If you’re reading this after lunch and you feel like you’re about to fall asleep, you’re not alone.
When Hum Nutrition surveyed 10,000 customers, they found that women’s energy plummets to its lowest level of the day at 2:55pm. The mid-afternoon slump is a well-known phenomenon, tempting office workers everywhere to crawl under their desks for a quick nap, or sending them to the vending machines for a sugary snack.
You know you’re a victim of the slump when you start to yawn, your eyes glaze over, your head starts to nod, you get cranky, and you start to crave junk food.
You may have one or all of these symptoms, but no matter how it manifests for you, one thing is certain: feeling suddenly drained of energy when you still have several working hours ahead of you is the worst.
The science behind the slump
So why does this happen? Two words: blood sugar. The hours after lunch are a regular roller coaster for our blood sugar, playing havoc with our bodies and our brains. First our blood sugar spikes (especially if we have a carb-heavy lunch, or eat something highly processed), then within a couple of hours, it drops, leaving us foggy and unfocused.
Registered dietician Annie Herzog explains: “When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, our bodies release the hormone insulin to pull sugar out of the bloodstream and into our cells. This is a good thing. However, when the carbs we eat are in the form of simple sugars, we digest them very quickly and they enter the blood rapidly. This causes a huge insulin release, because glucose in the blood at very high levels is toxic, and the body is trying to lower the levels as quickly as possible.”
That’s where the crash comes in, leaving us craving sleep and sugar – which will only perpetuate the cycle.
Why women have it worse
Carbs and processed foods aren’t the only things that affect blood sugar: hormones play into it, too. When you’re premenstrual, you’re even more likely to have blood-sugar swings, contributing to your fatigue and crankiness. An underlying disorder like polycystic ovary syndrome can contribute to the slump, as well.
Add to that the fact that many women don’t get enough sleep and are under tons of stress because of responsibilities at work and at home – caring for children, being expected to keep the house tidy, putting effort into their marriage – and you have a recipe for exhaustion.
When to worry
While the 3pm slump is well-documented and not something to be overly concerned about, in general, there are a few warning signs that you could be suffering from something else.
‘Reactive hypoglycemia’ is a potentially serious medical condition; if you experience shakiness and weakness, along with confusion, severe stomach aches or headaches, clammy hands and a feeling you might faint, get yourself to a doctor and get checked out.
How to power through it
Dr John Briffa, an expert in nutrition and lifestyle, recommends avoiding grains at lunch, and instead eating high-protein foods such as met, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
“Eating something bread based at lunch might make you feel tired later in the afternoon. If you have ever struggled to get any work done at this time it might be due to that sandwich or baguette you had at lunch.”
You might try skipping that big lunch and instead opting for several smaller snacks throughout the day, as well. Women’s health expert Dr Alicia Stanton recommends eating small meals every two to three hours to keep energy levels stable. Lean proteins like chicken, turkey or fish are a good bet, as are complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, quinoa or legumes. And if you can, getting outside for a brisk walk and some sunshine during your lunch break can do wonders for your afternoon energy levels as well.
GIFs via gifsec.com, gifrific.com, giphy.com.
Comment: How do you combat the mid-afternoon slump?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.