Beat the three o'clock slump - how to maintain energy at work

Some people are lucky and don’t experience the three o’clock slump – that horrible afternoon time slot where keeping your eyes open becomes a chore and the knowing how close it is until knock off time suddenly becomes remarkably interesting.

Most of us though are pouring ourselves another strong coffee and wondering how comfortable it would be to take a nap in the supply closet. This phenomenon is so well known, some cultures even have a ‘siesta’ in the afternoon as a custom!

Tips for Beating the Three O’clock Slump

Maintaining energy at work can be done by following these simple tips.

Tip#1 Ensuring you eat a healthy breakfast

Eating breakfast signals our body and brain to wake up and fire up our processors for the day ahead. A healthy breakfast takes us through the morning and up to lunchtime, allowing us to conserve energy for the afternoon. Incidentally, a healthy breakfast does NOT include sugary cereals (which include almost all of them) or processed breads – instead, choose something like oatmeal with honey, yoghurt with berries, eggs and vegetables or a smoothie. Reboot with Joe has an excellent range of energy boosting smoothie recipes that are ideal for a breakfast boost.

Tip#2 Eating an energy fueled lunch

Lunch is considered a bit of a precipitous factor when it comes to the three o’clock slump, since people usually eat a large meal packed with sugar, refined carbohydrates and fats. These foods in large amounts cause your body to release a quick surge of energy, but then it quickly experiences a crash from dipping blood sugar levels.

Eating a low glycemic meal, consisting of proteins (meats, nuts), complex (not refined) natural sugars including fructose and glucose (such as fruit, salad vegetables or honey), complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads) and omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish) will keep your blood sugar levels steady and keep you full for longer. If you have eaten a good healthy breakfast, you won’t feel as hungry as if you hadn’t, so you’ll feel satisfied with a smaller lunch, which is conductive to avoiding the afternoon energy loss. 

Tip#3 Getting sufficient sleep

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the better your sleep habits, the less chance you’ll have of feeling tired during the day and sufficient sleep is the most effective natural remedy against experiencing the afternoon slump. Not only does a good night’s sleep help your body stay fit and your brain stay mentally alert, but it also boosts your memory! The surprising thing about the effects of lack of sleep though, is that even an hour less than your optimum eight hours can cause a dramatic effect the next day – causing delayed reactions and reduced mental functions. Sleep is not accumulative either, so don’t think you can simply skip out over the week and catch up on the weekend!

Tip#4 Exercising

Not only does regular exercise help you boost your energy levels by increasing blood flow and keeping your heart healthy, but exercise at your desk WHILE you’re experiencing your afternoon slump can wake you up and give you a continued boost for the rest of the day! If you can’t get outside for a quick run, you can certainly do a few stretches, squats and other ‘desk exercises’ at your desk every hour or two.

Tip#5 Socializing

The simple act of talking to your co-workers can help wake you up when you feel like curling into a ball under your desk. Try to socialize with somebody who makes you feel more energetic and avoid people that usually drain you. Instead of emailing your colleagues for something, it’s a good idea to walk over to them and relay the message personally instead. This has the bonus of giving you a bit of exercise in the process.

Common misconceptions about the three o’clock slump

Most people assume that the three o’clock slump is caused solely by diet and that a quick sugar hit or caffeine boost will fix us up, but surprisingly, the afternoon slump is actually thought to be caused by body temperature!

Our body temperatures drop during the night and begin to increase at the beginning of the day, raising to its peak at around noon, then dropping at between three and five o’clock, before rising again. This afternoon temperature drop causes our cognitive and mental skills to slow down, resulting in the malaise that many of us know all too well.

Keeping your focus at work

Of course, there are other contributing factors that can make our bodies more tired in the afternoon – such as insufficient sleep during the night and low energy due to diet – but the best way to stay alert throughout the afternoon is to alternate between periods of engaging activity and strategic disconnection. This allows our brain to rest between bursts of interesting activity, which allows us to remain focused on our job.

The CFS Team
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