Why We Get Sleepy in the Afternoon

If you tend to suffer a sleepiness attack in the mid-afternoon, well it’s not all that odd. Many people experience a noticeable dip in their alertness, attention, creativity, energy level, and ability to concentrate in the mid-afternoon.

It’s true, the majority of us have been there: after an awesomely kick-ass, productive morning of finishing projects and heading for inbox zero, the clock strikes two and well, hell… you might as well pull down the blinds, slip on your jammies, and slide under your desk

Hello desk dozers, cubicle catnaps, open space snoozers, corner office conscious, home den dreamers and coffee shop slumbers. My name is Brock Armstrong and I am… not the Workplace Hero. That’s you! The point of creating this podcast was to make you into a Workplace Hero. I am merely along for the ride. You can think of me as a helpful hitchhiker.

If you tend to suffer a sleepiness attack in the mid-afternoon, well it’s not all that odd. Many people experience a noticeable dip in their alertness, attention, creativity, energy level, and ability to concentrate in the afternoon.

It’s true, the majority of us have been there: after an awesomely kick-ass, productive morning of finishing projects and heading for inbox zero, the clock strikes two and well, hell… you might as well pull down the blinds, slip on your jammies, and slide under your desk

The good (and bad news is) that it’s completely normal to feel super-tired once the afternoon rolls around. Circadian rhythms, which affect our sleep patterns, may be to blame for the midday slump. In fact, our “sleep signals” peak at night and during the afternoon, which completely explains the phenomenon of the siesta. Secretly aren’t we all a little jealous of a culture that embraces an afternoon nap instead of scheduling another meeting through it?

What happens is, your body releases your brain’s natural sleep chemical, melatonin, telling your body that it’s time to go to hit the hay, sometime between 2 and 4 in the afternoon.

WebMD’s sleep expert, Michael J. Breus, PhD, (who we will talk about more later) explains that the exhaustion you feel in the middle of the day is just like the tiredness you feel before bedtime at night as it has to do with a dip in your core body temperature. Right before you go to sleep at night, your core temperature begins to drop, which is a signal to the brain to release melatonin.

The exact same thing happens on a smaller scale between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. It’s a mini-signal to your brain to get sleepy.

Basically, because we wake up super early for work, our body wants to go to bed in the afternoon because our natural clock is telling us to do so.

Is all this talk about sleep making you tired? It’s definitely making me nod off.

But other factors, like what we eat, hydration levels, and how much time we spend staring at a screen can also affect those droopy eyeballs.

There is a great book called The Power of When by Michael Breus (who I mentioned in the WebMD article earlier) that explains something else that is very cool. It’s a thing called a chronotype and I will explain more about that in a second.

Get-Fit Guy

Right now, if you are near an internet connected device, I want you to type this into a browser: workplacehero.me/getfitguy that will take you to the Quick and Dirty Tips network website where I just became the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. If you are listening to this episode when it first comes out, you will see that my friend Ben Greenfield was the Get-Fit Guy before me and the latest episode if actually him handing me the keys… so to speak. I gotta say that am grateful, thrilled and more than a little intimidated to be taking over for Ben. But that aside, if you are a fan of the short, snappy and information packed type of podcast like Workplace Hero is, you will likely love the Get-Fit Guy (and the other Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts). The goal of the Get-Fit Guy podcast it to help you enhance your energy, lose weight, boost your performance, and get your body looking better than ever without spending a tonne of time at the gym (or a lot of money on equipment). If you want to begin an exercise routine and don’t know where to start, or if you’ve been working out for a while and aren’t getting the results you want, I will give you the tips you need to reach all of your fitness goals. So head over to workplacehero.me/getfitguy or just search for Get-Fit Guy and check it out.

Chronotypes

Ok, now back to whatever the heck a chronotype is!

As Michael Breus puts it, every person has a master biological clock ticking away inside of their brain, and dozens of smaller biological clocks throughout his or her body. But, unlike a normal clock, not every person’s biological clock keeps the same time or even at the same pace. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “I’m not a morning person”, well there’s a reason for that. Some people are meant to be more productive in the morning than at night, and vice versa.

Yes, believe it or not – your body has been programmed to function much better at certain times of the day than others. Based on general morningness and eveningness preferences, different people fall into different classifications, called “Chronotypes”.

Each Chronotype will reveal exactly what you need to do to work with your body, not against it. There are four Chronotypes (Dolphin, Lion, Bear, and Wolf), and most people fit into the “Bear” category (I am a dolphin, in case you are wondering). You can head over to thepowerofwhenquiz.com to find out your own chronotype but for our purposes here, we’ll assume the majority of us are bears and continue with some anti-sleep advice that I found at Greatist.com, mercola.com, and thebalance.com on how to combat, avoid or otherwise stay awake through our afternoon meetings.

Since I just confessed to also being the Get-Fit Guy as well as (not) the Workplace Hero, this first one won’t surprise you. The first tip is…

1. Work Out
A midday trip to the gym may not only boost productivity; it could ward off sleepiness, too. Stick to some light aerobic exercise before getting back to the books. Don’t have time to hit the gym? Try some deskercises to work out at work. Go back to workplacehero.me/workout for help with that

2. Step Back From the Screen
In order to avoid eyestrain (which can make the eyes feel tired) keep a safe distance from the computer screen—about an arm’s length. That, or try a pair of snazzy computer glasses. Go back to workplacehero.me/airandlight for more info on that from Dr Tamsin Lewis

3. Stretch it Out
Feelin’ stiff? Stretching out can provide a quick boost of energy. If there’s no stretching station in sight, try a handful of these desk stretches to keep the muscles loose. Visit my friend Abi Carver over at Yoga15.com for help with that.

4. Move Around
A change of scenery may boost productivity, so do some work at a coffee shop or camp out in a meeting room. Try to park near a window for some natural light, which may keep us more alert. Check out workplacehero.me/stand for some help on that from Biomechanist, Katy Bowman.

5. Grab a Towel
Splash some cold water on your face to wake up. I call these birdbaths and no, I don’t have a link for this one.

6. Sip Green Tea
With less caffeine than a cup of coffee, a mug of green tea can give us that afternoon pick-me-up without making us stay awake all night. Plus its nutritional benefits are enough to keep anyone wide-eyed! For more caffeine alternatives go to workplacehero.me/shiftwork

7. Talk it Out
Instead of emailing a coworker down the hall, take a trip to his/her cubicle and talk in person. That’ll stretch out the legs while providing a break from staring at the screen. Ummmm… nope. No link for this one either.

8. Have a Snack
Not meal time yet? Have a snack to help boost energy levels. Try an ounce of cheese, a handful of nuts, or another high-protein snack to keep alert. Go to workplacehero.me/snacks for help from Quick and Dirty Tips own Nutrition Diva on that.

9. Try a Walking Meeting
Take that meeting to the streets and discuss what you would in the office outdoors. When I worked for a big coffee company I would often take my meetings while walking along the seawall.

10. Switch Tasks
Working on the same project for five hours? Try tackling something else to stay stimulated and keep things fresh at the desk.

11. Take a Catnap
Sometimes the best remedy for fatigue is to simply shut the eyes. Learn how to power nap (10-20 minutes of snooze time!) to get that midday boost you really need.

12. Schedule an Appointment
Have to hit up the dentist? Schedule an appointment during lunch for some forced activity that prevents us from feeling doze-y. This way, you avoid eating at your desk, too!

13. Take a Break
Take five to do something besides work (like calling a friend or doing a crossword puzzle) in order to give your body and mind a break! Use these tips to relax in five quick minutes before getting back to the grind.

14. Chew Gum
Afternoon energy may be as simple as chewing gum (seriously). Chewing gums with strong minty flavours like peppermint and spearmint are stimulating, and the act of chewing help the brain fight the feeling of lethargy. Works well when you are taking an exam or needing to focus

15. Turn Up the Tunes
Listening to some favourite music might help us focus and feel more energised. Pro tip? Listen with noise cancelling headphones to really hone in on a task.

16. Remember Breakfast
Like my friend Dr Cate Shanahan says: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day – to not screw up.” Eat a solid breakfast of protein, healthy fats and minimal carbs to sustain energy throughout the day.

17. Eat a Small(er) Lunch
Supersizing that manwich may be the reason for nodding off. Choose a smaller (but nutritious) lunch; choose something with more protein and fewer carbohydrates to dodge drowsiness, like my favourite big ass salad with sardines.

18. Avoid Sugar
A little sugar may go a long way—in the wrong direction. Consuming some sweets may provide a sugar-high that will only lead to a sugar crash, causing us to become even sleepier.

19. Stay Hydrated
In order to avoid dehydration and its sleepy side effects, just keep sipping. There is no magic number of cups that every human needs to hit (despite what the internet may tell you) just drink to thirst and you’ll be good. If you want you can add some lemon or lime to your water to perk you up and as well.

20. Please Stand Up
No! I am not making a Slim Shady joke. Staying on our feet could help avoid drowsiness and increase focus. Grab a standing desk and work away! Do I need to direct you to workplacehero.me/stand or have you got it by now?

21. Skip the Booze
Ease up at the office happy hour. Fatigue is a symptom of a minor hangover, so avoid drinking during the week, or keep consumption to a minimum. (One to two drinks max!)

22. Get Enough Sleep
This may be a no-brainer, but getting enough sleep is vital to staying energised throughout the day. If you’re not sleeping well, it will be next to impossible to avoid lagging energy levels.

23. Include Non-Exercise Movement
Sitting for prolonged periods of time can also be a source of fatigue. Besides that, compelling research shows that prolonged sitting in and of itself is a major contributing factor to chronic disease and reduced lifespan—even if you exercise regularly. workplacehero.me/stand anyone?

24. Sit in the sun for 10 minutes.
Even better, eat your lunch outside and divide your time between eating and taking a walk. You can reset your internal clock, reduce the amount of melatonin your body produces and boost your vitamin D.

25. Rub some peppermint oil on your hands.
Rub your hands together and then pat your face. The scent of peppermint is known to increase energy. I use a diffuser for my essential oils but your coworkers may not appreciate that in the office.

26. Eat a square of dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is very healthy, unlike milk chocolate, with high levels of healthy fat and antioxidants it contains. It also provides a touch of caffeine to give you a boost.

27. Do isometric exercises.
By tensing a muscle and holding it, you encourage blood flow. Try tensing your biceps, holding for 5 to 10 seconds, and then releasing. You can do the same with your calves, thighs, chest, stomach and glutes. You may look like a weirdo but you will be awake!

28. Put a rosemary plant in your office.
The scent of rosemary is known to be energising. Whenever you need a pick me up, rub a sprig between your fingers to release the fragrance. You can also rub one on your hands, neck, and face. Again… weirdo but awake.

29. Brush your teeth.
We already talked about the mintiness factor but also doing something that activates your senses can wake you up. And not having swamp mouth is never a bad thing.

Hrm… 29 seems like an odd place to stop but I don’t have a 30th. Ok. Well, I think that is still the longest list I have ever given you on the podcast! So… it must be about time for your…

Homework.

Instead of doing what I usually do, which is ask you to choose a couple things from the list and try them out over the coming week, I want you to do something different and take the thepowerofwhenquiz.com and find out which Chronotype you are. When you finish the quiz, you will be shown a video that explains your results. While Dr Breus doesn’t give you any specific instructions on what to do about your chronotype, it is nonetheless very interesting and will likely help you choose how you deal with your afternoon sleepies from here on out.

One favour though – if you do decide to buy the Power of When book, please consider doing so by using this link: workplacehero.me/powerofwhen. All that does is give me credit for sending you to Amazon to buy the book and Amazon itself gives me a small kickback for the business. It doesn’t cost you anything extra but it does go a little way toward supporting this podcast. Aside from your ongoing dedicated downloading.

Summary

Personally, I used to get tired every afternoon but since I switched to a standing workstation, I have been mostly good to go! I also eat a high protein breakfast, I aim to sleep eight hours a night and I do some sort of physical activity every single day. But I have to admit that still, occasionally, none of these things help. What I think it really comes down to is how often we’re awake for such a prolonged period of time.

Think about it: You wake up at roughly 6:30 and go to bed at around 11. That is 16.5 hours of full on awakeness. I don’t know about you but that seem like a long time to be continually thinking your thoughts.

So, you can use some of the tips I just listed or fight off afternoon tiredness by drinking a bucket of coffee around 2:30, or simply embrace that hour or so when you feel like you’re going to pass out on your desk. It’s up to you. Because in the end, as long as we’re working such intense hours (with no siesta), we’re likely going to be tired now and then between 2 and 4:00.

Now go make this week and awake one.

**

Workplace Hero is researched, written, narrated, and recorded by me Brock Armstrong in Vancouver Canada. Logo by Ken Cunningham. Music is courtesy my old band, The Irregular Heartbeats.

One Reply to “Why We Get Sleepy in the Afternoon”

  1. Thanks for the tips. I have been looking for advice on fighting off the afternoon drowsy feeling. I recently got a standing desk at work and I make a point of standing in the early afternoon. It seems to help with the after lunch lull. I like your advice on walking meetings, hydration, and avoiding eyestrain as well. Will try those ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *