We’ve all been there. 2pm rolls around and you start to feel yourself dragging mentally and physically. Your eyelids might feel heavy, your vision isn’t clear, even the thought of your next meeting is exhausting. You feel like taking a quick nap at your desk (please, just 10 minutes!) Since this isn’t acceptable in most work places (though debateably it should be), most of us reach for something to give us a boost. The usual suspects? Coffee and carbs. While it’s true that they are going to work in the short term, they perpetuate the problem in the long term. I know that you need your energy to get your work done and perform at your best. My job as a Naturopathic Doctor is to try and figure out the cause of your afternoon fatigue. If we can make positive change to the underlying cause, we can see resolution of the fatigue all together. So let’s explore some common reasons for this slump and what to do about them.
Slump Cause 1 - You’ve been inside, sitting and staring at your computer screen - All. Day. Long.
They say that “sitting is the new smoking” – it’s bad for your health! If your body has been stagnant all day, how can we expect our mind to be any different? Depending on where your desk is in your office, you may not have seen the sunlight since you arrived at work. And that computer screen? It’s contributing to eye strain and muscle tension.
The Fix - Get up and move! I’m not even suggesting a full workout, just try to get up out of your seat at least once per hour. Get a drink or go to the washroom if you don’t have another reason to leave. Instead of emailing a co-worker, get up and go talk to them in person. Suggest a walking meeting with a collegue. Stand when you are talking on the phone. Go outside on your lunch break, even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes. When on your comptuer, remember to take breaks and look into the distance every few minutes. All of these little things add up.
Slump Cause 2 - All you’ve had to drink today was your morning coffee, or nothing at all.
You’re dehydrated. Every single cell in your body needs to be properly hydrated to function at it’s best. Even mild dehydration can contribute to fatigue, low mood, and difficulty concentrating. The more exercise you do, the more water you need to replace what you’ve lost via sweat.
The Fix - Drink more water. Try to have a glass before you leave for work (try it first thing in the morning with lemon to give your digestive system a kick start). Keep a glass bottle or pitcher at your desk and try to get through at least 500mL before lunch, and another 500mL after lunch. Another 500mL towards the end of the day will get you to a good average daily water consumption of 1.5-2L. And if you have to go to the washroom more because of this increased intake, that will get you moving too. Two birds…
Slump Cause 3 - You had carbs at breakfast and lunch.
Cereal, muffin, toast, croissant, or bagel for breakfast? Sandwich, pasta, or rice for lunch? Your blood sugar levels might be to blame here for your afternoon slump. Whenever we eat carbohydrates (even the good kind), our body breaks them down into sugar or glucose. This causes our blood sugar levels to spike, and eventually crash a few hours later. The crash is what you’re feeling mid-afternoon.
The Fix - Think about what you are eating for breakfast and lunch (and any snacks in between). Swap out some of the carbs for some vegetables and protein. Vegetables have fibre (amongst other important health benefits) which along with protein help to stabilize your blood sugar levels preventing the spike and crash. If you’re eating well at these two meals and still feeling low, you might want to add in a protein-rich snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon to tie you over between meals.
Slump Cause 4 - You are busy or stressed.
When we think of the circadian rhythm we often think of sleep and the sleep hormone called melatonin. There is another part of our circadian rhythm that is equally as important, and it is related to our stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol rises and falls rhythmically thoughtout the day, just like melatonin does. It is normal for our cortisol to be higher in the morning (helps us to feel alert and awake) and lower in the evening (which helps us to feel calm and relaxed). However, mental and physical stress from the hustle and bustle of our daily activities can cause this smooth rhythm to be disrupted leading to symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depressed mood, or anxiety.
The Fix - There are lots of ways to help manage stress in our lives such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness, reading, or spending time with family or friends. Whatever you find works best for you is the tool you should use. It is important to carve out time in your day for relaxation. A healthy mindset is key, and sometimes we need help in getting ourselves there. Your Naturopathic Doctor will be able to assess any hormonal imbalances and make recommendations to help your body and mind become more resilient to stress, in addition to helping you develop healthy relaxation and stress management tools.
Still feeling tired? There might be another underlying cause – it’s important to recognize that just because fatigue is common doesn’t mean it’s normal! Your ND can help you understand what is going on and help you on the path towards resolving afternoon fatigue.