1: Go carb-less at lunch (reserve them for later)
Volume of food, timing of food, and the types of foods consumed at lunch are all variables that can be tweaked to mitigate the mid-afternoon dip.
For those struggling to maintain their energy and focus mid-afternoon, one of the first variables I suggest manipulating is to remove the non-vegetable-containing carbohydrates from their lunch (meals composed of veggies, protein, and healthy fats only). The main reason being that most of us aren’t necessarily tuned in to how our meals impact our blood sugar—and how that influences or exacerbates postprandial sleepiness and lethargy. This small change alone can be enough to make a difference. If not, experiment with the other variables next—the timing of the meal and the volume/amount of food ingested.
The way every body processes and responds to meals is unique, so the key here is to play around with a few adjustments and become an observer of your own system to determine what works best.
Additional tip: What’s the most basic habit that’s typically always the last to be prioritized? Hydration. Many of us become so engrossed in daily work/life that it’s easy to go all afternoon without a sip of liquid. But even slight dehydration can influence cognitive performance in the afternoon, and for some, can compound their vulnerability to headaches. Anchor your water intake onto pre-existing habits so it naturally becomes part of your routine. It’s not about counting cups per se—just use the color of your urine to determine what your body needs (should be pale yellow, like lemonade).
2: Align your work sequence to your biology
This is a habit both underappreciated and rarely discussed. This is about working with your natural ebb and flow in energy, not resisting it.
Tasks and workload can be aligned with the body’s hardwired biology and innate variances in circadian rhythm throughout the day. It’s normal that our alertness drops in the middle of the afternoon, typically somewhere around 12-3 p.m. Given this predictability, reserve tasks during the “dip” that require less cognitive load or are less cognitive demanding—those that can be completed more or less out of sequence. The key is scheduling your workflow in an intelligent way that’s anchored to your biology. This, in turn, means you’ll also be optimizing the time when you’re functioning at your peak—so you can get the most out of those work sessions.
3: Focus on your breath control
Various breathing modalities can be leveraged to increase autonomic arousal, specifically alertness, for the task at hand. One such method, although certainly not the only method, has been popularized by Wim Hof—his breathing technique involves cyclic hyperventilation followed by breath retention. It’s usually combined with extreme environment immersion (e.g. freezing temperatures), although it certainly doesn’t have to be. To receive the full benefit of this respiratory technique, consider utilizing a guided video to replicate the recommended timing and sequence.
4: Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)
If your energy is so low that you literally can’t function, at that point it’s not even worth downing a double espresso in the afternoon to power through. That’s only a mere attempt to override what your body really needs.
You are better off taking a 20-minute break (at home or in-office if either option is available to you) to lie down and utilize NSDR/Yoga Nidra, which can help you win a second wind and increase your focus for the rest of the day. (If you actually fall asleep during these 20 minutes, more power to you.) Better yet, some research has found that both NSDR and afternoon naps, as short as 20 minutes, can enhance neuroplasticity—those who engage in either regimen have been shown to perform better on memory tests later that day. (Something I can personally attest to during grad school.)
Naturally, this tip isn’t applicable to everyone. It comes highly dependent on several factors—the job you have, the environment you work in, or how your current lifestyle is arranged (school, family demands, other obligations).
5: Change environments and get the blood flowing
Changing your environment is a simple and effective way to get reinvigorated for the remaining half of the afternoon when energy reserves are running low. This doesn’t mean taking a break and walking from your desk to the lunchroom. This means going outside to get moving. If time is limited, a brief 10- to 15-minute brisk walk is all it takes—rain, shine, or snow—to help overcome mid-afternoon lulls in productivity.