4 Ways to Tackle the 3pm Slump (Without Sugar or Caffeine)

4 minute read

Almost everyone can relate. You start the day with high expectations of all the work you’ll be able to tick off your list, presuming that you’ll be just as motivated at the end of the day as you are right now. Then 3pm rolls around, and you can no longer string a coherent sentence together. The next couple of hours seem to drag as you fight to keep yourself focused on the task at hand without drifting off.

Although this seems to be a very common shared experience, there are things we can do to combat it (without resorting to sugar and caffeine!). Here are four ways to tackle the 3pm slump.


1. Get enough sleep

The main culprit for our increasing lethargy in the afternoons could be our circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle that is responsible for when we feel tired and when we feel alert. It controls our body temperature and hormone production and is impacted by light.

At around 3pm, many of us experience a natural dip in our circadian rhythm. This causes a drop in body temperature as well as an increase in melatonin production, which is the hormone that makes us feel tired. But just because it’s natural, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

To prevent disrupting the cycle, try to reduce blue light exposure before going to bed and get out into natural sunlight during the day. Having a bedtime routine and sticking to it can also really help to regulate our circadian rhythms.

Also, it goes without saying that not getting enough sleep will affect your ability to stay alert and to concentrate during the day. Even an hour of missed sleep a night builds up over time. Try to aim for at least eight hours a night if you can.


2. Take time away from the desk

If insomnia, noisy neighbours, or your children are preventing you from getting as much sleep as you’d like, you might find yourself reaching for a coffee or a can of Coke to keep you going at work. Whilst these give you a boost in the short term, they might lead to even less sleep over time. Small amounts of low-intensity exercise, such as walking up and down the stairs a few times, can actually be more effective at boosting overall energy levels than caffeine, and this is something most of us can easily do when we find ourselves losing focus.

When the weather outside is grim, or you’re working from home, it can be tempting to have lunch at your desk. But taking breaks from work to get up and move around is important for your energy levels and motivation. Why not take a brisk walk during your lunch break? Or if you really don’t feel like going outside, then doing a quick workout or even just a few stretches is better than nothing.

Taking the time to do something fun and easy can also reduce fatigue and increase motivation. For example, listening to a fast-paced, happy piece of music or watching a funny video. This can increase your creativity and performance in certain tasks, so is especially good for when you’re in a slump.


3. Eat sustaining foods

The food you choose for breakfast can also impact the quality of your sleep and your energy levels throughout the day. It’s important to choose a breakfast and lunch that keep your energy levels stable, rather than allowing them to peak and then plummet later on.

For breakfast, porridge is a great option as it includes beta-glucan fibre, which can reduce blood sugar and allows energy to be released gradually rather than all at once. For lunch, avoid foods that have a high glycaemic load such as white bread and pasta. These will cause an initial spike in insulin before leaving you feeling lethargic a few hours later.

If you already eat healthy and sustaining breakfasts and lunches but still find your energy starting to wane come 3pm, then don’t worry. Snacking is not off the cards and is actually a great way to avoid a slump. But before you head for the biscuit tin, why not try a low-sugar alternative? Yogurt, raw nuts or fruit can give you a small energy boost without bringing you back down again a few hours later.

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4. Drink enough water

How much water do you drink on a daily basis? Having just 2% less than we need can lead to increased drowsiness and decreased concentration and work performance.

Keeping a water bottle on your desk is a good way to track your consumption throughout the day, and you can even get bottles with timings on the side so you can see how much you should have drunk and by when. Remember that on warmer days, or if you’ve done a lot of exercise, you’re going to need more water than you normally do.

Making your water more interesting could also encourage you to drink more. Try adding a slice of orange or lemon, some mint, or some squash.

We don’t just get water from what we drink. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, cucumber, peppers and spinach, which make for a refreshing summer snack as well as keeping our water levels up.

If you’ve already tried all these tips and are still losing motivation in the afternoons, then you might be burnt out. It’s important not to set unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve in a day. We’re not machines, and our brains will get tired and wander off task from time to time. It can be difficult when we have deadlines looming, but trying to carve out times during the day to switch off and take a much-needed break can work wonders for our stress levels and concentration.

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