Beat the mid-afternoon slump

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Sunday, 20 September 2009.
Tagged: caffeine, concentration, cravings, energy, exercise, healthy lifestyle, healthy snacks, sleep, snacks, sugar, tips

Beat the mid-afternoon slump

Find it hard to concentrate around 4 pm? Feel sluggish with no energy and have trouble thinking clearly? Reach for a chocolate bar to get you through that sleepy period mid-afternoon?

That mid-afternoon low is so common that I suspect there must be an underlying biological reason behind it. Maybe our bodies weren't meant to work for 8 hours straight. After all, clever nations such as the Spanish and Italians have formalized this low-point into the siesta which makes great body sense to me. After lunch, they nod off with a short nap which keeps them out of the hot midday sun and rejuvenates them for the second half of the day.

The power of a quick nap

If you're lucky enough to work from home or to have the luxury of a flexible lifestyle where you can take a quick nap, then give in to it, I say. Lots of high achievers do just that - they get away with it by giving it the trendy term of a "power nap"

Whether it's a consequence of fighting our body's in-built circadian rhythm or not, that mid-afternoon slump is the precise point where most diet intentions come unstuck. It's a difficult point in time when office workers need something to keep themselves going so the head out for a coffee (and usually a muffin) or reach for something sweet.

So how to get through your afternoon when a nap isn't an option?

The best advice I've read over the years (and practiced myself) is to plan two strategies into your lunch break that work to ward off the slump.

1. Get outdoors and go for a walk to take in fresh air and re-charge the brain. I've found this works best when it's a little cold and fresh outside. Somehow it doesn't have the same effect on hot summer days. Then a swim is much more invigorating or a lunchtime session in an air-conditioned gym.

2. The second is to eat a high-protein lunch, say based on tuna, salmon, chicken, hard-boiled egg or cold meat with salad rather than a sandwich, roll or pasta meal.

It pays to select slower-digested low GI carbohydrates that will stick with you longer so preventing your energy levels from flagging. Here's some ideas:

  • Swap white bread for grainy bread
  • Avoid white rice if you order Chinese take-away. Ask for thin hokkien noodles instead.
  • Go for legumes such as baked beans on grain toast or chickpeas in a salad with tuna or lentil curry.

Schedule a booster afternoon snack that's low kilojoule

Finally plan to have an afternoon snack to pick yourself up and make it through to dinner. Forget the chocolate bar. Its energy hit will be short-lived. It's a kilojoule-laden treat that leaves you looking for more an hour later.

Good energy snacks that won't ruin your diet are:

  • a handful of raw almonds, walnuts or other nuts
  • tub of fruit yoghurt
  • fruit and nut trail mix
  • cheese and wholegrain crackers
  • mug of soup eg lentil soup, minestrone OR pea and ham
  • fruit salad with yoghurt.

Downloads / Fact Sheets


Take a look at healthy choices you can make for a quick lunch with our Fact Sheet on Fast Food

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life  is a new update on all the things you've read or heard about. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!