The afternoon slump that you feel at work is the result of your circadian rhythm, the body’s natural cycle of wakefulness and sleep. Knowing the cause is natural, however, doesn’t make it any easier to resist the temptation to lay your head on the desk at 3 pm and catch a few zzz’s.
There are two possible approaches to dealing with the afternoon slump. First, you can manage around it. You can reserve the mornings for high energy, high concentration tasks and important meetings. Leave the afternoons for tasks that require less engagement, such as answering emails or carrying out less demanding routines. If your workplace is flexible enough and your office is big enough, you could even come in earlier for work so that you have time for an actual nap in the afternoon after a long morning of intense activity. In some countries this is part of the culture of work.
Secondly, you can try to stimulate yourself to stay as alert as possible during those sleepy afternoons. Instead of replying to an email with another email, get up and walk across the office to talk to a co-worker in person. Both the physical activity and social interaction will help you stay alert. Consuming sugar can help in the short time but the high it brings is promptly followed by an energy crash. Eating a high protein snack will help you stay alert longer. Caffeine can be very effective in maintaining alertness as long as it’s consumed in moderation. Too much caffeine can cause problems sleeping at night, which makes natural afternoon fatigue even worse.
Afternoon fatigue can also be lessened with light therapy. You can either use high-intensity lights at your desk or you can spend some time in direct sunlight, especially if this is combined with exercise. A quick walk outside can perk you up and help you return to your desk ready to focus on finishing out the day.
Lastly, take care to avoid behaviors that would make your natural afternoon slump even worse. Don’t skip a healthy breakfast. Don’t stay up late, leaving yourself in a state of sleep deprivation.
The most important thing isn’t which strategy you choose to combat afternoon fatigue. It’s the fact that you’re prepared with a variety of strategies. No one technique is likely to work all the time. As long as you make a conscious decision to expect, manage and cope with the afternoon slump, your day will go a bit easier and you’ll use your time more effectively.