If you’re of a certain vintage like me, I’m sure you remember the cuppa soup ads on telly with the tagline “Beat the 3pm slump”.
We were all encouraged to drink a hot, salty beverage just before 3pm so that we could continue with our workday and avoid face-planting the keyboard due to our inability to keep our eyes open!
These days, there is general consensus that we should take a somewhat different approach. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve made a number of changes to my eating & activity patterns and I rarely, if ever, feel 3pm-slumped.
I have also had clients achieve a noticeable improvements in their energy & concentration levels by making some simple changes. And I’m going to share my tips with you below.
But first, let’s go through what causes us to have this dip in concentration and wakefulness in the afternoon in the first place.
What causes the 3pm slump?
While there isn’t always one cause for feeling drowsy in the afternoon, it is often related to our eating habits. If you are generally well-rested and active, often what causes the drop is a lunchtime meal that is heavy in refined carbohydrates and causes our blood sugars to peak and then drop. For example, a simple sandwich can be culprit. Also, if you have a breakfast that is heavy in refined carbs, you might notice a similar 11am (ish) slump too. And often the cause is the same. So even through we may think that bowl of porridge is the perfect breakfast, if you suffer from peaks and troughs in energy levels, you might need to adjust your eating habits slightly.
But I love my lunchtime sambo/breakfast bowl of porridge/buttery toast
Don’t worry – we’re not saying that you can’t enjoy your regular foods. Just some slight adjustments can make all the difference. Here are a few pointers:
- If you have a sandwich at lunchtime, try to cut down on the amount of bread and up the protein. For example, you can have an open sandwich on one slice of bread with some extra chicken, cheese, egg or veggies to beef it up a bit. You won’t feel hungry, and you’ll definitely have more stable blood sugars.
- If you have your main meal at lunchtime, again try to get the breakdown right. A lasagne with chips on the side is going to send you straight to the land of nod come 3pm. But a smaller lasagne portion, with extra side salad or some roasted veg will keep you on track.
- If porridge or toast is your breakfast tipple, again try to reduce the portion size and up your protein and fruit/veg. You can half your porridge amount and have some fruit, yoghurt & seeds on the side. Or try making overnight oats with some milk, Greek yoghurt and fruit.
- I LOVE eggs! They are my favourite meal at any time of the day. If you have the luxury of time, some scrambled eggs with spinach (or mushrooms, or feta…) are the perfect breakfast, and can be had with or without bread. It will keep you feeling fuller for longer, and prevent the late-morning slump.
- Watch the caffeine intake. 1-2 coffees per day is plenty. And often when you get a hankering for a cup of Joe, you’re actually thirsty and should be reaching for the water bottle instead. Caffeine can also affect our bodies in a way similar to blood sugars so you get that peak and trough effect in your energy levels, so bear that in mind.
- Make sure you take your lunch break, and try to avoid eating at your desk. If you don’t take a mental break for 20-30 minutes, you may think you’re getting more done – but our concentration drops every 30-40 minutes. So while you might think you’re impressing the boss or managing your workoad, you will actually get the same amount of work done if you take a break – you’ll just be working more efficiently. Also sitting statically at your desk reduces your blood flow, so get up and move around for a few minutes every hour to keep the blood pumping (that includes to your brain!)
- If you find you are tired during the day and struggling to sleep at night (specifically, if you fall asleep without any problem, but find you wake during the night), it might be worth looking at what you eat in the evening. Again, protein is our friend here and we should have minimal carbs in the evening as we are often stationary and there is no way to burn off that energy supply from refined carbs. Even a few slices of turkey, or some hummus & crudités can be a good evening snack option.
- Watch your stress levels! Today’s lifestyle is stressful – between commutes, work pressures, family demands and the constant stream of information from television, radio and social media… It can be difficult to avoid stress entirely. But high stress levels can increase our levels of the hormone “cortisol” – and prolonged, elevated production of this hormone can impact our blood sugars, which we’ve mentioned above can impact these highs & lows of energy levels. So if you notice that you have a stressful meeting at 1pm, and by 2 or 3pm you are wiped, this could be the reason. Check out some mindfulness techniques that can help you to manage this – there are some great, simple exercises that you can do at your desk or in your car for just a few minutes to help.
I hope you find these tips useful, and make sure to get to know your own body and habits. This will help you to understand what’s going on, and what steps you can take to keep you in tip-top energy shape so you can get all those things done in the day that you want to do.