WASHINGTON — It frequently strikes around 2 or 3 p.m. — that time of the afternoon when it’s a few hours after lunch and a few hours before the end of the workday, and the only thing you’re capable of doing is staring at your computer screen in a complete daze.
Progress on your to-do list grinds to a halt, procrastination kicks in and energy levels dip to an ultimate low. It’s the midafternoon slump, and it happens to almost everyone.
A common reaction is to reach for a bar of chocolate or a sugar-laden latte for a quick boost. But before you cash in your daily quota of calories, consider some healthier alternatives that will restore your energy and recharge your mind.
Josef Brandenburg, founder of Georgetown’s True 180 Fitness, shares his best tips:
1. It’s time to re-examine your lunch
One of the biggest contributors to that late-afternoon tired feeling is what you ate for lunch just a few hours earlier.
“If what you eat makes you tired or sleepy, you feel like you need a nap, that’s definitely a sign that you’re going to want to start adjusting what you eat,” Brandenburg says.
The ideal lunch should contain a vegetable, a protein and a healthy fat. Steer clear of bread, pasta, sugars and other refined carbohydrates, which tend to contribute to lethargy.
Brandenburg says there’s really only one rule to keep in mind when it comes to selecting a healthy fat for your lunch: If you can easily picture how that food was made, then chances are, it’s healthy.
Butter, for example, is churned from milk — Brandenburg says a little bit is a good choice. The same goes for olive oil and yogurt.
“If you can’t imagine how this thing got from this plant or animal into this bottle, avoid it,” he says.
A few slices of avocado and a handful of almonds are also great options.
If your lunch is clean, balanced and healthy, and it’s still putting you to sleep, Brandenburg says to consider cutting back on quantity.
2. Drink up: It’s time to rehydrate
Having a glass of water may sound like too simple of a remedy for the slump, but it works. Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration, and research from Tufts University shows that even mild dehydration can impair thinking.
On busy days, packed with meetings and deadlines, it’s easy to let your water intake fall to the wayside. If it’s been a few hours since you last visited the watercooler, a quick trip could be just what you need to charge through the afternoon.
“It’s very easy just to forget, and you might not feel thirsty, but you might feel hungry,” Brandenburg says. “Just having a big glass of water will boost your energy levels back up.”
3. Try a burst of intense movement
Going for a walk around the block might help to clear your mind, but if you’re looking for a bigger boost, a burst of intense movement will do the trick.
Breaking out into jumping jacks at your desk might trigger funny looks from your co-workers. So to avoid the awkward stares, seek some privacy in the stairwell.
“Just run up the stairs as fast as you can to the bathroom on one of the floors above you,” Brandenburg says. “Intense exercise stimulates your body to release its own stimulants.”
4. Caffeine is OK
When it comes to afternoon pick-me-ups, caffeine is not the enemy, Brandenburg says. The added sugars and creamers, however, are. If you’re feeling like a coffee or tea, go ahead and grab one — just make sure you limit the additives.
“Everyone’s got a time of the day after which they have to stop consuming caffeine, or they won’t be able to go to sleep at night. So if you’re still before that time of the day, then a responsible serving of coffee without the extra sugar is fine,” Brandenburg says.
Energy shooters, however, should be avoided.
5. Get some sunlight
How’s the natural light in your office? If you’re surrounded by fluorescent bulbs rather than sprawling windows, chances are your lack of energy could have something to do with a lack of sunlight.
Brandenburg says the body’s sleep and wake cycles are regulated by sunlight, so it’s no surprise that the body starts to go into sleep-mode after a few hours in a dim office.
“Getting that bright, full-spectrum light that you would get from going outside for 10 minutes will help to remind your body that it is, in fact, daytime,” Brandenburg says.
6. Healthy habits help with energy levels
It may go without saying, but getting enough sleep at night, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly all have an impact on how you feel — morning, noon and night. Therefore, healthier habits lead to easier afternoons.
“Everything that makes you healthier, everything that makes you fitter, will make that afternoon lull much less prominent,” Brandenburg says.