The Real Reason You Feel Sleepy in the Afternoon


If you’re longing for a latte by 4:00pm, blame your body clock. “A sense of sleepiness can occur seven to nine hours after our wake up time due the brain’s drop in alertness,” explains Fitbit sleep advisor Allison T. Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center and director of the Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North CarolinaAnother reason you’re feeling fatigued? Your body builds up adenosine, a chemical that accumulates in your system to cause sleepiness, as the day progresses, says Siebern. In other words, the longer you’re up, the wearier you become.

And that’s not all. In the early afternoon, your biological clock sends signals that are similar to (but not as strong as) those it transmits at bedtime. “Most notably, your internal body temperature starts dipping,” explains Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The brain seems to read these drops in body temperature as a signal to conserve energy and prepare for rest and sleep.”

Unfortunately, a mid-day slump can leave you guzzling too much caffeine or reaching for sugary snacks to give you a pick me up.  To avoid potentially unhealthy habits, try these lid-lifting tips instead.

See the light

No matter how busy you are, taking a few minutes to head outside into the sunlight can make you more productive. “Getting just 15 to 20 minutes of solid daytime sun (even if it’s cloudy) can send a strong activating signal to the clock in your brain,” explains Grandner. “This can give you an energy boost, especially if you’ve been cooped up all day.” Allowing your eyes to see the sunlight tells your brain it’s time to be awake and alert.

Take a walk

When you’re feeling weary, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing, but a brisk, 10-minute walk can get your blood and energy flowing. If possible, do this outdoors so you reap the benefits of sunlight along with your stroll. “Or plan to workout right before this afternoon dip typically occurs,” suggests Siebern. This way you get a lift ahead of when you feel you need one. If you can’t spare ten minutes, at least get up from your desk and move around to boost circulation.

Nap it out

Snoozing mid-day isn’t just for the pre-school set. “The human body was built to take a brief rest in the afternoon. So if you can, give it what it wants!” says Grandner. “In fact, data show that even a brief, 20-minute nap can be enough to boost mental and physical performance and meet the need for sleep.” If you’re logistically able to hit the hay, be sure to limit it to twenty minutes, a length of time that should leave you feeling refreshed, not groggy.

Cap your caffeine

It’s okay to sip your favorite coffee drink in the a.m., but limit the amount of coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate or coffee-flavored snacks you enjoy after lunch. “Some people are more sensitive to caffeine—and with its long half-life, it could impact that night of sleep,” says Siebern. And if you’re tossing and turning at night, you will be even more tired the next day. That said, everyone is different so it may be trial and error to determine if you can make an afternoon Starbucks run or not.

Sip Smart

Think coffee is the only drink that perks you up? Think again. Drinking enough water is another way to get a mid-day lift. “People get tired when they are dehydrated,” explains Grandner. “Staying well hydrated can make you feel more awake and alert.” Aim for the general recommendation of eight 8-ounce glasses of H20—and more if you exercise.

Get social

Take a break to chat with someone in person—whether it’s a friend, co-worker, or bank teller. “Some social interaction can help give your mind a break and help it focus on another person. That water cooler conversation may be enough to break up the monotony of your workday,” explains Grandner. Can’t have an in-person pow wow? Try FaceTime or a phone call (not a text) to get your social fix.

What do you rely on for a mid-afternoon energy boost? Join the conversation below.


89 Comments   Join the Conversation

89 CommentsLeave a comment

    • Me too, unfortunately my sleep issues come from an issue diagnosed by my pulmonologist (after doing a sleep study) known as “alpha wave intrusions.” This happens when alpha waves appear with non-REM sleep when delta activity is supposed to happen. It is associated with chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc. I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and although I am undergoing treatment which has greatly helped my pain, it is done nothing to increase my sleep. I average about 3 to 4 hours of restful sleep per night regardless of how long I’m actually in bed. i’ve tried pretty much every sleep medication out there including several meds that are not typically prescribed for sleep though they can help. Exercise, staying hydrated, wearing blue Blocker sunglasses in the evenings and a myriad of other things that haven’t helped. My doctor said there’s basically not a known proven treatment to help with my particular sleep disorder and it is still being highly researched with no great outcomes for help yet. 🙁

      • I think I might have that too!! I avg about 2-3 hrs of sleep no matter how long I am in bed. I get up several times a night to go to the bathroom too. I have been previously diagnosed with sleep apnea then after another sleep study a few years later they changed it to central apnea although I was on the border line for that. Now I had a home sleep study, which I don’t particularly think was good enough but insurance wouldn’t cover an overnight at the sleepnlab, and it said I don’t have sleep apnea or central apnea which I don’t know how is possible because I probably got only 2-3hrs sleep that night too. It’s been bad for about a year or more now. I am constantly so tired. I was diagnosed with restless leg syndrome before too but don’t know if I still have it. The home sleep study doesn’t measure for that. I do have a lot of heath problems and I take a lot of meds including pain meds for my back so that doesn’t help either. I go back to sleep after I drop my daughter off at school in the morning for about another 2 or so hours but that does no good either. My Fitbit says I avg 2-3hrs sleep each night and that is with about 4-5 hrs actually in bed where I thought I was asleep because of restlessness and waking up. It’s tough. My memory is crap too. It’s frustrating. I have tried ambien. I take one half pills and it really doesn’t do anything but if I take 2 I have a hard time waking up in the morning. It’s a loose loose situation. If u ever find a medication or a way to get more sleep please let me know. The longest I slept in about 6 months was 7 1/2 hrs one night. Just one night! I was always a big sleeper. I use to sleep 8-10hrs a day no problem, sometimes even more on the weekends. I feel ur pain!! I know exactly how u feel! Maybe they will have some break thru. Well that’s my story. Sorry it was more like a book than a message. I just got a little carried away. Sorry. Well have a good night and hopefully a good night sleep too!!

        • I have taken Lunesta for years with no hang over effects. It really works well & never had to increase dose.

        • Try a different sleeping pill and get a diffuser for your bedroom. Use essential oil lavender. Also put a few drops of lavender on the underside of your pillow. Do not use your phone computer or laptop after 10:00 AM because science has shown that that blue light is a precursor to insomnia. Just saying.

        • I have sleep issues too. I was surprised at the actual sleep compared to when I lay down to go to sleep. Have you tried CPAP? I do feel like my mask helps me sleep better. I average about 6-6 1/2 hours actual sleep a night with my CPAP mask. Sometimes my REM and deep sleep aren’t as good as I would like, but it’s usually at least close to the benchmark

        • Wow–you sound just like me–I take meds for restless leg syndrome. If I don’t, I basically bounce my husband out of bed. My sleep study said I don’t have apnea but I don’t think I actually slept during the study. I have bulging discs and shoulder problems so pain is constant. When I take a muscle relaxer, I get more sleep. My main complaint is super low energy and extreme drowsiness in the afternoon. It’s so frustrating.

          • I didnt know there was a medication for restless leg, I be had that since my last child was born (she’s 8 at Christmas) I was just told to walk it off! No help at 2am in the morning

          • Hi guys and gals, I’ve had restless leg syndrome for many years now until recently when my wife told me to try one of her mezolar matrix 25mg patches she takes for her degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia, anyway I put on one of these patches to trial and I got alot more hours of sleep (over 8 hours) and no restless legs so I decided to book and appointment with my doctor and told him the situation, I’ve now been prescribed my own patches. One patch will last for 72 hours/3 days and you get 5 in a box. Hope this bit of info will help anyone else with restless leg syndrome. All the best and happy sleep to you all.

        • Have you tried taking magnesium? It helps with restless leg syndrome and helps you get better sleep. I take 400 or 500 mg tablet. My dad says it helped to relieve cramps in his legs at night. I still have problems with my sleep because of sleep apnea and I have a pacemaker. My heart rate doesn’t go low enough when I sleep for me to get quality R.E.M. or deep sleep. I get very little of both so I wake up feeling like I haven’t got very much sleep. I get a lot of light sleep but I don’t get much of R.E.M. or deep sleep. I’ve been tracking it with my Fitbit. I figured it out after getting my Fitbit. The drs couldn’t figure out why I felt so bad. They just wanted to give me antidepressants but that didn’t work.

          • How much magnesium do you take. I have lower back nerve after rods and pins but from my hips to my shoulders. They cut a nerve and now I Amin constant pain from L1 to S1 down my legs and my arms go numb from hardware!
            This has been 6 years and they treat me with morphine, Gabpentin and 50mg fentanyl patches.
            I too only get 4-5 hours sleep broken up in 2 hr increments!

        • Try the Ketogenic diet for awhile. Might help with all your issues as well as sleep. I would also recommend the book Medical Medium.

        • Try Buteyko breathing techniques. Look up Patrick McKeown on YouTube. It will change this and your apnea also. Good luck, Dave

      • Thanks .You have given me a lot of information that I had forgot and need to get back to my routine with my water routine.thanks for all the info. Gail

      • I have the same problem Debbie.. I’m exhausted and will fall asleep walking because I haven’t slept in days. I finally made it to bed last night and 3 hours of sleep and I’m up.. so I’m up and falling asleep and hitting my head wherever it wants. I’m worried I’ll crack my head open. Last time it hit a wall

      • I read your response but was more interested in the psoriatic arthritis. Our son has been diagnosed with this. Could yoy tell me what the treatment is that you are finding helpful? It may help his sleep too.

      • Thank you for sharing your story! I pray you find a solution to your problem and get the rest you deserve.

      • Have you thought about trying acupuncture? It is a wonderful, natural restorative for the entire body.

    • When I begin to tank in the afternoon, I go out to the barn or pasture and talk to the animals. I am outside in whatever weather, the animals need to be checked on, some chores done and I love being with the critters (goats, horses, donkeys, cats, birds and assorted wildlife). It’s a pick me up from being inside.

    • I only sleep 5hrs a day but I try to do a lot in my daily so if I want more sleep it seems to work for me I take vitamin and I exercise at the gym so maybe that will work

    • In the Navy & college I mastered the 20-minute power nap – its a thing I can do without alarms now. If you have long days, figuring a way to take a (short!) nap can provide a boost and help reduce nighttime fatigue, so that what sleep you do get is more restful.

  • Have you tried the gratitude alphabet method? It is sort of like counting sheep but a little different. Start with the letter A, list in your mind everything you are grateful for that starts with the letter A: air, apples, Ann, animals….when you can’t think of anything else then go to the next letter,B: babies, birds, bacon….
    I have never been able to go all the way to Z. Good luck.

  • I with u Jenny. Not the exact same problems as u but I have my own that are not diagnosed as anything that I can understand. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy for 12 years. Then I feel a sleepy driving my car. Went to a pulling Dr. gave me a sleep study. Now he says I have sleep apnea. Same dr. That said I had narcolepsy. Haha! Put me in a C- pap machine. No good!!! Can’t breathe, and haven’t noticed any additional sleep. Still don’t get more than 2 to 4 hours a night. Unless I take zzzguil. I get a couple more. All messed up!!!

  • I have severe insomnia probably due to anxiety and I HATE this … I put on meditation music, breathing exsersises etc nothing seems to help … I need to SLEEP BEFORE I CRACK UP!!!!

    • Try getting a diffuser and use lavender essential oil or Natures Truth Good night calming essential oil. Also suggest putting a few drops of lavender or good night well on the underside of your pillow. It may not help but like chicken soup, it won’t hurt you!

    • I’ve meditated on & followed directions in Philippians 4:6-7 & 1 Peter 5:6&7 Works for me at night & anytime I feel anxious. After lunch, I have a cup of coffee that deals with an early afternoon drowsy period I used to struggle with.

    • I try to follow & meditate on Philippians 4:6&7 & 1 Peter 5:6&7 whenever I feel anxious. Works for me. A cup of coffee after lunch gets me through what used to be a sleepy period. Mostly retired, working on site two days a week or less doesn’t let me take a power nap, but other days if I feel tired lay on floor with feet up on chair or coach for about 15 minutes – can go into sound sleep & out feeling refreshed to go on with my day.

    • Have you tried to see a therapist? Anxiety can come from environment triggers or unconscious habits; if you don’t know what’s causing your anxiety you’ll always be in damage-control mode.

  • Been drinking about 130 ounces of liquids, mostly water, per day. That seems to lift me past the afternoon hump.

  • I am fortunate enough to be able to take a 10 to 30 minute walk most afternoons. That along with a cup of tea usually keeps me awake enough to get through the rest of the day.

  • Jenny: have you tried hypnosis or perhaps craniosacral therapy (CST)? I have basically the same lack of sleep due to chronic pain and do regular CST to manage the pain. Good luck to you.

    • +1 ! ;
      I don’t promote or disparage hypnosis as a means of therapy; just like Chiropractic, there are both honest professionals and quacks out there.

      CST can be tremendously helpful if done properly. It should only be performed by a properly licensed and trained massage therapist.
      Also wishing you good fortune!

  • For those with sleep issues, read “The Serotonin Power Diet.” Worked wonders for me. In a nutshell,1-3 small, carb only snacks on an empty stomach at strategic times during the day, increase production of tryptophan, which yields serotonin, which in turn yields better sleep and overall sense of well-being.

  • I need sleep!
    So frustrating I’m in bed 6-8 hours maybe 10, and don’t even sleep 1/2 the number of hours I’m in bed.

  • One of the reasons I bought a Fitbit was to monitor my sleep patterns as I have Sleep Apnea.
    I am finding that my sleep patterns are not recorded every night…. I have one or two blank nights per week where it appears that I do not sleep at all… This is clearly wrong what can I do to rectify this issue.

    • I have found this but if I delete the log and manually enter a log with the time I went to bed and the time I got up I get a more accurate reading

    • I used to get a sleep analysis 1 or 2 times a week, sometimes less. I had atrial flutter which was getting worse. Then I had an atrial radio ablation. Since then (4 months at this point) I have had exactly 2 nights with no detailed sleep analysis. Both times showed a strange, non-sinus, rhythm based on a photoplesmographic app that graphically displays the heart beat wave. Have you considered seeing a cardiologist, having an ECG, a 24-hour Holter, etc. A home based sleep should also reveal any heart arrhythmia too, although I only had one after the ablation.

  • My sleep FitBit always wrong. Wish that I could return it. No receipt. Love everything else about it

  • I have a question I sleep the regular hours but I wake up more tired then when I went to bed I’m always falling alsleep and I sometimes can’t even keep my eyes open when I’m with people why is this

  • Believe it or not, acupuncture has been so very helpful with facilitating my sleep. With great trepidation, I decided to avail myself of trying acupuncture, even found a sliding scale practice so I avoid breaking the bank. I can work on different issues in addition to sleeplessness. And this from someone who is a lifelong hater of needles!! Give it a try.

  • I just started acupuncture too and noticed not necessarily more sleep but better quality sleep-less restless time and fewer awakenings. Feel better during the day too. My preferred sleep pattern seems to be 2-3 hrs sometime between 10pm and 2am, then wide awake, then back to sleep from 4-6am if I can do it. Most days this pattern seems to work, but only if I can get the second sleep period in. Has anyone heard about this kind of sleeping?

    • Oh yeah! I had the same pattern for years. My Fitbit also had way more “restless” than sound sleeping time recorded. I retired from a demanding job and immediately I went from 3-4 hours of restless sleep to 6-8 hours of good quality sleep. Also found out if I did Sheng Zhen Qigong before bed I was more likely to subjectively feel rested in the morning. Hope you find the rest you need! Retiring not an option for lots of us, Sheng Zhen Qigong (You Tube) much easier.

    • Yup that’s me!! For years I did not sleep period. Fall asleep exhausted driving, at work etc. Hot mess! Now i sleep much more however that 3-4am period seems to like my company :/ No idea why. Sometimes I think I should just get up but I’m almost terrified of not getting enough sleep and hurting myself or someone. Again, Hot Mess

  • Wow this was great. Answered so many questions. I thought there was something wrong with me for wanting to nap every day. But got myself in a pickle by sleeping too much. Didn’t power nap. So now I can’t sleep at night. Up til midnight waking at 5:30. Got to set alarm if I nap to get back on track. Great info here. Kept thinking I was too tired to exercise when that’s what I need.

  • Hope Im sleeping for you as I sleep 17- 30 hours for dats during my week. Always dreaming and so clear , its a break to get up into this sleepy workd for some hours -_-

  • I suffered a severe trauma 30 years ago and to this day it was like yesterday. Night terrors and nightmares make me HATE the night! Have been on every sleeping med known to men and even phycotrophic drugs but nothing helps those dreams of the event! Yes I’ve had enough therapy to last at least 20 people! The event will be here forever. Yes I had shock treatments about 30 years ago. Had no memory of all the details until several years ago when I started having flashbacks and now every night a new detail of the event comes back! Yes I reentered therapy to no advail! Doc said I will never forget! So I never sleep hardly more then a few minutes. I’m always startled by any sound even if I sleep with music. Is there any hope for me without a handful of drugs or I think of suicide sometimes as the only way. NO I’m not depressed and wouldn’t do that I have children and a husband who loves me and kids grown now that still need me at times but I’m just expressing what I think about at times! Is there anything I could do. I hate this part of my life but I’m so so fortunate to have a compassionate husband! My children don’t know the whole story. Never felt I could share that with them. They know something happen to me but they lived with me many years. I still have one 21 year old daughter at home with me and she knows a bit more as she has experienced my nightmares more then the others because of the memory revealing itself more and more in the last several years. She too is loving and will hold me after a horrible night terror. Sorry for this long story just wondered if there was anything short of general annesthestia to sleep?

  • Interesting article! Several years before I retired, I noticed a mid day lag in energy, and typically reached for caffeinated coffee or a chicolate candy bar. Wish I had had this info then!!!!

  • I feel sleepy all right. But just can’t sleep. I would love to nap a little in the afternoon. Wish I could.

  • Wow!! I slept soundly last night. I’m a realtor and decided to go door knocking yesterday for 3 hours. The area was hilly in certain places. I door knocked for about 3.5 hours without a break. When I arrived home, I had dinner, relaxed and started to get really sleepy. I slept mostly through the night and woke up to potty…drooling on my pillow…fell back to sleep and awoke refreshed. Exercise and being outdoors, talking to people, helps me sleep through the night. I’m almost 60. My FITBIT showed mostly dark blue. I was zonked out!

  • I have my coffee break every day at around 2. Either I call my sister or she calls when it is coffee break time and chat while we both rest and have an enjoyable cup of coffee.

  • Meditation helped me. It may not increase the sleep time but it makes you feel restful inspite of less sleep. Brings back the alertness for sure.

  • I am a napper! My Moms a napper! Come from a long line of nappers! I agree with everything in this article, with the one acception, that I need about an hour nap. I sleep exactly an hour, when I get the chance, usually right after lunch. It does me wonders. I am sorry for the folks struggling with sleep, I’ve struggled with it n the past. My only advice is you have to figure out what works for you and be consistent.

  • I am able to go to my car at lunch and have a 10 minute nap and it does wonders- I even have dream sleep. I have to walk in the sun and just being outdoors and away from the building and work helps me to refresh. When my co-workers appear tired I often tell them to walk around the building a few times. Some reach for the 2 pm coffee pot. I’ll post this article in the break room. Luckily my pillow is my sleeper.

  • Love the tips you shared; I can without looking at my watch know that I’m starting to lose energy and get sleepy. 2:00 pm every day. I’ll start using the techniques you suggest instead of fighting it.

  • Any thoughts for those of us who are “night owls” with a daytime job? My natural sleep times are going to sleep later and wanting to sleep later. I’m most productive in the afternoon thru 1-2am (more like a 2nd shifter). The afternoon slump is non-existent, rather my most productive time. I sleep well once I settle down but it’s not long enough since I have to get up for 1st shift work. Any others out there with this and tips? I’ve tried herbal teas and lavender, and melatonin and prescriptions but have sleep hangover. I typically don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon. A quick walk in the morning is very helpful to help my alertness in the morning. have trouble staying on a schedule. Thoughts?

  • Anyone with atrial fibrillation notice fit bit cannot get a consistent reading? Fit bit helped identify my A-Fib this way. Now surgery to correct this.

  • I have to say, when I’ve traveled to Spain and was able to take a siesta without judgement, I felt great! I agree with the nap theory 😀

  • Any thoughts on Meletonin ?
    I read an article it may also be associated with weight loss during sleep ( in rats ) .
    Magnesium can really help if that’s low ..

  • i really suffer from afternoon slump because I get on average 4.5 hours sleep a night, waking early. I’ve given up trying to go back to sleep so get up. Hence come the afternoon I’m tired. I just don’t have the energy to go for a walk. What would be the optimum time to have a nap if I am at home and able to do this. Also what would be a good energy boosting food to eat to boost my energy if I am out on visits with work? I seem to drag myself through the slump then wake up around 6.30pm then can’t sleep! I hate that afternoon slump feeling

  • I am still unclear even after reading 75 comments how I am consistently in bed 6-7 hours but never have more than 3.25 hours of sleep. Restless / awake tome is always greater. I have controlled apnea by using an orsl appliance,and previously a CPAP. However other members if my famliy who have Fitbits show 5-7 hiurs of sleep. Any advice?

    • Amit A: I also have used a CPAP but couldn’t stand it and got rid of it after about a month. What sort of oral appliance do you use?

  • I take The stairs to the cafeteria and back up to my office. It’s actually 10 flights, and gets my heart rate up to about 140 for a few minutes. This keeps me from getting sleepy at my desk.
    Then, after work, sometimes I stretch out in my car, put the seat all the way back and use a neck roll, secure the locks and put on sunglasses. After a few deep breaths in-for three counts, out-for-three, I’m out! Usually I wake right at 20 minutes and feel refreshed to tackle the commute home/gym.

  • Getting sleep is no problem, but waking up is a struggle every day of my life! I sleep 7-9 hours a night on the average, I’m a zombie for 10-25 minutes after I get out of bed. Thoughts?

    • This is me too. I say I can sleep for England but now that I’m well turned 70 I’m beginning to think I’m sleeping too much of my remaining life away!! However I do realise I’m lucky not having problems sleeping; that must be horrendous.

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