By Peter Suciu
If you, like George Costanza, are ready to take a nap under your desk after lunch, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans experience the mid-afternoon slump. But, instead of reaching for another cup of coffee or an energy drink, a few changes to your routine can make all the difference between staying sharp and wanting to nap on your keyboard.
Pasta”Certain types of foods make you sleepier than other types of foods,” said Bill Tulin, coauthor of Travel Fitness. That burger and fries—or plate of pasta—will almost certainly send you in search of a pillow.
Dr. Michael A. Grandner of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology explains why what you eat makes a difference. “During digestion, especially in the case of heavy meals, there is activation of the parasympathetic system (the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system), which shifts balance away from the sympathetic system (the ‘fight or flight’ system).”
Why does this matter? Grandner says, “Increased parasympathetic activity is associated with decreased alertness, and the urge to rest and the sudden intake of glucose and resultant spikes in insulin may also play a role in reduced energy after long meals.” Tulin adds, “The blood is going to the stomach to process and digest all that food.”
So, what do you do? Tulin suggests eating a lighter meal of lean protein and vegetables to stave off the feeling of being tired. And, instead of eating 3 big meals a day, split your meals into 3 lighter meals and two healthy snacks.
Don Draper might have a way with the ladies, but there’s a good reason he’s often discovered napping. That glass of wine—or three martinis—at lunch, definitely won’t help you do your best work, and that’s not just because of the buzz.
The Mayo Clinic noted that alcoholic beverages can cause blood vessels to expand, leading to headaches, but can also make drinkers sleepy and even affect their quality of sleep, which in turn may leave them feeling groggy and fatigued.1 It’s a vicious cycle bound to leave you tired, so leave the cocktails until the bell rings.
Around here, we’re often championing the importance of getting 7 to 8 hours of quality rest each night. Sleep helps your muscles rebuild, lowers your stress level, and as Grandner says, “If you don’t get enough quality sleep at night, you’re less able to do many important things during the day. You’re more likely to have trouble staying awake, especially during the natural dip in the afternoon, and you’re less able to exercise efficiently, eat healthy, and think clearly.”
It’s all a cycle. Consider the 2008 study published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that found that people with sleep disorders ate a diet higher in cholesterol, protein, total fat, and total saturated fat.2 Or the 2006 Institute of Medicine report that found that the less people slept under seven hours each night, the more obese they tended to be.3 Why? Lack of quality sleep appears to tip hunger hormones out of whack. Leptin, which suppresses appetite, is lowered; while ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, gets a boost
Working out might also be a good way to get the energy to help you work through the afternoon. Lona Sandon, an assistant clinical nutrition professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, recently told the Wall Street Journal that moderate workouts and getting to bed earlier can help fight the midday fatigue.4 So, if you’re finding that your energy is flagging, try going for a short run or walk to get your blood pumping.
If you’ve tried all the above solutions and you’re still groggy, get a light. According to new research by Elsevier’s Physiology & Behavior, the right type of light can have an acute effect on neuroendocrine responses, performance, and alertness.5 White lights or UVB therapy lamps can stimulate your body to be more alert. Want to invest in a therapy lamp? Go outside! “Sunlight or just some bright light by the desk could help those “in more of a dark environment,” says Grandner. “Getting up and moving around may also help stimulate alertness.”
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