time to time. These methods have served me well in the past, and I hope they work for our readers.

I’d be interested to hear back from you. Assuming you’re fairly good about the Primal Blueprint, eating low-glycemic index foods, getting plenty of exercise and sleep – have you had any issues with a mid afternoon slump? Let me know!

Further Reading:

10 Ways to Get an Extra Hour of Sleep

Your Heart is Telling You to Sleep

Sensible Vices – The Mid Day Nap

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I used to have 2 big slices of greasy thick crust pizza almost every day for lunch. Between all the carbs from the crust and the trans fats from the mass-cooked cheese and toppings, I felt like I needed to bow out every day around 2 o’clock. Usually, a big (20+ oz) Mountain Dew was the only way I could stay awake. Of course, after than wore off an hour later, it was crash time again.

    After just a couple months of eating clean, I do still feel that afternoon dip, but I’m able to keep on going right through it.

    I was so used to being worthless all afternoon that now I find myself with a lot more free time at work, which means time to read MDA :)

    Fate wrote on February 11th, 2009
  2. I used to have that. Switching from fruit loops to raisin bran helped. Switching to a whole grain cerial was better yet. Until I switched to bacon and eggs (at the recomendation of crossfit, I didn’t find MDA until latter) I was always endanger of my job about 2 in the afternoon. A lifelong problem solved by breakfast.

    Henry Miller wrote on February 11th, 2009
  3. Ever since I started IFing on work days and taking walk durin my lunch break, i have no experienced any problems with the afternoon slump. It has been a great change and has also increased my afternoon productivity.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on February 11th, 2009
  4. I’ve doing an afternoon coffee right now.

    Coffee McCoffersons wrote on February 11th, 2009
  5. I like to have a few afternoon giggles at the end of the lunch hour. After lunch, I take a few minutes to catch up on Fail Blog and The Onion. Then it’s back-to-work time!

    Danielle wrote on February 11th, 2009
  6. The afternoon green tea is my best pick-up. I’m still working on getting enough sleep though. I haven’t woken up without an alarm in over a month. I’m hoping to accomplish the “sleep until I naturally wake up” thing this weekend.

    Holly wrote on February 11th, 2009
  7. SOG – I do lunch walks too! I love to get out for 30 minutes, feel the sun, and shut off my mind. Greatest pick-me-up!

    I walk everywhere wrote on February 11th, 2009
  8. I think the sleep thing is a big one. If I have a couple of consecutive nights where I don’t get enough sleep then the afternoons become very difficult.

    I think the actual job makes a difference too. I did a year’s work placement where I wrote market research reports and I found it really boring and found myself crashing most afternoons. However, I enjoy the job I do now and have never noticed myself crashing out.

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on February 11th, 2009
  9. Hello EVERYONE,

    For me, the best way to ‘combat’ sleepiness is:-
    1. Drink a lot of water. This should be done a sip at the time, but not to the limit of drowning yourself.
    2. Eat citrus fruit.
    3. and, the best of all, intermittent fasting. Have a very good, big, nice breakfast, and fasting at lunch time. The last part never fail me.

    Izwan wrote on February 11th, 2009
  10. I just take a nap.

    Zen Fritta wrote on February 11th, 2009
  11. “Are you still sneaking sugar, grains, and loads of carbs (especially from the breakroom)?”

    Yes, but I won’t be tomorrow! I was doing well with the challenge but the past three days my office has been overloaded with “treats”. I have been sneaking and feeling icky afterwards – so why, oh why?

    Last week I tried some IF days for about 18 hours (6pm-12pm) but I was so focused on the time by 10am that I had difficulty being productive. Perhaps I should start slower? I’ll take suggestions from the gallery!

    Mark – Thanks for keeping the challenge alive and supported!

    onelasttime wrote on February 11th, 2009
  12. I used to suffer from that problem, when I had a job that kept me sitting in front of a computer and I ate big carb-laden lunches. My current job keeps me moving for all my 8-hour shift. On weekends I go for a quick run (or do jump rope or pull-ups) if I get to feeling that way–or take a nap. The nap seems needed only if one isn’t getting enough sleep at night; boredom-induced lethargy can be reversed with exercise. I wake up before my alarm 9 times out of 10, and I pay attention when I don’t and try to allow my body a recharge. Muscle soreness and workout intensity play a part in sleep needs for me, as well as the time of year. I need more sleep when the days are short. Nature knows some things?!

    Danielle T wrote on February 11th, 2009
    • yes Nature does know! There is a naturally occuring “chemical” in the brain known as “Melatonin” (different from melanin, that’s pigment) that helps us sleep. Anyway our brain releases more melatonin when it is dark out, that is why we feel sleepy on shorter days, or even rainy ones. In addition, I believe that lack of vitamin D ( a combination of several vitamins ) that we actually get from the sun can attribute to fatigue.

      Amy wrote on July 30th, 2013
  13. From my teenage years onward, I had an afternoon slump with an accompanied headache nearly every day of my life. Only caffeine would ease the pain. But then about 10 years ago I went to a work sponsored nutrition class where the instructor advised those with “afternoon slump” to have protein instead of carbs for breakfast & lunch.

    Bam! Instantly, no more headaches, no more slump. Thankfully the nutritionist was not a high-carb believer, or my life of misery wouldn’t have finally come to an end.

    Ailu wrote on February 11th, 2009
  14. One of the things fat people do is feel sleepy in the daytime. Of course, it is not only fat people, but this huge population group has a high incidence of OSA* (Obstructive Sleep Apnea), a condition where the brain does not get enough oxygen at night during sleep, because the airway passages tend to close due to the weight of the fatty soft tissues around it. As the airways close and open with air entry (on breathing) it causes snoring.
    *A dangerous disease.
    In short, snorers are likely to be sleepy in the daytime, as are smokers.
    Getting rid of body fat is likely to energise a snorer!

    Rambodoc wrote on February 12th, 2009
  15. This used to be a huge problem for me. I’ve been seriously low-carbing for 18 months now and the problem is basically gone. I used to have a pizza or Chinese for lunch and then within 45 minutes my head would be bobbing on my chest. I had this problem for my whole adult life. I just thought it was how I was built. When I went low-carb, it didn’t even cross my mind that this would go away. But it has! I get a little lull in the afternoon, but it’s no big deal.

    A big life changer for me, that’s for sure. I got about an hour of my life back every single day as a side benefit of eating low carb. Woo hoo!!

    Scott Moore wrote on February 12th, 2009
  16. Interestingly just having this conversation with a student yesterday. All great comments above, interesting to hear what works for all of you. While eating less at lunch typically eases the slump for me, the fool proof method as Zen stated is nap time. Not a viable option for everyone but we can all typically slip in a few minutes with your eyes closed which acts to reduce brain processing, slow breathing and allow a renewed focus to reach the finish line. Thanks for another good post. RP

    RP wrote on February 12th, 2009
  17. “Closed door meeting”.

    Nod off or “rest your eyes” for 10-20 minutes, then have a piece of fruit for a mild increase in blood sugar for a natural “pick me up”

    Ryan Denner wrote on February 12th, 2009
  18. Just founds this site — I really needed to read your afternoon-slump post! I almost always hit this. It’s helped me to snack mostly on fruits & veggies btw. lunch and dinner (and add carbs/protein only if I’m so hungry that it’s preoccupying me). I used to eat a big snack every afternoon and I think it just tired me out more.

    fitforfree wrote on February 13th, 2009
  19. Welcome, fitforfree. Yes, the afternoon slump is a real drag. I hope some of these tips help. Thanks for the comment and please come back regularly.

    Cheers!

    Mark Sisson wrote on February 13th, 2009
  20. Mid-afternoon slumps used to be the bane of my existence. But I rarely have had any issues since switching to a Primal diet.

    No more bowls of pasta, pizza or other carb-laden lunches. Now it’s a piece of steak or chicken and a nice salad. And I roll right through the day.

    Bill wrote on February 13th, 2009
  21. Hoo boy is this familiar! I used to get this in spades, and of course it couldn’t be my diet, fater all I was eating all those Healthy Whole Grains for breakfast and topping up with carbs at munchtime, heh nice typo I think I’ll leave that one in

    My only way out was to find a way of actually getting my head down for about ten minutes and wait for my liver to catch up and dump a load of glucose, then top it off with a cup of sweet coffee.

    Now I know this is Reactive Hypoglycemia. My pancreas sits there with its fingers in its ears and lets my BG ramp up to near diabetic levels after eating, then suddenly panics and drops a heroic amount of insulin which knocks the BG down rapidly to near-hypo levels, and it’s the rapid change that causes a lot of symptoms, even more than the low at the end. The glucose transporters shut down.

    My best breakfast is high protein, moderate fat and low carb, which pretty much eliminates the highs, after which the lows take care of themselves.

    Running partly in ketosis and generating most of my glucose from protein, and using small boluses of carbs mixed with fat and more protein to manually adjust BG when required (and handfuls of salad to fill the space the carbs would previously have taken up in my gut) I can produce near-normal BG numbers nearly all the time without these disabling swings.

    In recent years I’ve taken to having a siesta in the early evening after eating, then getting up and doing stuff at night without interruptions. That’s probably just age catching up with me though. I can if required do significantly more carbs by evening but I find I prefer not to. Trying to chase away the BG lows with more carbs just sets up a cyclic process where the insulin chases the glucose and never gets caught up.

    Trinkwasser wrote on February 15th, 2009
  22. I believe the word is “impromptu” not “inpromptu”. Spell check!

    mh1 wrote on February 19th, 2009
  23. Take Deep breaths. Try some methods of Pranayama in Yoga. Anybody can do this with out noticing by others by just walk out of the working bay and sit or walk slowly with powerfull exhalations and slow deep inhalations. Also tell your mind to be awake when you fell sleepy and subconscious mind will do it for you if you keep saying it.

    Nigil wrote on January 11th, 2010
  24. I am in my late 40s and have only had this problem in a serious way for the last 5-6 years. If I stay busy, I can mostly avoid it, but am really tired at the end of the day. I attributed it mostly to age and going to bed too late. Getting more sleep does help, which is a big problem in our society as a whole. I will try the low carb breakfast, but today I have to resort to coffee again. Thanks for the advice.

    Dave M wrote on October 25th, 2010
  25. I have been having this problem even while eating primal and strictly so. It may be that my lunches are too heavy (beef, chicken, etc.). Maybe I should stick with salad and a bit of protein and save the heavier dishes for dinner? I had lots of energy when I first started eating primal a month ago, but this drowsiness has become more of a problem of late. I’d love to hear from others who have solved the problem.

    Lisa wrote on April 29th, 2011
  26. I’d be careful with coffee. When you’re tired, it’s usually a sign that our bodies need a little rest, not something to push it :-) Occasional it’s fine, but if it becomes a daily habit I’m not sure if that’s healthy.

    Bob Walsh wrote on August 8th, 2011
  27. i have a question? Can apple fruit reduce drowsiness. I’m work in night shift thats why i want to reduce my drowsiness.thanks

    aris wrote on January 5th, 2012
  28. I’ve been intermittent fasting for a month now (10pm to 14.00, 16 hrs). At 14.00 I eat either a bowl of cottage cheese with berries and nuts, or a huge load of salad with around 50/60 grams of protein, usually from chicken. I eat another 3 meals like this before 10 pm, including a ton of kale, avocados, more berries and red meats. I’ve ditched oats, bread, rice and pasta.

    Not had a slump since.

    Smorten Flambularn wrote on November 5th, 2012
  29. I had this chronic slump problem for years and numerous tests could not figure it out. I realised though that it was linked to eating and that it went away when i didnt eat carbs at lunch. OK that worked, but then i noticed one time that i had a massive fried rice for lunch but no slump… why? Wasn’t it carbs was the problem? No… it was gluten intolerance. Try just removing gluten from your diet… worked for me.

    Aaron wrote on March 6th, 2013

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