How do you feel in the afternoon? Do you hit a point in the day when your eyelids get heavy and thoughts wander? When time seems to crawl and you barely move?
If you’re anything like the average Fitbit user, this afternoon slump hits between 2 and 3 p.m. And no, it’s not a coincidence that millions of people experience this lull.
“It’s not at all unexpected and is actually quite predictable,” says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., co-founder and former director of the Memorial-Hermann Chronobiology Center and co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health: How to Use your Body’s Natural Clock to Fight Illness and Achieve Maximum Health. “There is a biological rhythm in the drive for sleep and there are certain times of the day where there’s greater propensity, given the opportunity, for sleep to occur. Afternoon is one of those. Researchers see a drop in attentiveness and a tendency to want to take a short power nap, if allowed, in the early afternoon.”
Why is hard to pin down, but Smolensky thinks it may ultimately come down to energy use and the body’s need for rest and repair beyond what it gets at night. “There may be a shorter time span during the afternoon required for overall biological efficiency,” says Smolensky.
The problem? Modern life doesn’t really accommodate that need, which is why it can feel like you have to fight to stay awake and alert in the afternoon. Exactly when and how the afternoon slump hits can vary by individual, but there are a few steps everyone can take to maximize energy and productivity.
“If people are tracking their activity level, they can determine on an individual basis what works and doesn’t work for them,” says Smolensky. “And then they can use that information to understand what their needs are and how they can schedule their activities accordingly.”
How to Beat the Afternoon Slump
Step 1: Get a Full Night’s Sleep
The CDC recommends that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, but the average Fitbit user usually falls short, according to recent Fitbit research. And while less sleep may be ok for some, it might be making your afternoon slump worse. “The more people tend to be sleep deprived and not get the sleep that they require, the greater their propensity to feel very tired after the lunch—even if they don’t eat lunch—and the greater the drive to want to take a nap or kind of just mellow out for a while,” says Smolensky.
Using your Fitbit app, start paying attention to your sleep duration and quality (if your tracker detects Sleep Stages) as well has how you feel each morning. Do you have more energy on the weekends when you allow yourself to sleep in? Then you may need to start going to bed earlier to get more sleep during the workweek. Use these Fitbit sleep tools to get on a healthier, more consistent sleep schedule.
Step 2: Look for Patterns
If you get your sleep on track and your energy still tanks mid-afternoon, try to pinpoint the time frame. When you feel low, jot down the time. Or, tap the Hour Activity tile in your Fitbit app. From here you can look into each individual day to see exactly when you’re stationary the longest.
Step 3: Take a Power Nap
Once you’ve identified the hours you tend to crash, you can put a plan in place. The best thing you can do, if you’re able, is find a cool, dark place to take a 20-minute power nap. “A brief nap in the early afternoon can reduce fatigue, improve brain function, and even improve physical performance,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson.
Wrist-based Fitbit devices will automatically detect and store naps at least an hour in length in your sleep history. Manually log shorter shorter snooze sessions. Sleeping on the job unrealistic? Move on to step four.
Step 4: Plan Your Day
Because circadian rhythm is such a strong driver of your activity level and alertness, Smolensky recommends taking that into consideration when structuring your day. Do your most important tasks in the morning and save busy, mindless work—or running errands—for when you start to drag. “It’s about using your Fitbit data and saying, ‘hey, this is me and I need to give myself some downtime,’” says Smolensky. “If I’m in business or I have meetings, can I reschedule them so that I don’t look like a damn fool in the afternoon?”
Step 5: Seek Sunlight
If there are meetings or other responsibilities you can’t shrug off during your afternoon slump, then go towards the light before the fatigue sets in. “If you go out for lunch, one thing you can try is to go for a stroll and get natural sunlight,” says Smolensky. “Bright light is stimulating, but I don’t know for sure that the boost will carry over long enough; it depends on the individual.” Set a silent alarm on your Fitbit tracker to remind yourself to get outside before your energy sags.
Step 6: Have a Cup of Coffee
Another potential option? Caffeine. “Some individuals will have another round of coffee in the early afternoon,” says Smolensky. “Coffee is a light stimulant and can help right away, but sometimes there’s a rebound afterwards that can leave you feeling even more sluggish later.” If an afternoon cup of joe leaves you too wired to get to sleep later, tea may be a better option.
Step 7: Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
“Recognize that this is normal,” says Smolensky. “Say, ‘OK, I don’t have to force myself to be something I’m not. My biology is telling me I need this rest either because I’m not getting enough sleep at night or I have greater sleep needs or maybe I have a health problem.” Whatever it is, “Don’t expect too much,” says Smolensky. “Have reasonable expectations depending on what your biological needs are.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.