For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
If you tend to get hit by the sleepy stick mid-afternoon, it’s not just you. Many people deal with the mid-afternoon energy slump and experience a noticeable dip in their alertness, energy level, and ability to concentrate in the afternoon. And if you’re an athlete who’s been up early to train before your working day starts, the chances are you’re going to feel this even more acutely than most. Before looking at how to improve or eradicate this phenomenon, let’s get a better understanding of what causes it.
There are six main causes for this mid-afternoon energy slump:
- A natural response to circadian rhythms, which typically make us most sleepy from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.;
- Getting too little sleep on a regular basis;
- Poor eating habits, such as eating too many carbohydrates (especially at lunch);
- Dehydration/hypohydration: this often happens throughout a busy day, particularly if you had a training session in the morning;
- High levels of stress;
- An underlying metabolic disorder such as pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, reactive hypoglycemia, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
While we can’t do much about our natural circadian rhythms, we can look to address some of the other issues. Sleep, of course, is the obvious one. If you have issues with sleep, perhaps looking to use a wearable that tracks your sleep can help you improve sleep habits and patterns. We discussed sleep and its impact on appetite in this Ask Stacy column and there is no shortage of advice out there on ways to improve your sleep.
Drinking a hot beverage around the time you experience the low energy slump can help bring your core temperature up to counter some of the natural circadian rhythm effect of it dropping in preparation for sleep. This can also help with acute dehydration, but it is better to pay attention to hydration status throughout the day, to prevent you from reaching for a caffeinated hot drink mid-afternoon. You’ll likely pay for that later in the night if you do. Be sure to have plenty of water/fluids at your desk through your working day, especially if you’ve been working out in the morning. You’ll be surprised at what an impact this can have on helping you overcome the dreaded 3 p.m. dip in energy.
Movement and sun exposure really do help prevent afternoon energy slumps as well; a short walk outside can be enough to shake the sleepiness and bring up your core temperature, helping you to refocus for the remainder of your day.