At Contactzilla HQ, we provide our team with hearty, healthy sandwiches and soups for lunch. We love a delicious free lunch and it’s a great way to make sure everyone gets at least one healthy meal a day!
While I love my Contactzilla sandwiches, I often find myself feeling drowsy and struggling to concentrate in the hours after lunch.
One particularly lazy afternoon, I decided to do some research into how I can prevent this slump and how I can battle it when it happens. Here’s what I learned about the afternoon productivity slump, how to beat it right now and what you can do prevent it in the future…
Why do I lose focus after lunch?
There are two main factors that make many of us feel drowsy and unfocused after lunch – what we eat and our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms.
I’ve always attributed my after-lunch slump to overeating or binging on carbs. It turns out, I wasn’t wrong to think this…
Neurotransmitters in our brains called orexin are known to regulate wakefulness. In fact, the lack of orexin in the brain can cause one of the most common types of narcolepsy. Spikes in glucose levels, in line with eating large meals featuring a lot of carbs and/or sugar, have been shown to inhibit orexin production, leaving us feeling rundown and drowsy.
Don’t eat a large lunch but still feel sleepy? Blame your body’s circadian rhythm, or ‘body clock’ if you like. The circadian rhythm is the (roughly) 24 hour cycle that regulates your body’s processes including sleep and appetite. The cycle can be influenced by outside factors such as light, a lack of which signals to our bodies that it’s probably time to go to sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation claims that, on average, our circadian rhythm dips between 2 and 4am and 1 and 3pm, which is generally around the point I start to get sleepy in the afternoon…
“Although it does not occur in all individuals and all measures, the notion of a post-lunch dip in performance is a real phenomenon that can occur even when the individual has had no lunch and is unaware of time of day. This phenomenon is related to an innate human propensity for sleep during the early afternoon hours. The post-lunch dip has its roots in our biology, and may be linked to the size of the 12-hour harmonic in our circadian rhythms. It is certainly exacerbated by a high-carbohydrate lunch, and may be more likely to occur in extreme morning-type individuals.” – The Post Lunch Dip in Performance, Timothy H. Monk, PhD, DSc
There are plenty of ways you can prevent, or at least reduce, after-lunch drowsiness, but first, I’m going to take a look at some quick fixes that could help perk you up right now…
How to get over the after-lunch slump today
If you find yourself in a productivity slump every afternoon, the best way to fix it is to make bigger life changes that can help you prevent this tiredness in general.
That being said, there are a few quick fixes you can use to help you get you through this afternoon…
Have a nap
I always assumed that having a midday nap would just make me feel groggy all afternoon and make it harder for me to sleep at night. While this is probably true for the 2-3 hour naps I was having at University, a short, 20-30 minute nap can work wonders for your afternoon productivity.
Plenty of research has shown how a short nap after lunch can improve concentration, memory, alertness and attention.
So how do you have a good nap at work?
The “key in hand” method has been attributed to Dali, Einstein and Aristotle and is a great way to have a light afternoon nap without falling into a deep sleep.
The method involves finding a comfortable spot to rest, perhaps you have a sofa or beanbag in your office where you can lie down or just sit comfortably. Hold your keys loosely in your hand and position a plate beneath where your hand is resting. Finally, allow yourself to relax and drop off. As you fall asleep you’ll drop your keys and be awakened by the sound of them hitting the plate. This short nap should leave you feeling refreshed and ready to go in as little as 10 minutes.
Go for a walk
A short brisk walk has 2 major productivity boosting benefits – exercise and nature.
Productivity guru and author of Extreme Productivity, Robert Pozen discusses how exercise can help us become more productive in this article for The Huffington Post…
“Over a shorter time-frame, an exercise routine can give you more energy throughout the day. Most of your cells contain components called mitochondria, often referred to as the cell’s “power plant.” Mitochondria produce the chemical that your body uses as energy, known as ATP. Physical exercise stimulates the development of new mitochondria within your cells, meaning that your body will be able to produce more ATP over time. That gives you more energy to exert yourself physically, but it also means more energy for your brain, boosting your mental output.”
There is also plenty of research suggesting that spending time in nature can work wonders for your productivity. That’s not to say you need to take the next two weeks off and go stay in a cabin in the woods…
In one 2008 study, participants were required to perform a series of cognitive tasks and then took a break before performing a second round of tasks. Half took their break walking around a city while the other half took their break in the woods. Participants who took their break in the woods performed significantly better than the city group in the second round of tasks.
While you might not be able to take your break in the woods, try going for a walk in a local park or any green space to boost your productivity.
Move your desk
This is something I do quite regularly when I’m feeling uninspired at my desk and we’ve actually written about it before as a Workplace Hack.
Sitting at the same desk, working on the same tasks, day in day out can start to feel stifling. When I’m feeling a lack of creativity, or like I’m stuck in rut, I pick up my laptop and move to a different part of the office (we’re lucky to have a comfy sofa and a picnic bench in our break out area). I find this break in my routine and change of scenery usually helps me feel refreshed and able to carry on with what I was doing without causing too much of a disruption.
How to prevent the after-lunch slump in the future
While these quick fixes can help get you out of the productivity slump right now, there are plenty of things you can do to to help prevent it from happening at all, or at least reducing it a little…
Eat clean, little and often
We’ve all experienced the crash after a large high carb lunch or sugary dessert. Avoid this crash by eating clean foods little and often.
Splitting your large lunch into 2 or 3 smaller servings means your body doesn’t need to use all of it’s energy digesting food and you get a more steady release of energy over the day. Try not to overdo carbs sugar or processed foods, all of which will cause a huge glucose spike which will leave you feeling rundown.
Take a look at this list of 9 brain foods to improve focus from A Year of Productivity author Chris Bailey.
Get enough sleep at night
This one might sound a little obvious but it’s easy to forget that, just because you didn’t wake up tired, you might not be getting enough sleep.
Due to our bodies’ circadian rhythms, we are prone to feeling sleepy in the afternoon. However, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the intensity of the circadian dip many of us experience in the afternoon depends on whether or not we’re getting enough sleep.
While 7-8 hours sleep a night is recommended by most experts, everyone is different so it’s important that you figure out how much sleep works best for you. Check out this great article about sleeping for productivity by Thanh Pham of Asian Efficiency.
Drink plenty of water
I don’t need to tell you that drinking water is good for you, but did you know being dehydrated can have a negative effect on your concentration, alertness, short-term memory and mood?
Bill Flitter of dlvr.it is a big advocate of encouraging employees to drink more water. Bill recommends providing employees with plenty of fresh fruit to stay hydrated and lemon and lime slices to add a bit of flavour. He also suggests trying a water charity drive where employees pool together and see how much money they can drink. For each glass of water they drink, your company could donate a certain amount of money to charity.
How do you combat the after-lunch slump? Share your experiences in the comments below!