Using Science to Avoid the Midday Slump

If you’re like me, about an hour after lunch, you really start to struggle with staying energized and productive. It’s like trudging through mud uphill in a thunderstorm to reach the end of the day.

…alright, maybe that was an exaggeration, but there’s actually a science behind why we hit the midday slump.

A little thing called your circadian rhythm is responsible for those peaks and dips in your energy throughout the day. Circadian rhythms are accountable for your mental, physical and behavioral changes throughout the day, based primarily on the light and darkness in one’s environment.

Good news though, there are ways to cheat the system to make sure you’re utilizing the most out of your time at work. Check out these eight ways to beat the afternoon drag:

Prevent crashes: Sleep is sort of like preventative medicine, except for your productivity. Getting enough sleep each night is one of the key factors to avoiding a middle of the day meltdown. According to a Gallup poll, 59% of Americans get seven or more hours of sleep each night, while 40% get less than that. Experts typically recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for adults.

I can personally attest to this recommendation. I rarely hit a midday slump unless I did not get enough sleep the night before. While it may not be plausible for most people to follow in my footsteps and get nine hours of sleep each night, it’s best to at least try. And that means powering down your devices earlier!

Power down: If you’re working late into the night on your computer or scrolling through Facebook on your phone in bed, you’re actually hurting your chances of falling asleep. No, it’s not because your mind is distracted, it’s actually because of the blue light that is produced by your device’s screen. This type of light actually suppresses the production of melatonin, a chemical that tells your brain when it’s time to get some shut eye.

Christopher Barnes, an assistant professor of management at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, says,“It’s critical to avoid smartphones and tablets within an hour or two of going to bed. The worst thing you can do is use your phone in bed.”

If checking in on work emails is absolutely unavoidable, try apps like f.lux or Twilight to shift your device’s display from blue to red light. The red light helps keep your circadian rhythm on track, helping you fall asleep faster.


Eat a good breakfast: Yes, I know there are some of you crazy people out there who don’t like to eat breakfast, but that old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is actually true. Throughout the night, your body is in a state of rest as it recharges, and like any machine you need fuel to get all your working parts moving again.

That’s why it’s so important to eat breakfast in the morning. Try pairing carbohydrates with protein to achieve maximum energy in the morning. Eating carbohydrates alone will create spikes in your blood sugar, creating an inevitable crash later in the day. By adding protein to your breakfast, your body will slowly absorb the carbs, giving you long-lasting energy. Yay science!


Take advantage of your circadian rhythm: Yep, this again. Take advantage of your peaks and dips in your energy to stay productive. Most people’s minds are sharpest during mid-morning and later afternoon, and by matching your circadian rhythm to your schedule, you’ll be able to get more done without actually slowing down.

Get all creative thinking or hard tasks done early in the morning when you’re at your peak performance, and when you hit a lull in energy, do menial tasks like expense reports or cleaning out you inbox. This way, you’ll continue to maximize your productivity based on your circadian rhythm.


Get up and move: Do not, I repeat, do not sit at your desk ALL day. You will end up overworking yourself and burning out before lunch. Getting up and moving around periodically will help give you a boost in energy. A trick I use every day is forcing myself to walk down two flights of stairs to fill up my water bottle. This way, I’m getting in a little exercise and I can take a mental break from anything I’m working on.

Stairs not your thing? Try having your next meeting outside. Not only will this give you a literal breath of fresh air, but you’ll also feel like you’re taking a break thanks to the change in scenery.


Put the coffee down: Seriously, how many cups of coffee have you had today? Relying on coffee as a source of energy is counterproductive. Caffeine, believe it or not, is not actually giving you energy, its simulating the feeling of having energy. As a stimulant, coffee or energy drinks will give you a peak for a little while, but you’ll crash eventually, leaving you in the same place you were before you slurped down your first cup of Joe.

Keep up this vicious cycle and you’ll likely become addicted to caffeine. Instead of relying on it, use coffee strategically. Have a huge monthly meeting or had a particularly bad night’s sleep? Then feel free to use caffeine to help get you going and your mind stimulated, but avoid creating the habit of the 2:30 cup of coffee every day.


Stay motivated with music: I swear by this theory. Just like when you head to the gym and listen to certain music to pump you up for pumping some iron, use music to keep you motivated at work. If your company allows it, check out sites like Spotify that actually have premade playlists that help with concentration and focus.


Meditate at your desk: The late Steve Jobs used Zen mindfulness meditation to reduce his stress, enhance creativity and gain clarity during the day. I’m not saying you need to roll out a yoga mat and sit alone with your thoughts in your cubicle, but really taking a few moments for a mental break to reflect on your day will reduce stress and improve the concentration of a tired brain. Even a few deep breaths will give you more oxygen, giving you a little boost to keep going.


Harnessing the power of science to your advantage can really help you power through your day. Try these eight tips to avoid that afternoon slump. You won’t regret it!

About Andrea D.

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