Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You get to the office—you’re awake, you’re alert—you get stuff done. You’ve had your morning coffee and you are thinking the big thoughts, reading and answering emails, and brainstorming with colleagues. You are on a roll. You are employee of the week. You get in a good morning and then head out for a well deserved lunch. You grab something nearby—a sandwich or curry—and then head back for a productive afternoon. But soon you are slowing down. You have reread the same paragraph five times and still don’t know what it says. You’ve started two or three different tasks but keep jumping from one to the other without being able to focus. Your head is heavy and your eyes… just… want… to… close.
So, you grab another coffee. And low and behold it does the trick—mostly. You’re back on track (except for a few extra bathroom trips) and you get to the end of the work day. But, by the time you leave the office you’re sluggish again and that brilliant and clear morning energy never really returns.
That mid-afternoon crash is incredibly common. Here is what could be going on and some tips to avoid it.
1. Not enough sleep. Are you getting by on five or six hours of sleep? Guess what? That’s not enough. Your fatigue may not show up until the afternoon—caffeine is a wonderful drug—but most adults need seven to nine hours of good quality sleep. If you aren’t getting enough because you are going to bed late (I hear you parents that just want a little me time) or getting up early (people who can exercise before the sun comes up mystify me)—well, you know what to do. But if you have insomnia, are up all night to pee or with hot flashes, or are sleeping enough hours but still waking exhausted… you should really see a naturopath about that.
2. Too much coffee. Those first cups of coffee in the morning can be bliss, but there can really be too much of a good thing. Too much coffee overstimulates the nervous system and when the caffeine wears off, expect the crash. How much is too much? Hard to say. I have patients who are drinking 5+ cups of coffee before noon—definitely too much. But for some, even one cup of coffee does the nervous system a disservice. Have anxiety or insomnia? Try cutting the coffee out completely.
3. Not enough protein/too many carbs. Did you have toast or cereal for breakfast and a bread/rice/noodle heavy lunch—or just a salad? Try adding more protein to your meals. A smoothie with protein powder, or eggs are great ways to start the day. Make sure that your lunch has a decent portion of chicken/fish/beef or another animal protein. If you are opting for a vegetarian lunch, make sure that you are having a significant serving of beans/legumes or tofu—a handful of chickpeas or a couple of falafel balls aren’t enough. For some, it’s not just the lack of protein but too many carbs that are the problem—even healthy options like whole grain wraps or brown rice might not be doing you any favours. Your ND can help you figure out if you have an intolerance to carbohydrates. I would also add not enough calories to this section. Some people skip breakfast and/or lunch and they may be working in a calorie depleted state.
4. Air and exercise. A lot of people work through their lunches, or eat quickly at their desks while scanning soical media. But office air is often recycled and the bathroom probably isn’t far enough to really get your circulation going. Make sure that you take a break. Go for a walk—outside if the weather permits. Get a little sun on your face (but not too much because the noon sun is pretty hot and can be damaging).
If all of these issues have been addressed and you’re still having afternoon fatigue—talk to your naturopath. Cortisol/stress, thyroid and anxiety may be contributing as well. Wouldn’t it be great to feel as good after work as you do before? You deserve to have as much energy at the end of the day, on your personal time, as you do in the morning. Why should only your boss get the best of you?