5 Ways to Beat Afternoon Fatigue

It’s not uncommon to experience a decline in energy levels around mid-afternoon. In many cultures, it’s normal to take a siesta around 2 p.m., but for most of us in North America, business hours don’t allow us to nod off for a couple of hours.

The afternoon slump that many of us experience is partially biological and partially due to our lifestyle habits. Several hormones, including cortisol and melatonin, are responsible for your natural circadian rhythm that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. (1)

Cortisol levels spike in the morning and decline throughout the day, which leads to increased wakefulness as the day progresses. However, your sleep-inducing melatonin levels also rise throughout the day. Often there’s a cross-over in the mid-afternoon where your wakeful hormones are still relatively low and your drowsiness-causing hormones are still relatively high. When this happens, your brain tells you it’s time to nap.

Poor lifestyle habits can exacerbate your afternoon sleepiness. For example, most of us have experienced feeling tired after eating a big meal around the holiday. This is thanks to increases in your hormone insulin caused by large carbohydrate and protein intake. (2)

Your nutrition quality, caffeine intake, and sleeping habits may all affect mid-afternoon drowsiness. If you’re having trouble getting through a 2 p.m. slump, here are five strategies you can implement to improve your energy.  

1. Stabilize Insulin Levels

When you eat high-carbohydrate food, your blood sugar levels temporary increase until your body produces insulin. (3) Insulin takes the sugar from your blood and transports it to fat and muscle cells for storage.  

Foods that are high glycemic like syrups, juices, and desserts, cause a rapid spike in insulin whereas low glycemic carbohydrates like oats breakdown slowly and cause smaller insulin spikes.  

Research shows that diets filled with high-glycemic carbohydrates are associated with increased feelings of fatigue. (4) A good way to keep your insulin and energy levels consistent throughout the day is to skip sugary juices and cereals for breakfast and replace them with lower glycemic carbohydrate options like sweet potatoes, green vegetables or blueberries.

2. Avoid the Caffeine Trap

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, your first cup of coffee of the day probably gets you to baseline but doesn’t do anything to enhance your energy. It’s easy to slowly increase your caffeine intake overtime to make up for your body’s tolerance. However, caffeine can wreak havoc on your sleep cycles, which can catch up with you in the mid-afternoon.

If you insist on having your daily coffee, try not to consume caffeine after 3:00 p.m. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours, which means that if you drink a cup of coffee at 3:00 p.m., half the caffeine will still be in your body at 9pm. (5)

Coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. You should also avoid chocolate, colas, and energy drinks late in the day.  

3. Prep Your Meals in Advanc

A study published in France in 2017 found that people who meal prep have a lower chance of becoming obese and on average consume higher quality food than people who don’t meal prep. (6)

If you leave the house unprepared, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up snacking on food that’s of low nutritional quality. Most fast food is high in unhealthy fats and sugary sauces that have negative health effects on your body.  

As we already explained, keeping your insulin levels stable can improve your afternoon energy levels. Spending a little bit of time each night or morning preparing your meals can go a long way toward stabilizing your energy levels.

4. Stop Limiting Your Sleep

If you consistently cut your sleep short, you may feel like your body has become used to functioning on limited rest. However, not sleeping enough hours leads to metabolic changes that affect the way your body processes the food you eat.  

Research shows that your insulin sensitivity and leptin sensitivity decrease with limited rest. (7) Not only will limited sleep increase your feeling of tiredness throughout the day because your body is craving more rest, but you’re also more likely to default to caffeine as a substitute.

The amount of sleep you need depends on your lifestyle, but a good way to check if you’re getting enough sleep is to not set an alarm one weekend. If you wake up during your usual time, you’re probably getting adequate sleep. However, if you sleep in much later, your body is telling you to rest more.  

5. Eat More Healthy Fats

Both carbohydrates and protein cause an increase in your insulin levels. However, fat doesn’t cause an insulin response in your body. Fat often gets a bad reputation for leading to body fat, however, healthy fats provide your body with the raw material it needs to build cells and hormones.    

Healthy fats also slow down the absorption of other foods in your stomach. Earlier, we mentioned that high-glycemic foods cause a larger insulin spike than low glycemic foods. However, your body doesn’t digest food in isolation. Your body breaks fat down slower than protein and carbohydrates. When you combine fat with simple carbohydrates it dulls the insulin response closer to what you’d expect with a medium or low glycemic food. (8)

Sweet potato is a low glycemic food that causes a gradual spike in your insulin levels. However, eating sweet potato by itself without protein or fat will have a higher insulin response than a high-fat meal combined with a small amount of a high-glycemic food.  

Your goal shouldn’t be to include more high GI foods but to maximize your healthy fats. Which fats are considered healthy? Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish have anti-inflammatory benefits and cardiovascular benefits. Research shows that monounsaturated fats also benefit your heart. (9)

Here are some of the best sources of fat to include in your diet:


Monounsaturated

  • Avocado
  • Avocado oil
  • Olives
  • Olive oil

Omega 3s

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp


Improve Your Afternoon Energy with These Five Habits

If you want to increase your afternoon energy levels, you can compare your lifestyle habits to these five habits to see if you can improve any of them in your life. There’s no magic cure for afternoon fatigue, but if you clean up your diet, sleep more, and reduce your daily caffeine intake, you’ll likely notice your energy levels increase.

Quick Disclaimer

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Sources


1. Lambert C. Deep into Sleep. Harvard Magazine. 2005. https://harvardmagazine.com/2005/07/deep-into-sleep.html

2. St-onge MP, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(5):938-49.

3. Wilcox G. Insulin and insulin resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005;26(2):19-39.

4. O'Reilly GA, Belcher BR, Davis JN, et al. Effects of high-sugar and high-fiber meals on physical activity behaviors in Latino and African American adolescents. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015;23(9):1886-94.

5. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. 2001.


6. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality, and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):12.

7. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62.

8. Collier G, Mclean A, O'Dea K. Effect of co-ingestion of fat on the metabolic responses to slowly and rapidly absorbed carbohydrates. Diabetologia. 1984;26(1):50-4.


9. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017;16(1):53.

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