Make some wise choices to combat the afternoon slump

We’ve all been there – that dreaded afternoon slump.

It’s that the sluggish feeling, the drooping of the eyelids and decreased alertness and concentration. And it’s a real thing.

While caffeine or some quick energy (leftover holiday candy, anyone?) might seem like the simple and easy fix, it might not be doing the trick.

With the holidays behind us, we often think things will slow down and we’ll have more energy again, but if you’re like me, it seems like things just pick up again at full speed and I’m left scrambling to get things checked off my to-do list once more. This year, let’s start the New Year with a focus on how to stay energized so you’re able to knock those things off your to-do list – even when 3 o’clock rolls around and you find yourself dreaming about your next vacation.

That afternoon slump is more than just how much sleep you got last night (although that can definitely play a factor). Our natural circadian rhythm increases our desire for sleep between 1 and 3 p.m., as well as in the middle of the night (which is convenient for most of us).

While we can’t always take a nap in the middle of the day, we can make some wiser choices to help fight off those sleepy urges.

Filling your coffee mug for some caffeine might seem logical. While this might help your immediate attention span, the effects won’t last long and can negatively affect how you sleep at night.

Instead, you’ll be better off if you stand up, stretch and go for a short walk around the office.

A recent study found that going up and down a flight of stairs for 10 minutes was more effective in your motivation to work than if you had chosen to have a can of soda, which contains about 50 mg of caffeine. Not only does this add in some steps to your day, but it gets your blood pumping and can warm you up – exactly what I need this time of year!

If you can get outside to soak in some sun rays, all the better. The light will also help increase your alertness. Melatonin, the hormone that causes sleepiness, isn’t produced when there is bright light.

Before the afternoon slump happens, plan lunch into your day. It’s easy to want to skip out on lunch when the work is piling up, but you’ll end up being more productive in the afternoon by stopping to have a satisfying lunch now. Choose a lunch that contains whole grain carbohydrates, lean protein and good-for-you fats.

When given the choice, opt for whole grains and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, or starchy veggies, over refined grains. Complex carbohydrates can sustain you and keep you satisfied well into the afternoon.

When the afternoon comes and you start to feel a little hungry, have that snack. Think of your snack as a mini-meal, and plan it into your day.

When we’re feeling tired, our bodies naturally crave sweets, which are high-energy foods. Because a candy bar, chips or fruity candy are refined grains, our body gets that energy into our blood stream quickly (just what they are looking for). However, just as quickly as your blood sugar spikes, it falls and you’re left feeling tired and edgy. Nobody wants a moody co-worker.

Instead, have whole grain crackers with cheese, some nuts paired with a piece of fruit (the fiber helps slow the release of the sugar), plain yogurt sweetened with fruit, popcorn (it’s a whole grain) or a hard-boiled egg.

If you have to depend on what’s in the vending machine, choose the bag of peanuts or trail mix. That mix of healthy fats and protein will give you lasting energy.

If you’re like me and you still like to have something sweet in the afternoon, have it in more nutrient-dense ways. This can look like cocoa dusted almonds, unsweetened dried fruit, a no-added sugar granola bar or trail mix with dark chocolate chips added.

Lastly, stay hydrated. Being mildly dehydrated can make you sleepy.

Have water nearby throughout the day and make it a priority to have at least one glass of water with each meal. Keep it interesting by choosing a sparkling water or adding your own fruit combinations to your water to flavor it.

Here’s to a productive New Year!

Kara Hoerr, MS, RDN, CD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Kara Hoerr Nutrition. Visit, email or call 608-620-4461.

This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.