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Overcoming Your Midafternoon Energy Slump

You may charge into the day full of energy. But by midafternoon a wave of sleepiness hits you. You find it hard to keep your eyes open, or you find yourself yawning. Many people experience these late-in-the-day energy lags, but you can take steps to prevent them. Here are suggestions for healthy ways to keep your energy flowing throughout the day.

Don’t miss breakfast

The best way to keep your energy level at peak performance is to start the day with breakfast. Skipping any meal affects your concentration. This makes it harder to solve problems. Missed meals also mean you miss out on nutrients. Often, people who skip meals end up overeating later.

Pick high-energy carbs

For a quick burst of fuel, choose foods high in complex carbohydrates. These are healthful sources of energy that digest the quickest. Go for whole-grain breads and cereals, fresh fruits, vegetables and vegetable sticks, pasta, beans, or brown rice. Even spring rolls or burritos can do the trick. To hold hunger at bay for longer, choose protein foods that take longer to digest like nuts, peanut butter, or cheese.

Snack wisely

Instead of looking at snacks as extras, treat them as mini-meals that contribute to your overall nutrition for the day. Healthy snacks help provide fuel to keep your body going. Try fruits and vegetables to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Choose plain nonfat yogurt or café lattes made with skim milk to get protein and calcium. When you snack, keep variety, moderation, and balance in mind.

Choose low-fat

Fat takes a long time to digest and makes the body feel sluggish. Most junk food is high in fat and sugar. Instead of buying chips or cookies from a vending machine at work, plan ahead and bring healthy foods for snacks.

Don’t overdo sugar

Eating sugar causes your blood sugar to rise rapidly. This can result in an energy boost. But when sugar is introduced into the bloodstream, the body also makes insulin. This lowers blood sugar levels. Sometimes the body over-adjusts itself, causing the blood sugar level to drop rapidly. This explains the drop in energy some people experience about 30 minutes after eating a sugary snack. Sugar in moderation, particularly from fruit or 100% fruit juice, will give you energy without a lag.

Sleep well

Getting even an hour less of sleep can result in slower mental functioning the next day. Your reactions will be slowed and your memory may suffer. The average adult needs—but doesn't get—about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. On average, a person over age 65 needs about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Tank up on fluids

Your body needs a certain amount of water to function. When you don’t have enough water, everything slows down and becomes less efficient. Water is best, but other liquids, like milk, juice, or the water in solid foods, will also work.

Get a caffeine boost

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it will give you a temporary energy boost. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as long as you keep your caffeine intake to about 400 mg per day—about the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee —caffeine typically isn’t harmful to most healthy adults. But each person is different in how sensitive they are to caffeine and how fast they break it down. Remember, too much caffeine can affect your sleep at night, make you jittery, increase your heart rate, increase your anxiety, make it more likely for you to have heartburn or an upset stomach, or cause headaches 12 to 24 hours after your last dose of caffeine.

Develop an active life

Exercise increases your endurance and makes your cardiovascular system more efficient. This gives you more energy for doing simple daily tasks. Exercise also helps you sleep better, improves your mood, relieves stress, helps with weight control, strengthens bones and muscles, and lowers your risk for a host of diseases. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program.

Break for fitness

A good way to fight off tiredness during that midafternoon energy lag is to do some stretches or take a quick walk around the block. It will get the blood flowing. It also forces your senses to become sharper and more focused.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Brittany Poulson MDA RDN CD CDE
  • Diane Horowitz MD
  • Heather M Trevino BSN RNC