Office Desk Afternoon Slump

Remember when you were a kid and you used to hate the mandatory nap times imposed upon you by your parents or kindergarten teacher? Well, I do, and it’s funny to think about how now as an adult, on just about any day of the week, an afternoon nap would be a true God sent if I could ever fit one in. It seems that every day around 3:00 p.m., almost like clockwork, my mind starts to wander, my ability to focus wanes, and all I can think about is how nice a strong cup of coffee or quick power nap would be.

Unfortunately, there is no nap time scheduled at my office, so I was forced to start looking into what I could do to manage this daily dip. When doing research online, however, everything I found talked about managing external factors like sleep or diet. And while there is certainly value in this approach, it brushes over the real cause of the slump I was feeling. After all, there is a reason that it shows up every day at the same exact time.

Why Does Our Energy Dip in the Afternoons?

My first thought was that it had to do with eating too large of a meal at once. Much like the tired feeling your get after a nice big dinner, I wondered whether the size of my meal was to blame for the slump I experienced. However, after a bit of experimentation, I discovered that even if I skipped lunch, I still had that lethargic feeling. In fact, studies have shown that the state of sleepiness I felt would occur whether I ate around lunchtime or not.

This is when I discovered that the source of my afternoon lethargy I experienced was simply a part of my body’s inner-workings. I learned that in any 24-hour period, it’s reasonable to expect alertness levels to drop twice. The first would be during the early morning around 3 a.m. and the second would come again 12 hours later. Which, as you might have guessed it, is right on target for my afternoon dip!

Making the Best of Your Body’s Natural Cycle

So now knowing that the dip is normal, there is one critical thing we can manage so its effects don’t completely destroy our productivity: boredom.

Looking again at scientific research, one study found that subject who were extremely bored during the afternoon time took a lot longer to react to various stimuli that their counterparts who were engaged in an interesting environment. This tells us that avoiding monotonous tasks during the afternoon can work to our advantage. To illuminate this point, a study performed at the University of Texas showed that the occurrence of traffic collisions peaked at a time that coincides exactly with this afternoon dip. Even more interesting is that the same study showed another peak around 3 a.m., which is the other time we know this slump occurs.

So, what does this mean practically speaking? My first rule is to avoid all uninteresting items on my to-do list after lunch. If I have to, I will shift things around in my day just to keep me on my toes and prevent things from getting boring. Keep in mind, that the type of environment you work in will obviously play a part here. If you are a firefighter, for example, you might have a little trouble relating. Following this one rule has worked wonders for me and largely solved the problem. Occasionally, it does fail me, so I have developed a few other tactics for my arsenal. On days where the boredom is extremely pronounced, I will combine a few of them for a potent boredom fighting punch!

Interacting with Other People

Grabbing a coworker or another person for a quick chat is a great way to not just prevent boredom but also keep my mind from wandering back to dreaming of that power nap. The research backs this up as well. A 2008 study demonstrated that conversing keeps us engaged and is an invaluable tactic for fighting off sleepiness, especially while performing routine and boring tasks.

Take it Outside

This is a well-known trick that is also supported by research. Just like chatting and laughing with another person, taking a quick 10-15 minute walk outside instantly makes me feel more present and engaged. The energy then carries over as I come back to my work. As an added bonus, this kind of activity can improve the quality of sleep you get at night, too.

Getting Some Light

In my experience, just standing in a sunny window for a few minutes can be rejuvenating and expose you to enough light to make a difference. Another study that took place in 2006 suggested exposure to natural bright light indoors as a strategy to combat afternoon sleepiness. People that participated in this study were significantly more alert after sunlight exposure and performed better in assigned tasks.

Other Alternatives

Just in case this wasn’t clear, I’m not against naps. They just don’t fit into my schedule and I’ve met plenty of people who this is also true for. If you can sympathize with my afternoon dip, then I hope at least one of these ideas will be useful to you at some point down the road. The idea was to show you that naps aren’t a must, and that other options do exist. Thankfully, for those of us that aren’t able to nap, there is a ton of research going on covering even more interesting solutions, like how chewing gum can keep us more alert when napping or espresso shots aren’t an option. I look forward to the results on that one!

Remy BernardGuest Blogger: 
Remy Bernard
Owner and Editor at Miss Mamie’s Cupcakes

A baker, chef and writer, Remy started as a way to deepen and spread her passion for making delicious food. She can also be found on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

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