You woke up fairly bright-eyed, fueled up with a healthy breakfast, maybe squeezed in an energizing workout and then cruised through the morning with a decent amount of energy to spare.
Then came lunch.
There's something about the mid-day meal that seems to drain the energy reserves, leaving you feeling sluggish and sleepy. You might notice your productivity slowing down or screeching to a halt, maybe taking your motivation along with it. As the clock crawls toward 2 or 3 p.m., it could even become a struggle to keep your eyes open. But whether you're juggling work tasks, demanding kiddos or other responsibilities, you probably don't have the luxury of calling a "time-out" on life and crawling into bed for a nap.
Time for a trip to the coffee machine? Not necessarily. While it's fine to enjoy an occasional mug of that magical bean-derived elixir, there are other, healthier ways to pull yourself out of the afternoon slump.
Stick to a sleep schedule.
Your sleep habits are the biggest predictor of how much energy you'll have during the day. If you go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, and get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye, you'll be less likely to get groggy in the afternoon.
Having trouble drifting off at night? Try these expert tips for getting more (and better quality) sleep.
Eat a balanced diet.
Eating a filling breakfast and lunch will help keep your energy levels stable throughout the day. If you start the morning with a big cup of coffee and then grab a bag of chips from the vending machine around noon, you're setting yourself up for afternoon exhaustion. A filling, nutritious breakfast and a healthy lunch that features lean protein and non-starchy vegetables will help keep your energy levels from crashing later in the day.
Drink some citrus water.
You already know the benefits of hydration, but for an added energy boost, registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein recommends making a pitcher or water bottle filled with ice water and a generous squeeze of orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit.
"The side effects of not staying hydrated include fatigue and false hunger, which is why so many people reach for sweets mid-afternoon," Muhlstein explains. "Drinking at least 16 ounces of cold, refreshing water will wake you up just enough to finish the day strong and make smarter food choices later."
The added citrus can also provide a boost of potassium and vitamin C, she adds. "Plus, many flavonoids unique to citrus fruits have been shown in studies to protect brain cells and improve cognitive function—just the boost you need toward the end of the day."
Get up and move.
When you find yourself slipping into that sleepy, post-lunch stupor, personal trainer Christel Oerum of Diabetes Strong says the best remedy is a quick walk. "Going for a walk and getting some fresh air not only works as an afternoon pick-me-up, but can also help digestion, improve insulin sensitivity and improve mood," she notes. In fact, a study showed that just 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise, such as walking or climbing stairs, can be more energizing than consuming 50 milligrams of caffeine.
Stretch away the sleepiness.
"Sitting at a desk all day is guaranteed to build up muscle tension, which affects you physically and mentally and drains your energy," notes LJ Kunkel, ACSM-certified personal trainer and creator of Fit Body Beats. "Take a few minutes every hour or two to stretch any tight areas, especially your neck and shoulders." Try starting with these simple stretches.
Try some essential oils.
Fitness trainer Cheryl Russo swears by peppermint essential oils as a mid-day pick-me-up. She places a drop or two in the palm of each hand, rubs her hands together and then cups the hands and inhales for a boost of energy. "You can also blend a drop of peppermint essential oil with a carrier oil, like coconut or avocado or olive oil, and rub it on the back of the neck," she suggests. "Orange mixed with peppermint is also very energizing."
Listen to upbeat music.
When you're feeling sluggish, putting on your favorite up-tempo playlist can help energize you and increase your endurance. "Music has the ability to engage the body's sympathetic nervous system," says Oerum. "Auditory signals make us alert, and simply focusing on a piece of music can divert our attention and improve our mood."
Do some breathing exercises.
Not able to leave your desk or office? Liza Baker with Simply: Health Coaching recommends taking 10 minutes to sit comfortably, close your eyes and do some breathing exercises. "Simply breathe deeply through your nose, paying attention to the sensation of cool air coming in across your philtrum (the space between nose and mouth) and warmer air coming out," she says. "Or learn some more 'yogic' breathing exercises, which will leave you feeling calm yet energized."
Eat a healthy snack.
If you're starting to feel hungry, registered dietitian Chesley Amer recommends eating a healthy afternoon snack packed with protein and fiber to boost your energy throughout the afternoon. Some of her favorites include carrots and hummus, an apple with peanut butter or dry roasted edamame.
If you've tried all the traditional remedies to beat the afternoon slump and nothing seems to help, it's time to see your doctor to rule out possible conditions that can cause fatigue. And, of course, if you're lucky enough to have a spare few minutes and a dark, comfortable, quiet spot, a power nap can work wonders.