We all know the feeling: We’ve blazed through a productive morning, banged out a few important items on our to-do list, enjoyed the benefits of some post-lunchtime energy—and then boom. Sometime around three o’clock we begin to move with the speed and mental acuity of a tranquilized hippopotamus. Drooping eyelids, heavy sighing, zero enthusiasm to accomplish anything else—but there are still several more hours in the workday.
There’s a biological reason for this. According to the Sleep Foundation, our circadian rhythms cause our alertness levels to rise and dip throughout the day, and on average, people are the most tired shortly after lunch.
You need to do something to boost your energy, but what? While caffeine is always an option, with its propensity to disrupt sleep, it may not be the best one to pep you up in the mid- to late afternoon. Here are some other ways to beat those 3 p.m. doldrums.
Limit your carb intake—and hydrate
To feel less sleepy, eat a low-carb, protein-rich breakfast and lunch. Carbohydrate-heavy foods turn to glucose quickly, which often leads to a spike in your blood sugar—inevitably followed by a crash. Common symptoms of a blood sugar spike are fatigue, blurred vision, and headache. The same unwanted spike can happen after ingesting pretzels, chips, candy, and sugary energy drinks. So if you’re feeling peckish, go for a snack high in protein, fiber or complex carbohydrates such as almonds, peanut butter, yogurt, or hummus.
And your mom was right: You need to drink more water. Did you know even mild dehydration can inhibit brain functioning? A 2018 study conducted by Nina Stachenfeld, a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine, found that “mild body water loss impairs memory and executive function” and that “water intake to recommended daily levels will improve cognitive function.” So don’t let anyone make fun of that 40-ounce hydroflask.
Work while standing (and inhaling good smells)
Anecdotally, people have found improved focus while working at a standing desk—or any surface that can support their computer at eye-level while they remain upright—and even while chewing mint gum. Others swear by the positive effects of essential oils. Ryan Neinstein, a New York-based plastic surgeon says, “For a quick pick me up in the afternoon or after a workout, turning to peppermint oil can help replace that extra cup of coffee.” Concentrated whiffs of sweet orange, lavender, or rosemary essential oils are also recommended.
Turn off your phone early—and get enough sleep
It goes without saying—but we will remind you anyway—that the average healthy adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep a night to reach peak functioning, and around half of us aren’t getting it. Even one hour less can impair mental acuity. So if you really want to crush the day, hitting the hay earlier is a non-negotiable.
Speaking of which, the blue light our computers and phones emit is messing with our sleep, as may suppress our body’s natural production of melatonin, the brain chemical that makes us sleepy. Unfortunately (and we’re bummed about this as you are), those marathon pre-bedtime TikTok scrolling sessions have got to go.
Move your body for 15 minutes
If you don’t have time to hit the gym or go for a run (which will increase endorphin levels and improve mental focus), there are still some “quick-fix” ways to generate more afternoon energy. Studies have shown that short periods of physical activity are more effective at boosting energy than caffeine. Whether it’s a quick walk outside, some stair-climbing, jumping jacks, or a stretching session (preferably in the sunlight), even a small amount of movement can combat the mid-day slump.
Incorporate music and meditation
Just as music can motivate you while exercising, it can also snap your brain out of a late-afternoon fog. Listening to tunes increases concentration levels—and it could inspire you to rock out and dance, killing two energy-boosting birds with one stone. A few minutes of meditation have also been shown to increase oxygen intake and improve focus. (The only trick is not to fall asleep the second you close your eyes.)