You know the feeling. A few hours after lunch and it’s a tired afternoon. You’re having trouble keeping your eyes open, wondering if anyone would catch you napping in the empty office downstairs.
It doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, with a few simple tweaks, you could have strong steady energy all day long.
Most scientists believe that the “2:30 feeling” 5 Hour Energy keeps shouting about is a result of a blood sugar crash. I think they’re right, but a few things could be causing that crash.
The prevailing (read: a little outdated) wisdom is that your crash comes from blood sugar swings. The theory works like this: you had a big sugary lunch, which spiked your insulin (a hormone) levels, which has now sent your blood sugar into the basement.
This theory is true for some, but most of the time it’s a little… incomplete.
Most “tired afternoons” are the result of hormonal imbalances, but cortisol is more likely your issue. Specifically, lack of cortisol. See, cortisol (a stress hormone) levels are meant to cycle through the day. They peak in the morning to wake you up like a natural alarm clock, then taper off at night to let you sleep.
When you’re tired in the afternoon, it’s because your cortisol is tapering off when it shouldn’t be. You can spike cortisol by drinking some coffee, but over the long term, that’s a bad idea.
Think of your cortisol like a bank account. If you’re not making enough deposits with good sleep and relaxation, it won’t be there for you to make withdrawals with coffee or for hard workouts.
Ok, so coffee is out – and this has only gotten more confusing. Fortunately, science has come through with three proven methods to beat that afternoon haze for good.
1. The Stuff You Already Know
Are you sleeping enough? If you’re not regularly getting at least 8 hours (preferably 9-10), you already have a big problem. I know, you already knew that.
Are you eating garbage at lunch? A “meal” of hyperpalatable junk food, especially when it’s loaded down with poisonous Fake Food is going to cause problems. There’s the insulin response we talked about above – but there’s also the fact that you’re stressing your body’s digestive system something fierce.
If your body has to devote energy to digesting garbage food (and maybe even staging an immune response to poisonous crap), it won’t have as much to keep you awake. Then again, you already know you shouldn’t be eating junk food.
2. Improve Sleep With A Protein-Rich Breakfast and Some Sunlight
Your cortisol is down when it should be up – we call that cortisol dysregulation. And the best way to fight cortisol dysregulation is with more sleep – or more conveniently, better sleep.
Eating a high-protein breakfast and then getting some sun will improve your sleep and make you less tired in the afternoon. Jamie Scott has a fantastic post explaining the benefit:
The hormone melatonin carries much of the responsibility for putting us to sleep at night. Melatonin is made from serotonin. Serotonin synthesis requires light exposure… and the amino acid, tryptophan, derived from high-protein food sources.
‘Great’, you think , all you need is a high protein dinner just before bed and you get everything you need. Except – the light. There is no point in trying to boost brain serotonin levels, as a precursor to melatonin, right before bed because the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan requires bright sunlight exposure in the eyes. What is better is a high-protein breakfast followed by exposure to bright warm temperature light, as per this recent study.
That was a little thick, so let me clarify:
- Good sleep requires melatonin.
- Melatonin is made from seratonin.
- Seratonin is made from protein and exposure to sunlight.
For breakfast, eat a sizable chunk of meat and then expose your eyes to sunlight for a few minutes (the drive to work might be enough, a short walk would be better). You’ll sleep better, and be less tired in the afternoon.
3. Send the Right Signal – Get Moving!
Are you going right from the lunch table to your desk? Take a walk or work standing up for the first hour after lunch. Some mild exercise will remind your body that you’re awake, and you’d like to stay that way please.
Exercising any time of the day (or even just 1-2x per week) can have huge effects on your cortisol regulation and sleep quality.
Studies (like this one) have shown that even light exercise is protective against cortisol dysregulation. In addition to keeping you awake after lunch, it will help you handle stress better and fall asleep more easily.
BONUS Tip: Kick Sleep Quality Into Overdrive
Sleeping better will improve almost every area of your life from reducing afternoon grogginess to improving health and sexual performance.
Here’s the easy way to increase sleep quality: